Wheeler Centre

Wheeler Centre Highlights: Helen Garner

This post is called ‘highlights’ because I have a ridiculous short term memory, especially when I’m giddy from being in close proximity to my writing idols who are rock stars in my geeky world, and because I don’t like taking notes at events.

This evening, I tripped along to the newly open Wheeler Centre for a session called ‘In Conversation with Jennifer Byrne: Helen Garner‘. The title suggests that it is part of a series and I certainly hope so although Jennifer already hosts a similarly titled series on the ABC to complement the First Tuesday Book Club she also hosts.

The session started off with microphone issues. I was somewhere in the middle of a quite small (and sterile looking, I must say) auditorium and there was difficulty hearing Jennifer’s questions. I felt sorry for the little old ladies sitting in front of me who were a little distressed at not being able to hear. I’ve never heard Helen’s voice and it was a very nice, soft lilt. She comes across quite harsh in her photos but her voice was very warm and kind. I never tire at being surprised by authors’ voices.

Highlights:

  • I couldn’t hear the question but Helen began to talk about coercion. She read out a paragraph by Philip Roth from the latest Paris Review so you can check it out if you’re interested. I think it was the last paragraph. She adores Philip Roth’s work.
  • Helen spoke a bit about her writing. She writes everyday, either in her journals or whatever she is working on. She’s always kept journals but, rather sadly, the ones before 1980 have been destroyed.
  • She loves going to court proceedings and wonders why more writers aren’t as interested, particularly for cases which concerns human morality (not the run-of-the-mill drugs and gangs). She’s gotten me all interested in going to court cases but I’m too afraid to simply show up to watch.
  • Currently, Helen’s in the middle of writing a non-fiction book on the Robert Farquharson case but it has been put on hold. Farquharson was found guilty in 2007 of murdering his three sons by driving the family car into a dam on Father’s Day in 2005. However, Farquharson was granted a re-trial which is starts in April 2010.
  • What Helen had to say about this case has really stayed with me. She recounts the 2009 summer where Melbourne went through a long heat wave and a devastating bush fire. She noted, in a wonderful expression that, unfortunately, I can’t remember, that the heat made people go mad and do crazy things. Helen recalls the day in January when four-year-old Darcy Freeman was thrown off the West Gate Bridge by her father. That day, Helen was driving her three grandchildren to the beach in the same area and consequently had to drive under the bridge during the time the girl was being resuscitated (although Helen didn’t know what was going on at the moment). With the three grandchildren acting up in the back of the car and the oppressing and stifling heat, what made that father snap, and what didn’t in Helen, was something very small indeed. It could have easily been anybody else.
  • What makes some people ‘snap’ and what holds others back is what fascinates Helen. Paraphrasing her words, ‘there are only 30 steps of difference between them and us’.

Helen then briefly talked about her other books – The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, and The Spare Room. She wryly quotes Simone de Beauvoir “I write so I will be loved” in response to the backlash she received when The First Stone was released.

It was a great evening. I started off writing this review in the formal manner and referred to both Jennifer and Helen by their last names but it felt so cold so I switched to their first names and now I sound like their best friend. Oh well. I’m still pulling my hair out at not being able to stay behind to get a book signed. Hopefully, there will be a next time. I always get incredibly nervous at book signings though – what do you say to them besides “I really, really, really liked your book/s/writing”? My alternative is to stand there and smile eagerly. 🙂

A Gala Night of Storytelling

Last night, I attended the opening session of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, of which I blogged about recently (ok, it was more like I boasted 🙂 ). The inaugural event was a good old storytelling session by a lovely mix of leading Australian writers, a comedian and a musician. I knew the event was sold out but I had absolutely no idea how many people or popular it was going to be. My friend and I were late but it didn’t matter since the line sneaked right around the corner and around 500 metres up the next block. Ironically, I ended up standing outside the antiquarian book store. I wished I had taken a photo of the line because it was pretty exciting to know how many book geeks were out there last night.

The theatre was a lovely room with bygone decor and architecture. Here are some photos I sneaked while waiting for the show to begin:

The mixture of stories told were marvelous and they were all equally captivating. Some were sad and wistful, as were the stories told by David Malouf about his mother and the simplicity and beauty of family love by Tara June Winch, who read out her piece in a most lovely sing-song and gentle voice.

There were funny stories by Cate Kennedy, who regaled the audience with funny anecdotes of her eccentric but lovable grandfather, Judith Lucy, whose family was not big on storytelling but, in turn, provided her with stories to tell, and John Safran, who told us that it was his father who first urged him to test the boundaries and to always …err…poke at things.

There were also stories with morals. John Marsden spoke about a recent incident which caused him to muse over consequences where the youth of today are not part of a community and are never, informally or formally, initiated into society as an ‘adult’. Christos Tsiolkas spoke about the alienation of migration, where grandchildren and grandparents become worlds apart and, in many instances, are no longer even able to speak the same language.

These were just some of the stories told and I was enraptured from the beginning. The finale song by Paul Kelly was both uplifting and sad, teaching, or warning, us about the importance of distinguishing between chance, fate and destiny.

It was a great night and a great welcome and introduction to the Wheeler Centre and christening of Melbourne as a City of Literature. Hurrah! For those who are interested in seeing the event, the session was filmed and it should be available to watch online soon.

It was also great to meet Elena, from With Extra Pulp, after some slight confusion, phone troubles (on my part) and chasing each other around the city on a Saturday night. We enjoyed a Booty Call and weird tasting vodka while talking about books and writing. 🙂

The Wheeler Centre

Already, I think this is going to be one of my most favourite places in the city and it hasn’t even opened yet. The Wheeler Centre (named after Tony and Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet) has been under development for the last two years ever since Melbourne was announced as the second City of Literature by UNESCO in 2008 (the first being Edinburgh).

The crux of the centre is to provide a melting pot of ‘books, writing and ideas’ and it is situated beside the State Library of Victoria (also a most lovely place). Everything literary is going to housed under the same roof such as the various writing organisations. What I am most excited about are the ongoing events that are to run from the centre. I think the events are innovative, fun and most importantly of all, allows people from all walks of life and background to enjoy, and be introduced to, quality literature and discover new writers as the majority of events are free.

The three month programme is out and I’ve already booked myself in for around six events, including the opening Story Telling Gala night and ‘In Conversation with Helen Garner’, and marked out many others that I want to go to. I’m most excited about the Lunchbox/Soapbox event with Kate Holden, who is one of my most favourite writers and columnists. The beauty of many of these events is that you can simply wander in and find yourself a place where your mind can be stimulated. With all the writing centres situated under one roof, debuting and established writers, artists, thinkers now have a centralised headquarter. Bibliophiles can also now indulge in literary delights throughout the year rather than the few major events.

(And no, I don’t work for the centre.)