Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Word Wednesday: Melbourne Writers Festival 2012

So the Melbourne Writer's festival is currently taking place in various locations throughout the city, and although I have neither the adequate time nor funds to attend all the events that I wanted to, I did manage to get along to see 'Friendly Fire', a writer's panel featuring one of my favourite writers/people Marieke Hardy, alongside Benjamin Law and Sloane Crosley, who are also quite excellent.

Disclaimer: I do talk a lot more about Marieke than the other two in this post as I am yet to be as familiar their work as I am with hers. 

The panel began with each writer reading a passage from their book; Marieke from You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead, Benjamin from The Family Law, and Sloane from How Did You Get This Number? 

It was so great to hear all of them read passages from their books, especially Marieke’s because I had already read her book, and the story she chose to read from is hilarious in places but also very emotional. Hearing her own voice reading those words created an impact even more affecting than the story was when I had read it, and gave a bit more of an insight into what the audience should take away from the piece. I had never heard of Sloane Crosley before, but after hearing her read an excerpt from one of her essays, Take a Stab at It, I wanted to go out and buy her book immediately. And I could have, but I’m still on Europe budget and will have to wait until I get paid next week *sigh*.

The panel itself was full of jokes, laughter, gentle digs and great insight into the world of writing from personal experiences.  Although I am predominately a writer of fiction, I will always have my own feelings and fragments of my own personal experiences working their way into my stories, and so I was curious to hear Marieke and Benjamin’s (and Sloane’s, now that I know what a great writer she is) insights into dealing with some of the issues that come up for a writer who predominantly writers about his or her own experiences.
Issues like how writing memoir can affect your personal relationships with the people in your life, how you choose what to leave in and what to leave out, which parts to embellish and which parts to underplay in order to make it a readable narrative, and the dangers of exposing too much of your personal self. 

What struck me while listening to all of them talk is how they write with such an emotional honesty; their writing is entertaining, yes, and it has been tailored to an extent in order to entertain us, but the parts that stick with me in Marieke ‘s book are the parts in which she reveals some truths about herself, truths that in some cases would have been difficult for her to face, and then put down on paper. And then put out into the world, for anyone who happens to be meandering through Readings or Dymocks (or in my case Lorne’s local bookshop)! It is a very brave thing to do, and is something that I very much struggle with; I still have a hard time letting people read my stories, and the short answer to why that is is because I am afraid. Afraid of how much they might find out about me by reading them. 

Each writer gave some excellent advice and examples on how to deal with these types of issues: having faith your the readers to understand that this is your take on things, not the definitive factual account of what happened. How some curating of what you choose to say about the events is important if you want to tell a good story. . How important it is to stay true to your writing, and not letting a desire to please everyone encumber it.
A great way that Marieke deals with this is to publish the responses of some of the people she’s included in her essays alongside the essay itself. She was asked about this in the panel, to which she responded that she wanted the people who read her book to understand that these people in her life are real people, with real opinions of what happened. 

She also talked about the illusion of intimacy (she did talk a lot about David Sedaris, who I also don’t know but am also going to pick up at the bookstore/library/on my kindle), and how a good memoir makes you feel like you know everything about someone without actually knowing them at all. That exposing weaknesses and insecurities alongside the jokes makes for a richer story that is more interesting, and more likely to affect a person and stay with them for the long term. 

But I think the most important thing that I took away from her, and from the whole panel, was another story that she told about her friend Gen who is still suffering from breast cancer, and who features in the story that she read from in the beginning. She was saying how when she went to visit her recently, there was a nurse in Gen’s hospital room, a highly insensitive nurse who was making inane chit chat about his father’s funeral in an oncology ward. Spoke about wanting to smash his head against the wall, and that amidst that amidst the rage she was feeling at his insensitive stupidity, she came to realise that all she could think about was writing about the whole experience. And that her motivation wasn’t because she thought it would make for a good story to tell, but that she didn’t know what to do with all the sadness, the confusion and the anger she was feeling about the fact that a dear friend of hers was so very sick. The only way she knew how to deal with this onslaught if powerful difficult emotions is to write about it.
At this point of the story I wanted to just leap to my feet and scream out “Yes yes that’s exactly how I feel!”, but of course I restrained myself because I didn’t want her think that I was a fuckhead as well. I was almost overwhelmed with joy and understanding because this is pretty much exactly what I do, whenever I’m in uncomfortable situation, whenever I’m sad, angry, confused, frustrated, distraught to the point of hysteria, all I want to do is write about it, to use it in a way that creates something, something that exists outside of me, in the hope that it will either stop effecting me in such a strong way, or that it will help me come to understand it. 

All in all it was a wonderfully inspiring afternoon, and it made me feel more like I could actually do ‘this writing thing’ than I ever had before. I wish I had known that they would be doing signings afterwards, I would have bought my slightly waterstained copy of “You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead,” along with me. But I did nearly cut Marieke off whilst walking out of the festival bookshop, and even that was enough for me to get all fan girly. If only I had her talents, I could have turned our almost encounter into a witty anecdote of endearing awkwardness. Oh well.

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