Writing for young adults, gender and fiction, the quest for inspiration and the value of creativity featured in the day's panels.
Author Hilary Mantel. Photo: Francesco Guidicini.
Saturday dawned, warm and beckoning, calling us back to the University of WA’s for another day of literary heaven at the Perth Writers Festival 2015.
So much to choose from! Where to start? An eenie-meenie-mynie-mo by Carol landed on ‘Domestic Double Standards’, which featured Maxine Beneba Clarke, Ceridwen Dovey and Alice Pung with facilitator Aviva Tuffield.
Did you know that only 16 women have won the Miles Franklin Award? It’s been going since 1957, so quite bluntly, 16 female winners are not enough. Nowhere near enough, especially when we remember that Miles Franklin was a woman: a feminist who bequeathed her not-inconsiderable estate to the award’s foundation. The panellists agreed that sadly, this is typical of awards results. There are prizes for women only, one of which is the Stella Prize. Kate Grenville has said ‘a prize for women’s writing wouldn’t be necessary in an ideal world, but that isn’t the world we live in’. All three of our panellists are on the longlist of 12 contenders for this year’s Stella Prize.
It is said that writers must be ruthless. Dovey told the tale of a workshop in which a male presenter asked the students, ‘Who would refuse to publish a story that you know would break up a friend’s marriage?’ Only two participants, both women, put their hands up. ‘You might as well leave now,’ he said. ‘You’re not ruthless enough for my class.’
Clarke says she’s often expected to write ‘Women’s Fiction’ and not to include rough male characters. She writes a wide range of characters, which some see as a sellout of her sex, but men read it and say ‘Wow! This could’ve been written by a man’, expecting her to see that as a compliment! Alice Pung complained about ‘stereotypical’ cover designs that gave the wrong impression of the book’s content. In closing their discussion, the writers, sadly, could make no recommendations on how to change the gender-biased status quo.
A change of pace with ‘YA’s Where It’s At’, with Rachel Craw, Dave Hackett and Sean Williams, under the moderation of Amanda Betts. The term ‘YA’ (Young Adult) means ‘teenager’, and we all remember what Craw calls ‘The firstness of everything’. Our bodies change, we do things differently and we take up new activities. Hackett claimed that as the youngest and shortest in his year he had no chance of getting a girlfriend, and in writing he can be himself as a teen – ‘but a little bit better!’
Craw suggested that when writing, it’s possible to give, inadvertently, adult responses to teenage characters, because we have forgotten that ‘firstness’ of new experiences. Williams suggested that there’s no perfect way to be 16 and there’s no perfect way to be an adult.
After lunch, Joe Abercrombie, in conversation with Andrew Cameron, discussed his latest book, ‘Half the World’. It is the second book in his Shattered Sea trilogy. He claims that he deliberately set out to write this series for a younger audience without alienating his older readers. There is less violence, no real swearing and no sex in these adventures, and the protagonist is a teenage boy with a disability. It was predominantly a young audience, but there was a goodly smattering of grey and balding heads, too. Abercombie’s work, whether intended for worldly-wise adults or wide-eyed teenagers, appeals to a wide audience.
Next, Tineke Ven der Eecken moderated a panel composed of Dawn Barker, Juliet Marillier and Georgina Penny. Titled ‘Inspiration is a Fickle Mistress,’ the confab nevertheless ranged widely and included some lovely readings. Finally, in the last few minutes, the participants gave us their thoughts on inspiration and how to attract it. Marillier finds walking in nature inspiring, while Barker says that as she has so little time to write she makes herself write something daily, even if it is totally divorced from the work in progress. Penny, a romance writer, turns to her favourite author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, for inspiration.
A short meal break then it was off to the Perth Concert Hall for the first Guest-of-Honour shindig. The first guest, Hilary Mantel, (on a live link from London) was interviewed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Michael Cathcart. It was a lively chat, with Mantel’s charming pixie-like face wreathed in smiles as she filled the big screen to discuss her controversial story, ‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’.
Then we got Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, she of Eat, Pray Love fame) live on stage. Tall, blonde and slender, Gilbert impressed with her informal but very smart black outfit and commanding presence. She spoke for a full hour. It was the kind of thing one hears at personal motivation seminars, about the value of creativity and how it is our gift to the world. We all came out filled with gung-ho confidence and enthusiasm!
Perth Writers' Festival
19-22 February as part of Perth International Arts Festival