Thursday, March 1, 2012

Perth Writers Festival – part two

(You can read part one here.)

Ah, yes, the Feast of Words. An open air dinner for hundreds of Perthians (is that what they’re called? I spent six days there and it never came up) with four writers giving food-related readings for 8-10 minutes between the courses. But before Barbara Trapido could start, it started to drizzle. Everyone stuck it out for a minute or two, but the precipitation did not appear to be easing so people made for the eaves of Winthrop Hall.

After about five minutes the drizzle relented, waiters mopped down seats and drained the water from dinner plates and everyone returned to their seats. Danielle Benda, the Writer’s Festivals’ programme director and MC for the night, introduced Barbara Trapido, who read from Temples of Delight. The rain started up just as she was finishing and became actual rain a few moments later causing everyone to make for the eaves once more.

Winthrop Hall, during the day... when it's not raining
But this shower past in another five minutes and the caterers were finally able to bring out the breads and dips.

Next up to the podium was Johan Harstad, who has written for TV and theatre as well as several books, but only his novel, Buzz Aldrin, what happened to you in all the confusion has been released in English at this moment (other translations are in the works). Without a lot of food in Buzz Aldrin, Harstad decided to write something specifically for the night while sitting beside the Swan River. The result, a meditation on the torture of Tuesday leftovers and how it fostered his escapism as a child, was riotously funny and put everyone back in a good mood after the two weather blips.

The main course was then served, with large dishes of chicken, potatoes, beans, cauliflower, pumpkin and salad being handed down the table from the far end. When a dish reached the writer’s end of the table (also featuring the directors of the writers fest and the overall arts festival) we were lucky if there was a crouton in the salad bowl. With the rain delays, everyone was quite hungry by this time and we writers were forced to look down the table at those fortunate souls who were tucking in to the meal.

It was a bit of a dilemma for the organisers, as on the one hand here were four international writers, the stars of the show, (and one publicist and one publisher and two festival directors) getting to short shrift. On the other hand, we hadn’t paid $120 for a ticket, so maybe we did deserve to be served last.  Eventually some more plates of food were delivered to our end of the table and their contents quickly consumed.

Then it was time for Dennis O’Driscoull to read. He read three poems but other Irish poets and finished with one of his own. Judging by the audience reaction he came a close second to Johan in the ‘delightful’ stakes.

Then dessert. No hitches there. Then it was my turn to read.

I’d been watching my wine intake all night, knowing my turn on the lectern would come, but I didn’t factor in the somatostatins my meal would release. I read the passage from ‘Facing Galapagos’ where the narrator is robbed by a man wielding an iguana, then befriends the man and eats a lot of tropical fruit (the foodie-connection; apt for the final stages of a meal, but honestly I didn’t have many other foodie sections that worked for an 8 minute reading) and read okay, but I lacked a bit of zing and wasn’t able to overcome the general post-meal malaise of the audience. It was also pretty fricken cold for your average Perthian, and the event had run long due to the rain.

I stepped down from the stage knowing I could have done better, could have found or manufactured a better passage to read, could have read what I did better, but thems the breaks. It was still a huge honour to have appeared at such an event -- rain drops and food delays just made it all the more memorable.

Sunday was the last day of the festival. It was also Family Day, so the UWA campus was crawling with families and face-painters. It’s always good to see young people having fun with a bookish slant.

My final session was ‘Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary’ with Barbara Trapido and Arnold Zable. It was another great session. Not quite as fun as the short story one (there was a bit where we all were asked about how we note down and organise our ideas; I don’t find talking about notebooks vs post-its vs Evernote very thrilling, but maybe that’s just me) – but it might be in my top three. For the record, I read 'Evolution Eh?' - the whole (2 page) shebang.

Again, the time flew by and I sold and signed a few more books afterwards.

Then it was back to the hotel bar to unwind and chat with the other writers. I spoke to Barabara Trapido and Kathy, her minder from Bloomsbury, about talking parrots, Ryan Gosling and mondegreens. I discussed Isaac Babel, Herman Melville and school design with Dominic Hohn (author of Moby-Duck). I flitted between other conversations as well, and when I had enough material (and the bar closed) I went upstairs and wrote my Dominion Post column. (I submitted it at 2am, meaning I just managed to get it to my editor before they started work on Monday morning.)

And that, my friends, is a brief précis of my Perth Writers Festival.  There’re a lot of great writers that I met and enjoyed hanging out with that I haven’t mentioned here. I always worry that my efforts to be informative sound too much like name-dropping. I don’t want to sound like a douche, because I honestly don’t approach the social side of festivals in a douchy ‘what’s in it for me?’ way. 

Before I was published I would practice being interviewed while in the shower, steeled myself for receiving reviews (and boldly hoped that one or two might include praise), knew sales figures and financial rewards would be modest, but I never really considered what it would be like to hang out with other writers, or expected to enjoy meeting them and having a chat, that it would be so rewarding and re-invigorating on a personal/creative level.

This does not conclude my Perthly posts, however, as I had a day to my own devises before I flew back to New Zealand. Come back tomorrow to hear about cockatoos, kangaroos and rental car confusion. Oh, and which movies I watched on the plane!

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