Back again for the second day of the Yarra Valley Writers Festival that very presciently selected ‘Resilience’ as the theme. The current lockdown, announced on Thursday night, meant that the organizers had to pivot to the curated Zoom stream which they had fortuitously prepared in advance- that’s resilience for you!
The day started off with Kathryn Heyman’s Fury. I have heard her interviewed before: she has a beautiful speaking voice, and now I see is a really engaging screen presence as well. This book is a memoir of both her childhood, a sexual assault, and her time on a fishing trawler which helped her reclaim her own body and pre-assault identity. She had always been ‘a reader’, reminding me of the SRA reading cards (I loved SRA although I suspect that poorer readers did not). She raises the question of whether there is today a class dimension to unwanted sexual attention as a child. (Interesting question.) She talks about the title (Fury) which she chose, and had to fight for. I don’t know- I think I’m on her British publisher’s side here. The book is not written from a position of anger – she had worked that out of her system through the fishing trawler experience – something that is not suggested from the title. On the other hand, I haven’t read it, so what would I know. Interesting to see the authors who are present through the chat box: Robyn Cadwallader, Eleanor Limprecht and the historian Marguerita Stephens.
The next session ‘Believe It To Be True’ is about belief and faith, but I was about to engage with my own belief and feeble faith with my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, so I attended the service and will watch this one later. I also missed the session on Motherhood.
I tuned back in for the panel discussion led by Hilary Harper (from Life Matters). I hadn’t read any of the books A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan, Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason and My Year of Living Vulnerably by Rick Morton. I know that you’re encouraged to attend sessions at Writers Festivals where you know nothing about the books, but I found this session a bit hard to follow. There was discussion about neurodiversity and labelling, autism and fear of touch and the interesting comment from Meg Mason that she toyed with making one of her main characters imaginary. The session did finish off with some lovely advice about long-term relationships: feeling adored to the point that you wonder about your partner’s sanity.
I’ve heard several interviews with Helen Garner, and each time she has been thoughtful, respectful of the question and you can just see her thoughts whirling as she responds . In her interview with Sean O’Beirne, she starts off with reading entries from her second volume of her diaries One Day I’ll Remember This (something that I wish they would do in each panel, to give a taste of the writing for those who haven’t read the book). In relation to the discipline of writing a diary each day, she quotes the AA aphorism “a fearless and searching moral inventory”. In this volume of her diaries, she writes about the breakup of her relationship with ‘V’ (whom she did not consult before publishing her diary, although she did for many other people) which she saw as a cautionary tale for women. He certainly doesn’t come out of this very well. I could listen to Helen Garner for hours and hours.
And then some bird watching!! I’m a frustrated birdwatcher, and I am determined to turn all my grandchildren into bird nerds too. Both my granddaughters are co-operating, with the older one very aware of rainbow lorikeets and the younger one able to recognize kookaburras. I wish I was walking along that path with Sean Dooley.
The final session featured Kate Mildenhall and Sally Hepworth, speaking about Hepworth’s book The Good Sister. I haven’t read books written by either of these bubbly young women. It seems that it’s yet another book about a neurodiverse character, which fits in with the Ryan/Mason/Morton interview with Hilary Harper. My ukulele strumalong is calling me- think I’ll call it a day.
And so, for me, ends the Yarra Valley Writers Festival. They did such a good in rescuing what could have been a disaster. Perhaps NEXT year.