I’m looking forward to heading up to Auckland next month for Auckland Writers Festival. This’ll be my third time heading up to Auckland for the writers festival (I wrote about the 2014 festival here and here), but my first time on the programme. The festival has got bigger and better each year that I’ve been, with lots of sold out sessions, enthusiastic audiences, and a really great buzz-y atmosphere.
I’m in one of the Four for Fifty Readings sessions — fifty-minute events in which four writers read from their recent work. Each session is themed; ours is Loss and Love. I’ll be reading from The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, which has plenty of loss and love to choose from, but I think my reading might focus on Lena’s love of music. In the session, as well as New Zealand writers Laurence Fearnley and Bridget van der Zijpp, will be Tim Winton. I’m really looking forward to meeting Tim, and sharing the stage with him — two West Aussies: represent!
The programme looks great. Some of the sessions and writers I’m looking forward to include New Zealand writer Anna Smaill talking about her first novel, The Chimes; Wellington poet and artist Greg O’Brien’s event at Auckland Art Gallery, melding art works, photographs and poems; David Mitchell(The Bone Clocks) and Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk); science writer Philip Ball talking about colour.
One of the things I’ve noticed and enjoyed about Auckland Writers Festival over the last few years is that they always feature a selection of great Australian writers. Last year it was Michael Leunig and Michelle de Kretser. This year it’s Tim Winton, Helen Garner and Stephanie Alexander, all heroes of mine for decades. I’ve just wandered around the house, scanning our bookshelves for books by these three writers. I counted twenty-four — including my inscribed copy of Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion; rarely would a week go by without me consulting that book — and I know a few more are lent or lost (where has my copy ofMonkey Grip gone?!).
I was so delighted to see that Helen Garner will be at the festival. I wrote about Helen Garner’s 1985 collection of short stories, Postcards from Surfers, in a guest post for Annabel Smith last year. I said then:
This book reminds me why I go back to Helen Garner’s writing, why I love it so much: for the strength and beauty and art of the simplicity of language; for the welcome hit of life, familiar, but viewed sideways, or from an angle that disturbs, or perhaps renders clear.
Garner was on my mind before I found out that she’s coming to Auckland. She kept bubbling into (and inspiring) conversation when I was at Varuna last month. I think it started when we were all mooching around after dinner, looking through the Australian books collection in the living room at Varuna, and someone picked up Monkey Grip, the 1977 novel that was Garner’s first published book. That prompted a Garner literary lovefest among the Varuna housemates; but more, it prompted ongoing talk about women writing, and women’s writing, and writing about women; about feminism and the feminist (and other cultural) ideals of the 70s. I re-readMonkey Grip while I was at Varuna — I can’t recall when I last read it, and I seem to have lost my copy of the novel — and was struck again by the quiet power and simple beauty of this novel about addiction (to love, to drugs, to ideals and ideology) and community.
I may have lost my copy of the novel, but we’ve got a copy of the 1982 film on DVD, and I watched it a few nights after I got home from Varuna, falling in love all over again with Noni Hazlehurst’s Nora, Colin Friels’ Javo, Alice Garner’s Gracie and Chrissie Amphlett’s Angela — all so young, all so bloody beautiful.
For some extended Monkey Grip analysis, here’s a recent lecture from The Wheeler Centre from their Australian Literature 101 series: Ramona Koval introduces critic Kerryn Goldsworthy talking on Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip.
There’s a great two-part recording of Helen Garner in conversation with Jennifer Byrne at The Wheeler Centre, too.
There ends my Helen Garner lesson. If you’re in Auckland for the festival (or in Christchurch for the WORD Christchurch Autumn Season; or in Dunedin for the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival), enjoy the treasures on offer.