Saturday, 27 August 2011

Today I met my favourite author

It's a sign of the times that the first few minutes of the session I attended at the Melbourne Writers Festival today were taken up listing and thanking the sponsors.  The announcement also asked us to switch our phones off (how will we tweet?) and asked us to welcome our guests - without naming them!

Of course we knew we were there to hear one of my favourite authors in the world, Jane Smiley, but I had no idea who the bloke was who was in conversation with her.  Turns out he was David Francis.  He then talked for about 10 minutes.  To be fair, a lot of this was relevant to listing Jane's achievements, but I was there to hear her.  Then we were reminded the venue we were in was the "BMW" Edge and then our host said this: "Let me first read the indigenous acknowledgement."  Talk about reducing this important symbol to a tick-a-box piece of process.  And then he surprised me by saying that as someone who no longer lives in Australia, he found it quite affecting.

I haven't yet finished reading Jane Smiley's latest novel, "Private Life" (I got distracted by another festival guest, Steve Hely who I will see tomorrow), but I've read nearly everything she's written.  She's the author of my all time favourite novel, "Horse Heaven" which I have given to several people as a gift and I regularly return to.  Honestly, I've been struggling a bit with "Private Life" but having heard Jane Smiley talk about this novel, I'm reinvigorated and inspired again.  I found it really interesting that she sounded like it was a bit of a struggle to write at times.

Here's some of my favourite things I heard from Jane Smiley today:

Her novel "10 Days in the Hills" is one third graphic sex.  She said her definition of pornography was that you read, you read, you read, then throw the book down and go and have sex.  She hopes that you'll keep reading her book!

Asked about her process for writing, she said her usual way is to "read a lot of books and then write a novel."  Makes it sound so easy.

One of the characters in "Private Life" is a ladies' man.  She said a ladies' man's biggest advantage is that he gets along with women and is genuinely interested in talking to them.  The ladies' man in question is Pete, so named because a man paid $25,000 at a charity auction to have naming rights to be in Jane Smiley's next novel!

In discussing the difference between writing fiction and non-fiction, Jane Smiley said that writing fiction is harder because you're using your emotional self, while non-fiction uses the intellect.  Non-fiction flows, then you fix it, flows, then you fix it.  Fiction resists if you get it wrong and won't progress until you get it right.

Lastly she said that the source of America's problems is corn.  Apparently every civilisation dependent on corn is impoverished by it. The only way to get rich on corn is to feed it to the hogs or turn it into whiskey.

Afterwards I met my favourite author when I went to get my copy of "Private Life" signed and also her non-fiction work, "A Year at the Races".  She was lovely.  I remained calm.  There was no repeat of the k.d.lang debacle.  No one had to take me away.

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