On Friday, Alex, Cherie, Cheryl and I spent the day at the 2015 Perth Writers Festival, which returned to its Homebase at U.W.A. The campus was teaming with, admittedly, an older crowd which could be put down to the fact that 9-5ers were at work. Uni students also made up a fair chunk of the audience, letting their presence be known when it came to the Q & A portion of the talks, asking the deeply theological and emotionally resonant questions, which took longer to ask than they did for the guests to answer! Throughout the course of the day we managed to attend talks by Kate Forsyth, Danielle Wood, Joanna Rakoff, Michael Robotham and Peter Docker.
Kate Forsyth and Danielle Wood kicked off the day with a discussion about Fairy tales. Both authors have written books that retell the story of Rapunzel. Kate’s historical novel Bitter Greens tells the tale from three perspective: Rapunzel, The Witch and the woman who first penned the tale in 17th century France, Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de La Force. Kate explained how Rapunzel’s isolation and entrapment mirrored her own childhood experience of being savagely mauled by a dog, losing part of her ear and one of her tear ducts, then the subsequent meningitis and encephalitis that lead to long stints alone recovering in the hospital. Her only company once her mother left for the evenings; a leather bound copy of the tales of the Brothers Grimm. The theme of people being imprisoned in towers or dungeons is a recurring motiff in Kate’s novels. Kate is currently writing a theoretical examination on Rapunzel and undertaking a doctorate in fairy tale re-telling.
Paired with Kate in the Fairy tales discussion was Tasmanian author, Danielle Wood, who’s new novel Mothers Grimm shines a light on the fact that in the Grimm world, the best mothers are six feet under. The novel is essentially a sharp and witty examination of the fears and standards society has of what encompasses a “good mother”. Danielle turns the tales of Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel & The Goose Girl on their heads and inside out. Re-crafting the familiar tales with modern characters that show that the path of motherhood is beset with snares and traps and that the consequences of one decision evoke judgment on the alternative choices. Each vignette of these ‘Grimm’ mother’s bring fresh perspectives to age old tales. The retelling even draws to a close at Rapunzel’s birth, leaving out the more widely known part of the famous fairy tale. It was interesting to hear that even though both authors are fans of the re-workings of fairy tales, neither has seen the current reworking’s of old tales in the smash hit TV shows Grimm or Once Upon a Time, in fact neither author even owns a TV!
From fairy tales to real life tales. Next up, for a change of pace, we settled in to hear Joanna Rakoff speak about her runaway hit, My Salinger Year. The memoir that was never meant to be. Joanna penned an extraordinarily long essay for one of the ritzy rags in New York detailing her year working for J.D. Salinger’s publishing house and answering his fan mail. Due to its length she never expected it to go to print un-abridged, but to her surprise not only was it printed but she started getting calls from publishers asking her to turn it into a book. Because she had a privileged upbringing with little noticeable conflict, she refused, stating that her story didn’t have the meat to warrant a full book. After the BBC commissioned a documentary based on her article and some prodding from her agent she changed her stance and agreed to pen the memoir. To the Perth audience’s delight, she gave the follow up scoop on what had since happened to her toxic ex-boyfriend and her high school sweet heart.
Our day culminated in a delightful melding of fiction and real life, in the final panel discussion “This Story Needs to be Told” with Michael Robotham and Peter Docker. The two men discussed news stories that have caught their attention and inspired their writing. Michael Robotham spoke of how his latest novel ‘Life or Death’ was inspired by a news article he read twenty years ago in which a man escaped from prison the day before he was due for release. Robotham sat with the story for two decades before he finally conceived of a plausible reason why someone would attempt this. Peter Docker then shared with us his concern over the rise of death in custody articles which inspired him to write ‘Sweet One’. Both authors then discussed how some characters in their novels have been inspired by real people, but how the similarities then end as the character takes on a life of its own. Robotham has even gone as far as to auction off for charity, a guest role in one of his novels.
We must congratulate those responsible for this year’s Perth Writers Festival. Not only did they manage to attract some prize winning authors, but everything on the day ran smoothly. All sessions started dead on the advertised time and ended punctually. Each event was full to standing room only, yet the discussions felt intimate with ample time for questions at each panel. If like me, you have said, “I must make it to the fest this year”, but never made it, book yourself in early next year and get inspired!