“I don’t believe in ghosts – but I do believe that people see them.”
Evie Wyld, winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin award for her second novel, All the Birds, Singing, joined Geordie Williamson in conversation at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I had interviewed Wyld a few days earlier, and was charmed by her Britishness – her colourful description of “a proper row” she witnessed in a dining hall over a book, amongst other Britishisms – and intriguing insights into the navigation of place between Australia and England in her writing.
It is clear that Wyld has a deep connection with Australia. Though born in the UK, much of her childhood was spent on a sugar cane farm in New South Wales with her mother’s family, where she harbours many fond memories. Her fascination with the supernatural stemmed in part from the stories her Australian grandfather told.
“The Australian landscape, for me, has always been full of ghosts,” she said. “As a child I’d walk around the sugar cane farm really happily and enjoy myself making up stories. There was this one little bit of marshland where my grandfather said there was a yowie, and that it was a woman who’d had her legs cut off – as you do to six year olds! – and that when you heard the cane rustling that was her dragging herself along the ground. But it never stopped me going through there.”
Wyld described herself as being a sickly, quiet child in awe of her Australian relatives. “They’re the kind of Australians who wear underwear with no shoes, driving their tractors around. My uncle has a rule that you wear shoes to a funeral but not a wedding. They were these huge colourful characters.” This, she contrasts with ideas of British masculinity, which she describes as “proper, thin and pale.” With such duality in her upbringing, it is unsurprising that Wyld has been inspired to write in such a vivid manner.
“Collecting memories meant I was closer to the place,” she said, describing how she would proudly assert her Australian heritage at school.
Event moderator Geordie Williamson referenced essays by Robert MacFarlane in his summation of Wyld’s work. MacFarlane’s essays deal with the relationship between writers and landscape. Wyld, too, has described feeling as though landscapes are “just another character” in her books. This sentiment was also echoed in the Sydney Writers’ Festival talk Climate Change and the New Nature (where MacFarlane’s essays were also referenced) which gives way to a feeling that writers are becoming more interested in writing about landscapes and their relationships to people.
Wyld’s entertaining and informative discussion proves that she will be a major force in Australian literature for years to come.
Originally posted at Sydney Uni Life: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/sydneylife/2015/06/evie_wyld_all_the_birds_singin.html#more