Evie Wyld at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

Evie-Wyld
Source: Writers Edit

“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

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Climate Change and the New Nature: The emergence of “Cli-fi”

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“Nature is a victim of domestic violence – we all live in the same house and we’ve beaten the shit out of it.” Anson Cameron’s strong words resonated across the room at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to a momentary stunned silence, before the audience burst into applause.

Cameron, author of five critically acclaimed novels and columnist for The Age newspaper, joined fellow panellist John Bradley, winner of a number of Australian and International awards for his four novels, to talk about an emerging genre called “cli-fi” – that is, climate fiction. Both have recently authored dystopian novels that fall under the genre.

“The lines between natural and unnatural are blurred,” Bradley said, citing scientific breakthroughs of recent years such as bionics and artificial intelligence. “Nature is damaged and altered, and there’s an urgency there considering the rapidity of these changes. There is a science fictional nature to the world we now live in.”

The ensuing discussion proved how the effects of a prolonged lack of concern regarding climate change have led to changes in literature about nature. According to Cameron, past literature has depicted either harsh, violent, frightening nature such as in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Wuthering Heights, or, on the other hand, romanticised nature as if made by God. It is evident that this approach has given way to stories of bleak, ravaged wastelands and love letters to something that has been lost.

“How much of New Nature is about loss? It seems to me a tribute – ‘these are the things we’ve lost’,” climate change expert at the University of Sydney, Professor David Schlosberg, queried. Bradley reminded the audience that in 1998, one quarter of the world’s coral died and there was very little concern. “It’s brain breaking,” he said. “It reminds me of the saying ‘one death is a tragedy, a thousand deaths is a statistic’.” Bradley strives to make this loss more tangible. “Loss is deeply wound up in this genre.”

However, both authors agree that to an extent, it’s important to retain a sense of hope going forward. “Hope – like beer, wine and song – is essential,” Cameron said. “Opting out of hope is a failure.” While Bradley doesn’t see the ending of his novel as particularly hopeful, he believes it shows possibility. “The future is still open,” he explained. “It’s difficult to write a bleak ending because a novel is a human form.”

Overall, the talk was an illuminating discussion about how climate change has not only affected our physical world, but also our literature.

Originally posted on Sydney Uni Life: http://blogs.usyd.edu.au/sydneylife/2015/06/climate_change_and_the_new_nat.html#sthash.v5C2GOmD.uxfs&st_refDomain=t.co&st_refQuery=/zTJ8jtEIod