Evie Wyld at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

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


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


“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

Kim Williams: Rules of Engagement at Sydney Writers’ Festival

Kim Williams’ new book, Rules of Engagement, focuses on what is important to him – “enthusiasms, passions, ideas, and the energy of thinking” – rather than any recent controversy.

Williams has had an illustrious career as a media executive, heading high profile media organisations such as News Corp, Foxtel and the Australian Film Commission, as well as music-oriented organisations including Musica Viva Australia and the Sydney Opera House trust. He also studied the clarinet at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. “I had a very long and lovely relationship with the clarinet,” he said, smiling.

It is no surprise, then, that in his Sydney Writers’ Festival address he revealed that music is the central force in his life.

“Music is with you always,” Williams said. “I have music playing in the back of my mind all the time.” He was quick to clarify. “I never, ever listen to music playing while I work. I don’t understand playing music when you’re not really listening to it.”

He also believes that music helps with conflict resolutions. “Bach uses a series of discords that resolve themselves. Understanding the discipline of music is understanding the notion of tension and release.”

Williams’ passion for music underpins his disbelief that the Coalition federal government has no arts policy, and that creating one is not a priority. He believes that music is one of the things you acquire to lead a productive life. He said that, in particular, the lack of compulsory music education for children is concerning. “Children are among the most abused in society because they don’t have a say. Music should be compulsory for children; it’s fundamental.”

The reason for this, he insisted, is the growing inability to listen in order to make change.

Williams stressed the importance of listening in a world that is often too cacophonous. “There is a severe onslaught against listening,” said Williams. He traced this in part to the effect of the rise of social media and narcissism. According to Williams, listening is the key to rescue our future.

Drawing on history for a particular example, Williams praised Captain Cook’s leadership qualities. “[He showed these abilities in] endeavouring to engage and the way he documented. He is a role model for leadership, and made sure everybody came along. A splendid human being.”

Originally posted at Sydney Uni Life

Roland Fletcher: On Past Futures at Sydney Writers’ Festival

Professor Roland Fletcher discussed climate change and how we can learn from the past.
Professor Roland Fletcher discussed climate change and how we can learn from the past.

Something that is really frustrating for archaeologists such as Roland Fletcher is the total disregard people have for the origins of their food. “You really couldn’t give a damn!” he joked in his Curiosity Lecture Series talk at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. “You might think archaeologists are a bit mad, because they spend their time grovelling through other people’s garbage. But if you look through someone’s garbage bin, you can see what people really do, not just what they say they do.”

Fletcher is a professor of archaeology at the University of Sydney and instigator of the Greater Angkor project, which uses laser imaging to map the “lost” ancient megacity Angkor in Cambodia. “It’s strange that they call it a ‘lost city’ – as if the locals were so incompetent that they’d lost it,” Professor Fletcher said. “The local people showed explorers how to get there.”

He believes that by comparing the destruction of the ancient city to what is occurring in present day societies, we can be better prepared for the effects of climate change. “We have to have memory for a reference point for what we do, and a reference point for our relationship with others,” he said.

The temple of Angkor Wat – which is the size of the University of Sydney – was once a testament to the creativity, imagination and skill of its people, until it suffered the effects of severe erosion as a result of the transition from the Warm Medieval Period in the 14th century to the Little Ice Age in the 16th century.

“Angkor went through mega monsoons interspersed by severe drought, which led to the destabilisation of the city,” Professor Fletcher explained. “[They] had re-engineered their landscape and destroyed forests to create the city. There was a period of severe erosion and redeposition of thousands of tonnes of sand into their water systems.”

According to Professor Fletcher, this occurrence is significant. “Angkor was a giant, low density city, cleared of natural vegetation and hit by an extreme period of climate. The city became impossible to repair.” Sound familiar? Professor Fletcher finds it “disturbing” that 50 per cent of humanity currently lives in urban environments, a far larger statistic than in previous historical periods. Considering the worsening effects of climate change, he believes we are beginning a transition into a new climate period. “It might be worth paying attention to the material memory that lies in our past,” Professor Fletcher said. “Most of Angkor’s population reformed the community around its perimeter, and the same thing happened in Sri Lanka.”

Professor Fletcher suggests part of the solution lies in decentralisation. “It’s important to diversify your base. Committing to mega infrastructure means that if a disaster occurs it can be almost impossible to repair. There should be variety, and many means of power and transport.” He rounded out the discussion by expressing his desire for new urban studies programs that go beyond current short-term orientations, and instead incorporate more of a focus on the past to build a better future.

Originally posted at Sydney Uni Life

Review: Juliet Marillier’s “Dreamer’s Pool”

** spoiler alert **

I’ll admit, this book took me longer to warm to than the rest of Juliet’s books. The plot felt directionless for a good portion of the middle – I got a bit frustrated because Blackthorn and Grim were so interesting to me, and I wanted to discover more about their pasts and see Blackthorn struggle more with her quest, but they were stuck in the one place solving a crime between two unimportant villagers (as important as the message in the outcome was).

Oran as a POV character seemed to get more chapters than Blackthorn & Grim themselves… and it didn’t help that he was hopelessly naive and obsessed with an idealised version of his betrothed for the majority of the novel. I wish I could like him, I applaud Juliet for writing Oran, who possesses traits that are rarely bestowed on principal male characters, it’s something I’d like to see more of. But for some reason, he really grated with me.

With the slight negativity out of the way – WOW! I love Blackthorn and Grim so much, both separately and as a pair. Especially Grim, he really leapt off the page in each of his chapters (curious as to why he was written in present tense). Their dynamic was wonderful and, towards the very end, quite heartbreaking – I’m really looking forward to reading more about them, and finding out about their pasts. Seeing the gradual breakdown of emotional barriers between the two is truly beautiful to read. Blackthorn is such a wonderfully feminist character, and I love how she alters her view of more “traditionally feminine” women by the end of the novel, in appreciating Flidais’ strength of character and bravery.

I also grew to appreciate Ciar – only after I begun to realise who she really was, and I’m glad Blackthorn is going to assist her in getting back to her human form and we’ll be seeing more of her in future books. (I don’t think she deserved being turned into a dog! She didn’t really make the choice to turn into Flidais, she just did what she had to to survive… as manipulative as she became…) Juliet really has a knack for writing delightfully flawed characters.

I really, really wanted to read more about Conmael in this book! I’m sure we’ll get to that in the future but… Juliet’s depictions of the Fair Folk are always so intriguing. (I’ve been on a Labyrinth kick lately and I kept picturing him as David Bowie though, imagine my delight when he was hinted as an owl in the last chapter!)

Ultimately I give this book a 4/5, I’m very excited for the future novels and I feel this series can only get better.