What a very writerly week I’ve had. On Thursday I went down to Melbourne to the opening night of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. What forced me out into the rain, wind, hail and cold was the pleasure of meeting up with two writer friends, fellow Varuna-ites Anne Myers and Andrea Gillum. And then going off to the Town Hall to see (and hear, obviously) Simon Callow talking about ‘Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World.’
Well. Wonderful, is all I can say. He spoke about how Dickens, reading from his work, absolutely mesmerised his Victorian audiences. People would laugh, cry, and even faint, such was the drama and intensity of Dicken’s performance…and I can see how ably Callow would reproduce those readings, for he was pretty spell-binding, too. No notes, and even his answers to questions after the talk were polished and witty. Apparently Dickens was addicted to the ‘fix’ of that emotional and almost spiritual bond that forms between audience and actor. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that a few times, and it is a deep, real, moving and absolutely real feeling.
I think I felt it first when the Royal Shakespeare Company came out to Australia in the 1970’s and my parents took me to see Judi Dench in ‘A Winter’s Tale’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. And another Shakespeare occasion was only a couple of years ago, with the Bell Shakespeare ‘Twelfth Night’. At the end of the play we were all (or it felt like ‘all’) clapping and smiling and some of us – it couldn’t have just been me – were teary as well. It was the wisdom and beauty and encircling joy of the whole thing; the creaky story, Shakespeare’s characters and wonderful words, the actors themselves. I thought as I applauded, how wonderful it must feel to have those waves of emotion flowing towards you on the stage from the invisible people in their seats in the dark. You could feel the love.
But enough of that; Simon Callow certainly communicated his passion for Dickens, and his warmth and humour and wit filled the big hall.
The other writerly-ness was the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year awards ceremony in Adelaide. My The Truth About Verity Sparks was awarded (along with Jackie French’s Nanbery) Honour Book in the Younger Readers category. It was like winning silver. Since being shortlisted felt like winning gold to me, this was the cup running (almost) over. Wonderful. It was especially lovely to talk to some of the CBC members and judges, to hear their kind and enthusiastic comments about my book, and to realise the passion they feel for children’s literature. Since the judges had to read around 300 books, it was truly a labour of love. The awards were presented by the Federal Member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis. She is the tall, model-esque one with the long hair. She is also Minister for Childcare and Early Childhood. She spoke about the importance of books and reading not just for those measurable outcomes such as language acquisition and literacy. She recalled her young self under the sheets with a torch, reading after the lights were out, and talked about how books can transport you to other places, indentities, experiences; how they enrich and expand your world, nourish your imagination and your sympathies; help you to grow. Hear, hear! Congratulations to the other award and Honour Book winners (my pick for the Younger Readers was Kate Constable’s Crow Country and I was right) and to those on the shortlist and list of notable books.
I also had lunch with my wonderful editor Mary Verney and the other Walker Books prize-winner, Bob Graham. His ‘A Bus Called Heaven’ was the Picture Book of the Year. I told Bob that in Castlemaine a month or so ago, I had seen a mini-bus with ‘Heaven’ painted on the front; how funny, I said, they must have got the idea from your book.
“No, that was the bus,” Bob said. It was a real bus. Bob saw it in Melbourne while walking his grand-daughter to school and his lovely story with those warm and funny illustrations was born.
Small world, eh?