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Brisbane Writers Festival

It was a sunny three days by the Brisbane River, at the Cultural Centre, South Bank, for the Brisbane Writers Festival from October 4-6. The ferries zoomed along the Brisbane River as people walked around in the sunshine, writers and other book people gave talks and answered questions, and authors signed books at the book tent.I tried to get as many reading tips as possible from the guest writers.

Some have criticised Austalian writers festivals as leaning a bit toward a particular end of the political spectrum. Even so, you can still learn a few things at them. Tom Kenneally (An Angel in Australia; Schindler’s Ark), was high on my list of prospective interviewees. I found out the hard way how popular he was because his Friday morning session in the State Library Theatrette was packed out. Luckilly he appeared later at the River Lounge which was a white marque looking out over the river. He said he liked The Tin Drum by Gunther Grass.

Alex Miller (Journey to the Stone Country) said his favorites were Janine Burke’s Australian Gothic: a life of Albert Tucker; andUnderworld by Don Delillo. Mr Miller was an ex-stockman who’d worked on cattle stations all over Queensland. He said he still turned to Proust from time to time. If you could never finish Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, he said it was best to read the last book first, (Time Regained), because you could see how the fascinating characters turned out, how they were wearing “the mask of death”, and then you could go back to the beginning of A Remembrance of Things Past and see why they turned out that way.
Mr Miller’s novel, Journey to the Stone Country, is said to be a great work.

Doris Pilkington said she had been so busy she rarely even had time to read women’s magazines. She’d been to places like Norway promoting the film Rabbit-Proof Fence which has been adapted from her novel.
She said a lot of tourists were now calling Western Australia and asking if they could go and touch the rabbit-proof fence

The session on research led me to some good tips in this area and indirectly led to some good tips on humour titles. Speakers were Bob Ellis (Goodbye Babylon), Four Corners investigative journalist Chris Masters, Gail Bell (The Poison Principle), pictured, and Philip McLaren (Black Murder; There’ll Be New Dreams).

First up, I asked them what their favorite works of research were. Chris Masters, who was integral in bringing about the Fitzgerald Inquiry into corruption in Queensland with his tv report “The Moonlight State”, said he liked the work of World War 1 historian Charles Bean, who showed there was more to WW1 than adventure.
He said Bean sailed to Gallipoli in 1919 when everyone else was sailing home. Mr Masters also liked Charles Wilmott (The Struggle for Europe) who had the courage to investigate corruption and General Blamey, commander of Australian forces, at the height of WW2.
He also liked Michael Crick for his “fastidious” investigation of Jeffrey Archer (who is a skilled constructor of plots, by the way).

Philip McLaren was a fan of the fictional style of Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, and also liked Gore Vidal.

Gail Bell wrote The Poison Principle about her grandfather who allegedly poisoned two of his sons, her uncles. She liked the research that went into Reading the Holocaust by Inga Clendinnen.

Bob Ellis stole the show with his hang-dog charisma and booming voice. He was obviously a sharp thinker, too. Research-wise he said he liked The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro; Bernard Shaw by Michael Hollroyd; Oscar Wilde by Richard Ellmann; Ides of March by Thornton Wilder; and the ABC tv series about New South Wales police corruption, Blue Murder. He was a dry speaker, so when I saw him wandering around later on, I asked him if he had any humor favorites.
“I’d put Scoop at the top and I’d put Money at number two,” he said, referring to Evelyn Waugh and Martin Amis’s novels respectively.
He also cited as favorites: There’s a Porpoise Close Behind Us, by Noel Langley; Jake’s Thing, by Kingsley Amis; The Code of the Woosters, and Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse; and God Knows, by Joseph Heller.