Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
Last week I had the opportunity to listen to the celebrated author Tim Winton speak about his new book ‘Eyrie‘. I’ve never seen Winton in person before and considering that he’s one of the best living Australian writers and in the last month I’ve seen his film The Turning and his play Shrine, the opportunity was too great to pass up, making this the festival of Winton month!
Winton was very nervous when he beheld the hundreds of eager faces in the large lecture theatre before him, shuffling paper, pausing to take a drink of water, making a muffled comment about mobile phones with different ring tones always going off during his readings (and sure enough 2 different phones rang while he was speaking and they had different ring tones) and this was really charming to see for such an acclaimed writer. He really seems to be an average bloke. Winton gained confidence by reading some of Eyrie to us aloud. He captivated us by reading with emotion, enthusiasm and at a slow to moderate pace and we laughed aloud. It made me realise that I probably rush through books trying to read to a schedule for book group and as a result it’s likely that I’m missing out on some laughs and other emotions along the way. I’ve just finished reading Tess of the D’Urbeville’s and I repeatedly found myself frustrated by Hardy’s verbosity but I think that the real problem is that I have become accustomed to a faster pace of writing that is now used. Like Winton said, Victorian houses were built with space for the spending of time and Victorian novels were written to give one something to do with that time.
After the book reading there was a question and answer session with the audience and I have heavily paraphrased some of the questions and answers here that I thought may be of interest:
Q: Where do you write?
A: Anywhere that I have access to a moderately quiet room. I wrote Cloud Street in a studio apartment and cafe in Paris, in the UK and in Greece (Presumably this trip inspired him to write The Riders). I once rented an apartment in Fremantle and wrote there and in doing so realised how thin the walls were and that I was soaking in the lives of those living around me. Presumably it was through this experience that he was inspired to write Eyrie.
Q: Are you ever inspired to write a sequel to The Riders?
A: No, I wouldn’t write a sequel but my characters stay with me. Some of them have been with me for longer than the marriages of some of my friends have lasted. Sometimes characters from one story pop up in a new story that I’m writing.
Q: Do you think that you will be criticised for leaving the ending of Eyrie so open?
A: Life is open ended and we are conditioned by Hollywood to expect neat endings but they are artificial.
Q: Do you ever read your stories to yourself aloud while you are writing?
A: I remember when I was in high school in Perth it was hot summer and fat flies lazily flew around the room as we boys became sleepier and more lethargic. Our teacher had asked us to take turns to read aloud from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens and we were butchering it. Finally he snatched the book off a boy and returned to the very first sentence and began to read aloud to us. Suddenly the story came to life and we realised how funny it actually was. So yes, I’m a great believer in reading aloud and I do it while writing and those who overhear me probably think I’m crazy.
Q: Do you have a response to the charge by the article in The Age that you are misogynistic?
A: It wasn’t an article it was a column (to general applause). Being called a misogynist is like doing a stinky fart in a car, you can never escape it. Throughout my long career I’ve been edited and published by women of the 70s brand of feminism and never had a comment from any of them.
This question made me sit up and pay a great deal of attention because I had been quietly sweating while trying to phrase an intelligent question around why his female characters tend to be victims, seductresses or trapped and never seem to be self-determining. As I stated in my post on Shrine I do wish that Winton would write a positive role for female characters instead of being either victims of domestic circumstance, poverty, violence, or objects of desire. I tried and tried but couldn’t find a way to frame this comment as a question because clearly Winton’s books are about his sad, middle aged, male characters who have squandered their opportunities and not about the women that have in some way contributed to their unfortunate lives. Clearly he isn’t myoginistic either and I find it concerning that columnist Nicolle Flint brandished that damaging allegation so carelessly after Anna Goldsworthy did a brilliant job here of illuminating the issue in the Quarterly Essay. Anyway, I was disappointed with the way that Winton handled this question and confused by the rantings against Flint voiced in a blog here.