I’m hopelessly late reporting on my last two 2019 Melbourne Writers Festival events, but both were fantastic and worth a mention.
White has survived family trauma, foster care, boarding school and drug addiction. The book strikes the delicate balance between humour and telling the story in all its heartbreaking and horrific detail. In real life, White was exactly the same. He began by saying that writing the book was a decision to put to rest a certain phase of his life, adding that he also had an ‘advance’ – “…our country’s official arts stipend – the dole”.
Krasnostein observed that trauma plays tricks on memory and that although White labels himself an unreliable narrator, some details are crystal clear. He said that his early memories are scant, and that what’s there is ‘feeling-toned’ (*isn’t that a lovely way to describe a memory?*) – “I liken memories to archipelagos as opposed to a land mass.”
A large part of the discussion focused on the current state of the welfare and foster system in Australia, and peoples lack of understanding – “The disconnection from larger society is natural. I mean, we have no thoughts about agricultural practices in northern Turkey because we can’t affect them. It’s the same with trauma.”
There are many things that White believes would make a difference to the system – “…more resources plus look more deeply and more radically”. He specified more social workers, more foster carers, and a program where drug addicts are paid to be given long-term contraception (like the US Project Prevention), “…when a child is taken into care, it exacerbates the parent’s drug abuse…”.
White talked about his reluctance to be labelled a ‘victim’, wary that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Let’s not enshrine the trauma. Let’s look at strength and resilience.” He finished with saying, “If you want to shrink something, let it expand.”
Corey White appeared on Australian Story in 2015, talking about his foster care experience.
Authors Peggy Frew (Islands), Peter Fenton (The Days of In Between), Carrie Tiffany (Exploded View), and Alice Pung (Laurinda) discussed writing from a child’s perspective. Peggy began by admitting that her choice of narrator was driven by the desire to hold on to elements of her childhood, and Peter was fascinated by the fact that people speak about age with such surprise and bewilderment (“I just turned 70 and yet I feel 22!“).
In contrast, Carrie said that she avoids the child’s point-of-view because it is often pretentious and annoying – “So I’m startled to find myself here with a child narrator,” laughingly adding, “In the future, the children will accuse us of appropriation and fair enough.” She went on to say that in Exploded View, she tried to write as a woman looking back but the narrative was ‘too cool’ and Carrie’s memories of her own childhood were ‘hot’. Alice agreed about the intensity of childhood, attributing it to a sense of powerlessness.
In talking about creating an authentic child character, Peter said, “Children rely on very little evidence to form opinions about what is happening around them. They are inherently perceptive, they observe the non-verbal.” This comment was part of a broader discussion but the ‘very little evidence’ bit has lingered, and picks up on something Carrie said in an earlier session, that children do know everything in their world, and that “Everything has the same intensity.”