What a day! The inaugural Broadside Festival opened with Helen Garner in conversation with Sarah Krasnostein.
It was the first time I’d heard Helen speak (despite trying to get to her rare speaking engagements in the past). My immediate impression was that she was much warmer and funnier than I had expected (I guess my expectations were unthinkingly based on her subject matter and her spare, pared-back prose).
The conversation began with talking about publishing a diary, something that by nature is intended to be private. On rereading her diaries, Helen said, “There was a lot of boring stuff in there, which naturally I found fascinating. To sort out what others would find interesting about you is actually quite a challenging process.”
She spoke of the practice of keeping a diary (she writes daily) – “Writing a diary is a technical practice. I’m always interested in writing proper sentences.” She later reflected that maybe the need to record her day was because “…writers are frightened of losing things.”
There were challenges in deciding to what to include in Yellow Notebook Diaries Volume 1 – she cut a lot and didn’t rewrite anything, although realised that one of the problems with publishing a diary as opposed to a memoir is that there is no opportunity for a voice-over (memoir allows some narration, some reflection, some justification for behaviour). Ultimately, she came to the “…realisation that I’m not unique. We all hurt and go around hurting each other.”
She spoke at length on the discipline of writing, rejecting the idea that inspiration would “…sweep over you and a manuscript would pour out.”
“I threw out the idea of inspiration years ago. I just collect what’s interesting.”
Regarding the discipline and technical aspect of writing, she lamented the loss of teaching grammar in the classroom – “If you don’t understand grammar, it’s very difficult to criticise your own work. You don’t have the tools to know that fourteen adverbs in a sentence is shit.”
There was more – on her introduction to feminism in the 1970s she said, “It was like I’d been underwater and I finally put my head up and took a breath.”
On the solitude found in writing – “I think writers are lonely anxious people. Yes we can put on the act of being sociable but really we’re dying to get away and write down what you just said.”
Sarah, reflecting that Helen is such a ‘talented observer’, asked how she gathers her information. In my favourite part of the whole hour, Helen replied –
“The great thing about getting older is you can strike up conversations with strangers. Strangers tell me things on trams. I just love public transport for that reason. I’m shameless now… actually, they’re not conversations because I just listen. It reminds me how rare it is to be listened to.”
The Wheeler Centre had artist Sarah Firth drawing the Broadside sessions in real-time. These are the things that make me love the internet, social media and its immediacy. The result of the Helen Garner session is wonderful and accurate.
Sue of Whispering Gums was also at the event – find her excellent (and far more detailed than mine) summary here.