Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Authors and the Family Secrets

After a beautiful Balinese welcome dance and Festival Director Janet De Neefe's speech on first day of festival ...

... four hectic days of non-stop book talk kicked off.

The first session I attended was a very interesting one on family, and why authors are drawn to write about them. The speakers were British novelist Patrick Gale, Australian author Jo Dutton, and Egyptian writer/translator/critic Somaya Yehia Ramadan with moderator Rosemary Sayer.

Patrick Gale said that he has spent his first 20 years as a writer thinking that he had to make it all up, and only tackled his family head-on in Rough Music finding the process very amusing:
When a writer is born into a family, the family has had it!
Somaya said that she grew up in a nuclear family at the time when Egypt had just started it's thrust to modernity, and she felt that she had really missed out not growing up in a large extended family.

Jo Dutton grew up in the Solomon Islands, and later moved with her family back to Australia, and described how her father wasn't really a presence in her life as parenting was seen as a feminine prerogative, and how she now finds it difficult to write fuller male characters.

Patrick Gale said that he felt that men of earlier generations were not really raised to be interesting as people - but that there was far more going on in the stories of women of that generation as they had to constantly reinvent themselves at different points in their life, and it is also often the mother who provides the official version of the family story. Younger men he feels are far more interesting than their fathers and grandfathers, as they have more to challenge them and often carry half the can when it comes to parenting.

But isn't writing about family a little dangerous in case relatives recognise themselves and never talk to you again? This is I know the fear of many novice writers, and I'm so glad the question was asked.
People are so self-deluding, they very rarely recognise themselves.
said Patrick Gale said, while Jo Dutton added that:
People tend to take something that's great in a character and assign it to themselves, but when they see the negative they assume it's not them.
Another writer (I think it was New Zealand poet Tusiata Avia but can't find the place in my notes at the moment) said exactly the same thing in another panel discussion a few days later, so really, there must be something in it!

Patrick Gale signs books.


msiagirl said...

ooo I'm a bit of a Patrick Gale fan - his stories are so well written, yet the content is always devastating! eek - need months to recover afterwards.

bibliobibuli said...

i haven't read him yet and must. i didn't buy his books in ubud either as i couldn't carry them back and they were so expensive.

more on patrick gale is sleeping in my notebook ...

Leon Wing said...

I really lke Gale's books. Have been reading him for ages. Last book read was Friendly Fire - absorbing. Sharon, hope you got his autograph.

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, thanks for the update! On the subject of writing about people we know, Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird to give the guy a small 'birdie'. That would make him reluctant to equate the character with himself.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, i was thinking of lamott's line as i wrote the post! i think she's probably absolutely right.

bibliobibuli said...

leon - you'll kill me but i didn't buy a book to be signed ... couldn't carry much back ... but anyway will go to kino to track down his books now

Anonymous said...

Humans are always the most interesting, fascinating creatures ont he planet (especially the outspoken ones.)