Note to self: do not book flights earlier than 9am. I had to wake up at 5am yesterday; it was still dark. Somehow, I hauled my arse to Tullamarine airport in time for the flight (thank you boyfriend), and found myself on a plane full of writers who were also hating their flight schedules.
Things were on the up, however, once I reached Newcastle. Tom Cho sat next to me on the bus into town and we compared our similar/dissimilar upbringings. I discovered that his mother was racist towards her own kind and, consequently, Tom never had to go to Chinese school. Hopefully, he’ll divulge more about inward racism at today’s panel ‘You are So Lacist’.
After finding a couple of clip-on earrings at the Hunter Street Salvos and a black velvet gown for The Great Gatsby Ball, I headed down to the ‘Well It’s Technically Not About You’ panel with Caro Cooper (facilitator), Benjamin Law, Sally Breen, Krissy Kneen, and Michaela McGuire. Though the panellists had all written about ‘real people’, the diversity of the panel allowed for lengthy discussion on the subject.
Benjamin Law often depicts his family in his non-fiction. He believes that intent helps cushion the collateral in such writing; his work is a love letter to his family, and they accept it with such in mind. To avoid alienating them, he also lets them read (and criticise) his drafts. Usually, his family glosses over the big stuff, picking at only minor details.
Krissy Kneen shared a disheartening experience—Krissy had been writing about a recent crush when he became upset over the drafts she posted online at furiousvaginas. She had gained his consent, only to realise that he was not emotionally mature enough to deal with the material. Upset that he was upset, Krissy decided to replace him with a different character in her narrative.
Michaela McGuire’s Apply Within: Stories of Career Sabotage wasn’t about friends or lovers or family, but sketched people she hoped never to hear from again. During the panel, her focus was on defamation. How to write without getting sued? Insinuate, insinuate, insinuate! (And get lots of legal advice.)
Sally Breen’s memoir was about her father, and against her family’s wishes, she had depicted him with ‘warts and all’. Unlike Krissy and Benjamin, her stance was much more ruthless. Writing should push boundaries. You should fear what you write. And don’t gloss over.
The panellists also spoke about the importance of time (the distance it gives), a writer’s own imperfect (or ‘sloppy’ as per Benjamin Law) recollection, and the importance of not using names (use only first names or, even better, change the name completely). They also listd a couple of writers to read: David Sedaris, Helen Garner (The First Stone), and Colette. Overall: an awesome session.
Afterwards, I hung out with the Melbourne/Brisbane crowd (photos coming soon) and sketched nude people for the Midnight meat (no photos, sorry). With an emphasis on absence rather than presence, I found sketching more taxing than writing. Or maybe it was the lack of sleep plus dehydration/alcohol/giant copulating giraffe sculpture—