Women of Steel – Caroline Baum on the 2015 Newcastle Writers Festival

CaroNow in its third year, The Newcastle Writers Festival’s steely strength has little to do with this city’s industrial past and everything to do with the iron will of its founding director, Rosemarie Milsom. She wanted a writers festival and she got herself one, virtually single handed. This year, she has eighty volunteers, and a program that’s expanded from two to three days, but she’s still not being paid a salary and does the job part time, fitting it around her full time job as a journalist – oh and a mother of three. Steely indeed.

The festival venue is City Hall, a grand old building sandstone rabbit warren with a superb high ceilinged concert hall and lots of other rooms of various sizes for more intimate events. This weekend it was thronging with an estimated five thousand readers who came to hear one hundred and thirty writers on every conceivable subject. The line up included Les Murray, Don Watson, Marion Halligan, Bob Brown, Favel Parrett, Brooke Davis and PM Newton, to mention just a few.

I was lucky enough to chair the opening night panel on The Book That Changed Me, featuring Helen Garner, Michael Robotham and Jessica Rudd. It was a great way to kick off the festival, a reminder that all writers, without exception, start off as readers.

Caroline Baum talks to Helen Garner

Caroline Baum talks to Helen Garner

Helen and Michael had one book in common, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I had expected that she might talk about Janet Malcolm, who has been such a significant influence on her non fiction writing, but as always, Helen was unpredictable in the best sense; her most intriguing choice was one most of the audience, including myself, would have been unfamiliar with : an American poet called Charles Reznikoff who wrote a book called Testimony based on hundreds of hours of court evidence. The affinity with her own work seems clear.

Michael Robotham told a wonderful anecdote about writing a fan letter to his hero Ray Bradbury author of his choice, the dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451 and getting a letter back form his daughter, inviting him to lunch to meet the author. Sadly, Bradbury died just before the encounter. Michael’s other selections had several things in common: they were American, and they were men: Steinbeck and Fitzgerald.

He earned a tongue in cheek reprimand from Jessica Rudd when he admitted that he hated Jane Austen when he first read her (’ leave the stage’ she mock-chided him). Rudd recalled how reading Joe Klein’s Primary Colours set her course to write political fiction.But she was adamant that satire was not her style: while much of the genre is characterised by cynicism, she remains an idealist about what politics, and political fiction can achieve. (And yes, there’s a third Ruby book in the works).

Her other favourite book of the moment is Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, and she confessed to thinking about writing the author a fan letter. Encouraged by Michael’s positive response from Bradbury, she just might. Garner’s experience as a fan was not so glowing: she’d had the briefest of encounters with her idol, Janet Malcolm, at a smart party in New York, while Malcolm was holding someone else’s baby, but the opportunity for a meeting of minds was sabotaged by another famous writer. Malcolm’s loss, I say.

***

Newcastle-Writers-Festival-BannerThe next day, the juiciest revelatons to be had were from Blanche d’Alpuget in candid conversation with Meredith Jaffe, Books Editor of The Hoopla. Perhaps because it was a small audience, perhaps because Jaffe made her feel comfortable with considered questions, d’Alpuget said some intriguing things about her father, who was, among other things a boxer; ‘ He was so frightening I had no fear of other men at all’ she said.

Emboldened by her candour, I asked why if she found writing to be such a blissful pleasure, (she had described it as divine) she had given it up for over fifteen years before her recent foray into historical fiction with The Young Lion and its sequel, The Lion Rampant.’ I decided to devote myself completely to love,’ she answered.

Steel comes in all grades and strengths.

—————————————-

Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director, for which she produces The Booktopia Buzz. She also writes for the Sydney Morning Herald, Qantas in flight magazine, Slow Magazine, SBS Feast and other publications about books, food, travel, the arts, and aspects of contemporary life.

230914carolinebaumbuzzheader616+x123Check out Caroline’s Books of the Month in The Booktopia Buzz

Catch Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum at this weekend’s Newcastle Writer’s Festival

CaroThe 2015 Newcastle Writer’s Festival has brought an enviable line up together, headlined by Booktopia’s own Caroline Baum hosting two blockbuster events with some of Australia’s most respected writers.

If you’re in the area and fancy a literary weekend, head to www.newcastlewritersfestival.org.au for more details.

And for Caroline Baum fans (aren’t we all) make sure you check out her big events over the weekend.

The Book That Changed Me

  • Authors Newcastle

    Friday, March 20, 2015

  • 7:00pm – 8:30pm
  • City Hall Concert Hall

Caroline Baum talks to bestselling authors Helen Garner, Jessica Rudd & Michael Robotham about the books that shaped them into the people they are today

Tickets: $35

Click here for more details

Helen Garner: The Lives of Others

  • HelenGarner+(2)

    Saturday, March 21, 2015

  • 6:00pm 7:00pm
  • City Hall Concert Hall

Award-winning writer Helen Garner spent eight years documenting the infamous case of Robert Farquharson, the father who drove his car into a dam, drowning his three young boys. She talks to Caroline Baum about the challenges of writing her highly acclaimed account, This House of Grief.

Tickets: $25

Click here for more details

A Glimpse at this year’s Melbourne Writer’s Festival

Salman-Rushdie1Off the back of this year’s sellout Sydney Writer’s Festival, the 2014 installment of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival is set to become one of the biggest in recent memory with a cavalcade of extraordinary talents.

Literary icons Salman Rushdie and Dave Eggers will be joined by rising stars NoViolet Bulawayo, Alissa Nutting and Willy Vlautin, while everyone’s favourite astronaut Chris Hadfield will also be at the festival, hopefully taking requests.

The local scene is also well represented with Helen Garner, Hannah Kent, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Sonya Hartnett, Favel Parrett, Sian Prior, John Safran and many more lined up to talk about all things bookish.

For the full program and ticket details go to www.mwf.com.au.

Don’t miss Booktopia’s Finest at the 2014 Sydney Writer’s Festival

Looking for things to see at The Sydney Writer’s Festival?

Come along and hear some experts from Booktopia chat about the wonderful world of books…

Continue reading

Who’s giving the opening address at The Sydney Writers’ Festival? Andrew Solomon. Let Jo Case & President Bill Clinton tell you why #SWF2014

Order Far From the TreeAndrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity is a truly amazing labour of love – and one of my favourite books of the past decade. Over seven years, Solomon has interviewed over 300 families where parents have children who are different from themselves in a defining way, across ten different categories, including deafness, dwarves, autistic and criminal children. He expertly weaves the diverse experience of these families into a narrative whole, looking at how parents come to love and accept children who are not what they expected, and to see the surprising positives in some of the most daunting challenges.

To what degree do these parents accept their children as they are, try to cure them, or a blend of both? What is it like to inhabit those identities, here and now? And (perhaps most intriguingly), is it better to get by in the mainstream world, with effort, but always be aware of not quite fitting in, or to relax into your natural self in a marginal world?

I was sucked into this book from the first page because of the masterful storytelling – a regular New Yorker writer, Solomon exemplifies the world-class reportage that the magazine is famous for. But I was left thinking about it for weeks and months afterwards because of the way Solomon explores questions at the heart of what makes us human, through the subject of parenting under challenging circumstances. Sometimes, he suggests, when we are forced to work harder for something, we value it even more.

Review by Jo Case, author of Boomer and Me: A memoir of motherhood, and Asperger’s

In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon reminds us that nothing is more powerful in a child’s development than the love of a parent. This remarkable new book introduces us to mothers and fathers across America –many in circumstances the rest of us can hardly imagine–who are making their children feel special, no matter what challenges come their way.

President Bill Clinton

Andrew Solomon will be giving the Opening Address at the Sydney Writers’ Festival on 20th May 2014 – for more details click the banner below…

BOOK NOW: 2014 Opening Address: Andrew Solomon

Order Far From the Tree

Far From the Tree

Sometimes your child – the most familiar person of all – is radically different from you. The saying goes that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But what happens when it does?

In this seminal new study of family, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who learn to deal with their exceptional children and find profound meaning in doing so.

He introduces us to families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, Solomon documents repeated triumphs of human love and compassion to show that the shared experience of difference is what unites us.

Drawing on interviews with over three hundred families, Solomon documents ordinary people making courageous choices, whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery.
Parents and children are challenged to their limits, but often grow closer as a result; many discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become activists, celebrating the conditions they once feared.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far From The Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance and tolerance – and shows how love for one’s children can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human.

Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

Photo by Annie Leibovitz.

About the Author

Andrew Solomon is a writer and activist working on politics, culture and psychology. He writes regularly for The New YorkerNewsweek, and The Guardian. He is a Lecturer in Psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Adviser on LGBT Affairs to Yale University’s Department of Psychiatry. The Noonday Demon won the 2001 National Book Award and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize. His highly-acclaimed study of family, Far from the Tree won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Non-fiction, the Lukas Book Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, among others. He lives with his husband and son in New York and London.

 

As seen in SMH & THE AGE > Books that changed me: Andrew Solomon

REVIEWS:

Far from the Tree is a landmark, revolutionary book. It frames an area of inquiry ‐difference between parents and children–that many of us have experienced in our own lives without ever considering it as a phenomenon. Andrew Solomon plumbs his topic thoroughly, humanely, and in a compulsively readable style that makes the book as entertaining as it is illuminating–

Order Far From the Tree

 Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize– winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Andrew Solomon has written a brave and ambitious work, bringing together science, culture and a powerful empathy. Solomon tells us that we have more in common with each other– even with those who seem anything but normal– than we would ever have imagined.

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers and The Tipping Point

This is a monumental book, the kind that appears once in a decade. It could not be a better example of the literature of diversity.

Steven Pinker, fucking genius and author of The Blank Slate 

‘Reading Far from the Tree is a mind-opening experience.’ Eric Kandel

‘Andrew Solomon’s investigation of many of the most intense challenges that parenthood can bring compels us all to re-examine how we understand human difference. Perhaps the greatest gift of this monumental book, full of facts and full of feelings, is that it constantly makes one think, and think again.’ Philip Gourevitch

 After all that, how can you not want to order a copy of Far from the Tree from Booktopia right now…? Click Here

REVIEW: The Pike by Lucy Hughes- Hallett (review by Lucinda Holdforth) #swf2014

Order The Pike Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War hereDon’t be put off by the apparently obscure subject and considerable heft of Lucy Hughes-Hallet’s wonderful biography of Gabriele D’Annunzio, The Pike.

D’Annunzio leaps off the page as a sex-mad spendthrift poet; a crack-pot warrior who led a small army to seize and rule an Istrian port city; and an almost-but-not quite-comic prototype for Mussolini’s Fascism.

The Pike is a gripping portrait of a man acting out his own Nietzschean fantasies, but it also offers rare insight into that strange early 20th century period when so many Europeans, perhaps in what historian Christopher Clark termed “a crisis of masculinity”, came to view violent conflict as a desirable end in itself.

D’Annunzio was one of the most lavish proponents of this view – extolling blood, death and slaughter as a form of glorious masculine hygiene and nation-building.

Hughes-Hallett takes us deep into D’Annunzio’s bizarre world, and we emerge repelled but fascinated, and enlightened.

I’ll never look at Italy the same way again. And I have put a visit to D’Annunzio’s final folly, his house Il Vittoriale on Lake Garda, on my must-see list next time I visit. Review by Lucinda Holdforth

The Pike won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was chosen as Book of the Year by more critics than any other book in 2013!

Lucy Hughes-Hallet will be at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May this year –
for more details click the banner below…

Order your tickets now...

Book your ticket now.

Order The Pike Gabriele D'Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War hereThe Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War

The story of Gabriele D’Annunzio, poet, writer, novelist, dramatist, daredevil, and one of the early precursors of Fascism.

In September 1919 Gabriele D’Annunzio, successful poet, dramatist and occasional politician with an innate flair for the melodramatic, declared himself the Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern day Croatia. He intended to establish the utopian modern state upon his muddled fascist and artistic ideals and create a social paradigm for the rest of the world. It was a fittingly dramatic pinnacle to a career that had been essentially theatrical.

In her new book Lucy Hughes-Hallett charts the enthralling but controversial life of D’Annunzio – acclaimed poet and author, legendary seducer and charmer – who lived an extravagant and debt-ridden life, and became a military and national hero. He evolved from an idealistic poet, who allied himself with the Romantic aesthetic, to an instigator of radical right-wing revolt against democratic authority.

D’Annunzio’s colourful story is also a political parable: through his apparently contradictory nature and the eventual failure of the Fiume endeavour, a picture is created of the politically turbulent Europe of the early 20th century and of the poison of emergent fascism.

As in the successful Heroes, Hughes-Hallett takes the story of a memorable character’s life to explore the society and politics of the times in which he lived. She raises questions concerning the figure of the ‘superman’, the cult of nationalism and the origins of political extremism and war. At the centre however stands the flamboyant and charismatic D’Annunzio: a figure as deplorable as he is fascinating. Order a copy.

About the Author:

Author: Lucy Hughes-HallettLucy Hughes-Hallett is an award-winning cultural historian, biographer and critic. The Pike has won the Samuel Johnson Prize and it was chosen as Book of the Year by more critics than any other book in 2013. Lucy’s previous books are Heroes: A History of Hero Worship and Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams, and Distortions . She began her career as a feature writer on Vogue, after having won the Vogue Talent Contest, and subsequently won the Catherine Pakenham Award for young female journalists. She was the Evening Standard’s television critic for five years and she has written on books or theatre for most of the leading British broadsheet newspapers. She has judged a number of literary prizes, including the Costa Children’s Book Award, and, most recently, the Duff Cooper Award. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Praise for The Pike from the Press:

‘Among the bizarre and sensational, it would be hard to beat Gabriele D’Annunzio. The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, a life of the Italian poet and self-promoter, is the acclaimed winner of the 2013 Samuel Johnson prize for nonfiction, and a biographical tour de force.

Even by Italian standards, D’Annunzio is stranger than fiction. Bestselling poet, aviator, showman, war hero, libertine and fantasist, he was the proto-fascist manifestation of that strand in Italian life that flourished under Mussolini (whom D’Annunzio despised). But he was also a European phenomenon. James Joyce compared him to Flaubert, Kipling and Tolstoy. Hughes-Hallett has previously written about heroes and supermen. D’Annunzio is the subject for which she has long been in rehearsal.

Small, self-obsessed, with very bad teeth, D’Annunzio is not an appealing character. His treatment of those close to him was shocking. His ideas were ridiculous. Hughes-Hallett justifies her interest by claiming, perhaps correctly, that D’Annunzio’s story illustrates how the glorious classical past can lead to the jackboot and the fascist manganello.I do hope this image is genuine!

D’Annunzio was also obsessed with sex and with the smell, taste, texture, and sensation of his lovers’ bodies. His letters are replete with detail which Hughes-Hallett, who revels in sensuality, has mined voraciously. The Pike, an off-putting title, is nevertheless a rich, voluptuous treat. She rightly says her subject is “half-beast, half-god”. Confronted with an unreliable subject she has adopted a method more common to novels than biographies. The result is a triumph, the biography of the year.’ Robert McCrum, Observer, ‘Books of the Year’

‘[The Pike] dramatically extends biography’s formal range to encompass a daunting theme’ TLS, ‘Books of the Year’

‘This is a magnificent portrait of a preposterous character … deplorable, brilliant, ludicrous, tragic but above all irresistible, as hundreds of women could testify. His biographer has done him full justice’ Francis Wheen, Daily Mail

‘A cracker of a biography, an extraordinary story of literary accomplishment, passionate war-mongering and sexual incorrigibility… In less skilled hands this could have been a disaster; in fact it works wonderfully well’ Spectator, ‘Books of the Year’

‘Beautiful, strange and original … an extraordinarily intimate portrait’ New StatesmanLess distressing

‘Hugely enjoyable … Hughes-Hallett has a great talent for encapsulating an era or an attitude …That almost 700 pages flew by bears testimony to how pleasurable and readable those pages were’ Sunday Times

‘A splendid subject for a biography … Hughes-Hallett dances her way through this extraordinary life in a style that is playful, punchy and generally pleasing … In death, as in life, the amazing story of D’Annunzio is painted in primary colours, but with the darkest shadows’ Observer

‘A riveting biography … It must have been so tempting to be judgemental, but Hughes-Hallett allows us to judge for ourselves’ Antonia Fraser, Daily Mail, ‘Books of the Year’

‘Not only an inspired telling of a life that becomes more repellent with each page, it illuminates early 20th-century Europe in brilliant, unexpected ways’ Observer

‘Electrifying … a fascinating portrait … Hughes-Hallett relates his journey from romantic idealist to Right-wing warmonger with flair and insight’ Daily Express

Vote For Australia’s Favourite Novelist 2014 – Final Round of Voting

There is only one more week of voting left to decide who is Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

This is the longlist as voted by you, congratulations to all the novelists for making it onto this extraordinary list.

But the job isn’t finished. We need your final vote to decide the order of the top 50.

Vote for all your favourite authors, and spread the word, tell your friends and family to get voting! The poll closes 5pm Saturday.

Next week we’ll announce the Top 50 as voted by you and decide who, in 2014, is Australia’s Favourite Novelist!

 

————————

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 15,340 other followers

%d bloggers like this: