Photo of Carmel Bird and Marion Halligan
Recording date:

Longtime friends Marion and Carmel catch up to discuss life, literature, Carmel’s new collection of short stories, My Hearts are Your Hearts, and her new memoir, Fair Game. Find out what they are reading and writing, gossip about the world of writing, family life, and maybe even the state of the universe.

Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Carmel Bird (C), Marion Halligan (R)

Location: National Library of Australia

Date: 22/10/2015

M:        Well welcome friends and guests to this evening at the National Library. I’m Marie-Louise Ayres, I’m the Assistant Director-General for National Collections Access here at the Library and it’s actually really nice to see a couple of old friends in the audience here so ... now yesterday Library staff were captivated by a presentation by our 2015 indigenous graduate, John Morso, who’s a Torres Strait Islander man. His friends, supporters and elders were in the audience as we learned about this part of Australia which is about as far as possible from Carmel’s home and about his continuing culture. So before we begin this evening I’d like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Nanbury people, the traditional owners of this land, thank their elders past and present for caring for the land on which this beautiful building ... where we call our Library home.

Now I’m delighted to have you join us this evening to hear Carmel Bird discuss her most recent novel, My Hearts Are Your Hearts and Fair Game, a Tasmanian memoir with her long-time friend, Marion Halligan. Marion and Carmel are also old friends of the National Library. Of course we hold all of their publications, we do have a lot of books here but we also hold their personal papers, professional portraits and oral history interviews. Carmel’s represented in the papers of Marion Halligan and Cassandra Pibus and both have appeared at the Library on many occasions, at book launches, Friends’ events and workshops.

So tonight we’re going to eavesdrop on a conversation between these two Australian writers whose friendship flourished after reading each others’ books in the 1980s. That friendship now involves lengthy weekly telephone calls discussing the state of literature and life. So together they’ll explore My Hearts Are Your Hearts which poses questions relating to the working of the human heart, key questions such as who is paying $6,000 for a raincoat? And they also delve into Carmel’s memories of growing up in Tasmania which begins with Blackbirds and Blossoms, Bounty’s Blossom like we’ve had this spring there then travels in less than 60 pages over several centuries through landscapes darker and lighter and in multiple colours filled with convicts, fabrics and butterflies through to goodbyes and the enduring power of friendship. So I’m sure the conversation will range about serious opinions about what they’re reading ... you do know we want serious opinions about what you’re reading tonight ... discussions of what they’re writing and their experiences of juggling their writing worlds and the rest of their lives so please welcome our guests as they discuss their work and we’ll have time for questions at the end.

Applause

C:         Marion, who’s going to go first?

R:         You are.

C:         Well a lovely, lovely thing that happened in 2015 ... that’s now ... was that Marion and I both published new books. Marion’s was .. is a novel called Goodbye, Sweetheart. A lot of you here [unclear] and I published a collection of short fiction called My Hearts Are Your Hearts. Now you will see here that there is a correspondence between the two titles but it was completely accidental, it just ... coincidence, it’s serendipitous, it just happened. And once before a slightly similar thing happened, we both published novels back in the day, about 1980 ... 1998 or something like that ...

R:         [unclear]

C:         Oh it doesn’t matter, and mine was called Red Shoe and Marion’s was called The Golden Dress and we always get together somewhere like the National Library and say well what’s all this about fashion? But nobody did. But at last, thank goodness, the National Library have seen the light and decided to have us here to talk about, among other things, My Hearts Are Your Hearts and Goodbye, Sweetheart. Now Goodbye, Sweetheart, can you tell me … now this is terribly funny, us having a conversation which we have a couple of times a week over very long phone calls, but you’re all here eavesdropping in turn to the eavesdroppers. Now eavesdropping from our end [unclear] so I want you to now eavesdrop while Marion tells me [unclear] Goodbye, Sweetheart. You probably know more about it than I do. [unclear] All of those things.

R:         Sounds bad

C:         Yeah. I must say we both went to see Hamlet last night, and I do have to mention this because that’s the most amazing production of the play ...

R:         It was superb.

C:         It has all those things in it too and they set it in a sort of Cold War time full of peril and treachery and people recording what people say and so on which is quite interesting. But I think they’re the perennial things that ...

R:         The stuff of fiction, yes.

C:         ... people have always ... I mean that’s what ... what after all what are your ...

R:         Stories about but that.

C:         But that. Yes so can you tell me what happens in the very earliest pages of Goodbye, Sweetheart?

R:         You want me to read a bit of it ...

C:         Read a bit, maybe read me a bit, that’d be great.

R:         Hardly any.

C:         Sometimes on the phone we do read bits, don’t we?

R:         We do, yeah. I remember when the scene ... William ... not William, the Banville novel ...

C:         John Banville.

R:         John Banville novel won the Booker and I said to Carmel listen to this opening sentence and read it to her and she said how on earth did that win the Booker? It’s far too good.

C:         Far too good.

R:         Far too good, yes. This story begins by water. William remembered reading those words once and presumably there had been a story to follow but what it was he had no recollection but water always made him think of them. This story begins by water. Today the pool was empty of swimmers ... you see, that’s the pool on the front ... he’d come in from the gym and there it was, completely still but soon the whole surface quaked and heaved with his presence. Water slopped through the grills, plastic imitating wood that surrounded its edges. He trudged up and down, not in the lap lane ... that was for serious swimmers, not walkers and he noticed that a swimmer could do two laps in the time it took him to do one. The water offered a lot of resistance, that was the point. His was not the torpedo body of the swimmer, cleaving through, it was a creature out of its element. And of course he becomes more and more out of his element because what he does is have a heart attack and dies so he’s one of the goodbye, sweethearts in the story. Sometimes people think that this book’s called Goodnight, Sweetheart like the song but of course Goodnight, Sweetheart, until we meet tomorrow, the goodbyes in this are a good bit more ...

C:         Goodbye, yes.

R:         Goodbye.

C:         Yes well all hell breaks loose out in his known family and his unknown family...

R:         That’s right.

C:         ... after the death in the pool.

R:         Because it’s a very interesting thing, I think, death, it fascinates me more and more and you realise I suppose as you get closer to it and see people you know come to it that you can’t do anything about it, that you can’t control ... control it and people like Carmel and me who are really frightful control freaks when it comes to the point ...

C:         There’s that, yeah.

R:         ... and we’re used to sort of making things happen the way we want to so ... but death, once you’re dead you can’t do anything.

C:         That’s right but the lovely thing about writing fiction, one of the lovely things about writing fiction is that you can control what happens, you killed him, you see?

R:         I did, I did and my son, James ... there’s another death in it and he said Mum, how can you do that? How could you kill that child? And I said seemed a good idea at the time sort of thing but it was important, the plot needed it.

C:         Well you said something to me just today about fiction, that if you want to find out how dark and bad and nasty a person is read their fiction.

R:         That’s right, oh that’s right then you’ll find out how tough they are, how rough.

C:         Yes.

R:         You’ll be scared of them when you’ve read their fiction. Okay now are you going to read ...

C:         I’ll read the beginning of My Hearts Are Your Hearts then because we’ve got this little heart theme going. And my story, My Hearts Are Your Hearts, is a much lighter story than Goodbye, Sweetheart but there are many stories in my collection which are dark, as dark can be but the actual story My Hearts Are Your Hearts is a light-hearted one.

R:         Plenty of sex.

C:         Sex. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

R:         Yeah.

C:         So sex and death are the topics of course of fiction ...

R:         Absolute perennial topics, can’t get away from them.

C:         Well yes, yeah but ... and fiction feeds on them and plays with them and so forth. I’ll just get onto reading the story, okay. In one of the tents at Adelaide Writers’ Week, Antony Elmer read from his latest novel answering questions from a large audience of keen journalists and adoring fans. It was hot in the tent, there in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, and Antony sweated, the audience sweated but it was worth it, he was brilliant. In another tent Viviana Vincent did much the same, ditto the journalists and fans except while her audience also poured with sweat Viviana appeared cool, also calm and collected. Antony’s novel, his seventh, was what is called literary and it concerned a murder in Oxford in the 1990s ... so it did get a bit of death into her already. It’s not very serious but he did write ... he wrote a novel about a murder. See I’d forgotten that, can’t get away from it. Viviana’s was the latest in her Venus McVicker romances. The audiences in the two tents were different, Antony’s lot was drawn from what is called the intelligentsia and was clearly male, fellows packing down with the big boys, a smattering of women, mostly middle-aged. Viviana’s people were predominantly women, women of all ages, their faces alight with excitement at being so close to the darling of their reading groups and book clubs. Antony’s books sold very well, were warmly reviewed in all the best papers and journals, won prizes. Viviana’s sold in fantastic numbers, they were ecstatically reviewed in women’s magazines, they did not win prizes.

R:         So that’s typical of your stories in that it is very funny in a kind of verbal way, you’re playing with Venus and all this literat ...

C:         Viviana and ...

R:         ... and Viviana and ...

C:         Vincent and stuff.

R:         Vincent and all that stuff and it’s .. as you were remarking earlier your stories all have different voices, they ne ... it’s never your voice.

C:         Not my voice, no.

R:         It’s a narrator’s voice who’s telling us the story.

C:         Exactly. My essays are in my voice. The stories have a narrator who has a voice of his or her own. In fact the ... at the back of the collection of short stories there is an essay that I’ve written on the writing of the short stories and if I can just borrow it from you for a minute, Marion. The essay you will find has a very, very much plainer ... although I mean that was not the wildest narrator that I just read but it is a very different narrative approach when it’s an essay from when its fiction and what you read was fiction, not essay. I don’t know that we’ve got an essay of yours here tonight but ...

R:         We haven’t, no.

C:         ... for you to read but when you write an essay it’s clearly Marion Halligan is speaking to you on a certain topic and pay attention, listen and yeah.

R:         And of course Carmel and I don’t really think that essays or memoirs can be fictionalised, as soon as you start fictionalising something like that you’ve got ...

C:         It’s fiction, isn’t it?

R:         ... fiction. Quite simply, why stuff about with it?

C:         So here’s my tone when I’m doing the essay at the end of the short story book. It just starts I grew up in Tasmania and in my mind, in my heart of heart, the island’s shape resembles that of a love heart. When I hold in my hand a chocolate love heart wrapped in scarlet foil I may think for a fleeting moment of home.

R:         That’s very interesting ‘cause of course I’d forgotten that your cover Cape Grim has the naked man on it ... I mean not all of him ... but he’s got a heart and the heart is Tasmania which is interesting ...

C:         Yes, Cape Grim is a novel I wrote a few years ago, yeah.

R:         So you’ve always played around with that idea of ... and of course the idea of Tasmania is very much in this Fair Game book which is ... you can see the postcard from which ...

C:         Yeah, maybe I should explain a bit about that. Fair Game is this tiny little book, see? And it’s an essay of 60 pages published by Findlay Lloyd which is a small publisher from Braidwood, would that ... is that what I say ... where it’s from ... wherever ...

R:         Braidwood, yes, yes.

C:         And it’s an essay. Now it was inspired by the picture that you see on the wall there which is a reproduction of a postcard held at the National Library.

R:         Actually it’s a print, isn’t it? That’s the postcard of a print. A figure, isn’t it?

C:         Well the print ... there is a print and the Library made postcards, yes. And the story is, and this is a very Bird Halligan story I’m about to tell you, that in 1994 Marion’s daughter, Lucy, sent me the postcard which you see on the wall and I was entranced, moved, fascinated and everything by the image and wanted to write something about it or something for it or something ... do something with it and it has taken me 20 years to come up with 60 pages.

R:         Remember I said you should make it a young adult fiction and Carmel said oh yes, that’s a good idea and thought about it for about five years. Or two minutes.

C:         Yeah, two minutes.

R:         And didn’t do it.

C:         Didn’t do that because I don’t read young adult fiction very much. When my friends write young adult fiction I read their books and they’re wonderful but I don’t seek out young adult fiction. Not being a young adult, I suppose, has a lot to do with that.

R:         That’s a help, yeah, yeah.

C:         Anyway ... so the picture ... if you just sit back and look at the picture on the wall it looks awfully pretty, doesn’t it? But when you examine it more closely you will find that on the left-hand side in pale water colour is an image of nasty women in Great Britain with broomsticks shooing something out of Great Britain. And over on the right-hand corner is an image of Van Diemen’s Land where nasty men are holding out butterfly nets to catch butterflies and underneath the flying butterflies overhead is the sea and sailing on the sea is a little ship called the Princess Royal. And the Princess Royal set off from Great Britain in 1832 with 200 free women ... they were not convict women, they were women who had chosen to leave Great Britain in order to go to Van Diemen’s Land where they hoped and imagined that they would have a better life. Some of them did succeed in having a better life but many of them did not. And the artist, cartoonist, Alfred Ducote, made that cartoon characterising the women as gorgeous Georgian butterflies being shooed away from one land and welcomed at the end of the earth to their often doom, trapped in butterfly nets. And so this has exercised my imagination for a very long time and finally I have written an essay inspired by the image but the essay moves a great distance from the image into my own childhood and life in Tasmania. So it’s a reflection on the image, it’s a reflection on myself as a Tasmanian and on Tasmania in general so that kind of ...

R:         And you made some interesting discoveries, didn’t you? Things like the ...

C:         Yeah, I did.

R:         ... fact that the man who owned that print and who I suppose gave it or sold it or something to the National Library was a man whose son you once went out with.

C:         That’s right, yes. And in fact although I didn’t see the image until 1994 when I was a child the man who owned the image lived a few streets away from me with the image so the image had been there waiting all the time but I didn’t know. And so that actually was probably the first thing that bounced me off from the contemplation of the image into a contemplation of my own history. And that’s what a writer has the liberty to do. There was nobody saying but you said you were going to write about the picture, instead I go bouncing off to write about Dr Craig who lived not far away from me when I was a child and who had two sons and who collected ... he must have had an amazing collection of stuff and he sold or gave ... I can’t remember, I should know, shouldn’t I? I probably do know, it’s probably in here exactly what he did.

R:         Probably somebody knows.

C:         Yes. First time I’d heard of Dr Craig, he was ... oh look I’ll tell you about Dr Craig, why not? He was born in Melbourne in 1896 and died in Launceston in 1986, he became Surgeon Superintendent of the Launceston General Hospital after the resolution of an eight-year dispute between the Tasmanian State Government and the local branch of the British Medical Association who had banned their own members from working in Tasmanian hospitals. Heavens. That’s all I know about the dispute but it sounds interesting, it certainly does. Anyway I’m getting ... I get all this information about him. In 1963 he wrote a book on the history of the Launceston General Hospital ... look, I’m sorry, the picture ... I don’t know what he ... how he sold it or gave it anyway to the Library. Never mind, we’re getting distracted by Dr ... which is what happened to me as I was writing the essay, of course ...

R:         Well that’s the point about an essay.

C:         Well it is.

R:         You’re meant to be distracted in it and wander all over the place. I mean I remember studying the essay at high school and we looked at Charles Lamb’s essays and they were essentially of that discursive nature, they started somewhere and wandered off and perhaps they came back and perhaps they didn’t.

C:         But mostly they took you on a lovely trip around his mind and his research.

R:         And his imagination as one thing gave rise to another thing which of course is what happens when you write, you think of one thing and then something else presents itself and so it goes on.

C:         Well that’s right, yes. And something that inspires you such as the way the picture inspired me, Marion and I have both been inspired once by a story in a newspaper about a bishop and we decided ... we had discussions on the phone about this ...

R:         We talked about it.

C:         ... talked about it quite a bit and decided we would both write a short story inspired by the story of the bishop and his sexual abuse of a girl and ...

R:         And in fact yours is in there, isn’t it? And mine’s ...

C:         Is it? Yeah, mine’s in here, yes.

R:         And mine’s in this Shooting The Fox. Now what’s it called? I forget.

C:         And mine’s called ... they’re both called Shooting The Fox, the story ... your book is called Shooting The Fox ...

R:         Shooting The Fox but no ...

C:         Oh no, no, that’s wrong, that’s wrong.

R:         The bishop story’s not Shooting ...

C:         No. Oh we get muddled, yeah, yeah. The bishop story ...

R:         ‘Together Forever’, mine is.

C:         Yours is ‘Together Forever’ and mine is .. I should know, shouldn’t I? ‘My Beloved Is Mine and I Am His’, yes.

R:         You can guess what it’s about, can’t you?

C:         Yes, yes. And you ... yours is written in the voice of the girl.

R:         Yes. And not the first person but through her sensibility.

C:         No, no but through her sensibility and mine is largely coming from an omniscient narrator, a narrator who is outside the story ...

R:         Some of it ...

C:         Some of it moves into her mind as well.

R:         Because the thing is, I mean this was a story that struck us in its full horror because it’s about a girl, a clever girl from ...

C:         A country ...

R:         ... farm in the country who goes to a country town to stay in a hostel in order to go to high school and the hostel is run by a bishop and ...

C:         Well he’s a minister at the time.

R:         Well yes.

C:         He becomes a bishop later.

R:         He becomes a bishop. And he seduces her and we both have the same element, he has a possum skin rug and of course she ... in my story it comes from her point of view, the things he tells her and the things she works out about it which of course are wicked things that he does to her, it’s quite horrid ...

C:         And it ruins her life.

R:         It ruins her life, it totally destroys her life. Yours is ... and Carmel’s is exactly the same story but they’re a very interesting pair if you happen to read them together because they show how one writer takes the same set of facts, and we had quite detailed things. The women finally made a fuss about this and the bishop got defrocked ...

C:         In the real story.

R:         In the real story, yes and it was written up at length in the newspapers so one knew a lot of the details and one knew how her life had been ruined by it and so on but it’s interesting to see what different stories they make.

C:         I know. Now was the possum rug in the real story or did we make it up?

R:         Well we don’t know ...

C:         We don’t know anymore.

R:         I think it must have been in the real story.

C:         It must have been.

R:         How could we possibly make up a possum rug?

C:         I don’t know, I don’t know, really ...

R:         Yeah but remember we’ve had this conversation and we can’t remember where it came from.

C:         No. And then there’s another story that is called Shooting The Fox and we both wrote a story called Shooting The Fox and both stories were also inspired by a true story that we had heard.

R:         Was a piece of gossip ...

C:         A piece of gossip, yes, that’s right, yes.

R:         And that was quite fun to write because we agreed that we’d write it and I said you write your version, I’ll write mine. There were certain strictures because we didn’t want the people that it was written about to be able to recognise themselves.

C:         They never have.

R:         People don’t, you know, they don’t. They don’t know that they’re in the stories, yeah. And some ...

C:         Except I don’t think those people would have read my story.

R:         Those people wouldn’t have read it, no, no, no.

C:         So I thought that was pretty safe.

R:         That one was safe but sometimes my friends would like me to put them in my stories ...

C:         Get offended that you don’t.

R:         They get offended that I don’t and I think but wait a minute, didn’t you know that was you? I don’t tell them, I don’t tell them. No, I’ll read the beginning of my Shooting The Fox then would you read the beginning of your Shooting The Fox, okay? Introduced into Australia in the 1850s and listed as a national threat to agriculture and wildlife in 1992 the European red fox is now widespread across the country except for the tropical far north and Tasmania. Luke Lacey and Clementine Maloney were high school sweethearts and they married just as the apple blossom was coming out when they were both 19. They called the baby Grace. It was 1998, characterised in the district as the year the fox got off the boat at Bernie and headed into the Tasmanian bush. It was the island’s first fox. Shotgun weddings were not unusual in the small brick church of St Francis which had stood in the hollow of a stony hillside for over a century. What really excited the locals was the fact that at last a Maloney was marrying a Lacey for the families had been feuding for generations.

It had been in the first place a question of land ownership and boundaries and although all this had long since been resolved the bad blood lived on. So there was a certain daring in what Luke and Clementine were doing. Would they finally bring the two families together? The orchardist Laceys and the publican Maloneys. So it’s ... it’s a Romeo and Juliet story and it ... well it doesn’t end well.

C:         Doesn’t end well.

R:         Now yours.

C:         Now mine’s set ... oh it’s not set in Tasmania, it’s set somewhere I think in country New South Wales.

Would you like to see the fox I shot this morning? He said as he opened the gate in the wall. This is a particular form of words, it is not a question. You do not say no. It appears to be polite. Would you? But it leaves no room. I went and saw the fox, exquisite red creature. It does not know yet that it is dead, its eyes not dim, its brush is defiant. Soon it will droop and decay and know its own mortality. 

His name is Malcolm and he wishes to marry me. I am a 43 year old virgin and my name is Gloria, an unsuitable name except when I sing Gloria In Excelsis Deo ... not that I can sing, I lift up my head and open my mouth and pretend to be part of the glorious harmony of the choir. I open my mouth and no sound comes out but the choir’s sound fills it. We’re very proud of the choir at my school, it is one of the things we can ... are famous for. The girls are cruel, generation after generation they come and flourish and go. They can take all sorts of forms and one of them is tropical flowers growing lustily on their vines.

And so on.

R:         And so on. Now you’ve brought sex and death ...

C:         I’ve got sex and death.

R:         You’ve got sex and death and ...

C:         And of course what mine is about is different from what yours is about and this is what’s really interesting and it’s really fun to talk about our work because it ends up in such different places. We don’t have any fear that we’re going to start copying one another. Mine is actually about all the fairy stories and Gloria when she marries her Malcolm thinks that ... and goes to live in a tower ... thinks that she’s going to be forbidden to do something, that there’ll be a chest she musn’t open, a room she musn’t go into and she gets terribly confused because he doesn’t make any prohibitions on her and his ... I think his first wife died from falling off the top of the tower and then she says to him how did your second wife die? And he said she didn’t, she lives in Sydney, I’m going to go and have lunch with her next week, why don’t you come? And ... but she feels nervous about that because she has a sort of expectation from fairy stories that things will work out in certain ways which I think’s a kind of ... it’s fascinating when you start thinking about how we all are so influenced by fairy stories ...

R:         Indeed so, yeah.

C:         ... and think that’s ... in your ... well I suppose Romeo and Juliet isn’t exactly a fairy story but it’s a story.

R:         Yes but we are both fond of making reference in the plots of our work to old fairy stories such as Grimm’s fairy tales but I wanted to come back to the fact that your fox story became very sensual and sexy when it was talking about okay so she’s a virgin and she’s teaching girls who are so sensual and like tropical flowers and all that stuff and so you are introducing eroticism into the text without the mechanics.

C:         Yes and that’s interesting, isn’t it? And in fact you’ve taught teenage girls and so have I and they’re incredibly erotic, they sit around in front of you being erotic all over the place and it can get you down a bit after a while especially as they tend to think that you haven’t a clue about any of this, what would she know?

R:         Yeah, I’d like to go back to Goodbye, Sweetheart and read a little piece from there which is a very ... look, it’s half of page of typing but it’s a very suggestive, sexy little ... well comment, really. Is it a scene? It’s not really, it’s a comment and ... but I love the way you sometimes do of course have people in sexual congress but ...

C:         Neither of us is going to be eligible for a bad sex award, though, we don’t ...

R:         No, we’re not going for the bad sex award.

C:         ... have enough gruesome anatomical details ...

R:         Silliness, silliness, yeah.

C:         ... to get them.

R:         No, this is how you do it, folks.

Berenice had red gold hair and big grey eyes, she was slender, waiflike even, with a touch of 19th century tuberculosis chic, but of course she was healthy. Firdie, her boyfriend, wondered if her pubic hair was the same precious metal colour but when he got to look he saw that she was completely shaved like a bluish marble statue. Her cleft was as bare and linear as a child’s. You should try it, she said, all that hair, yuck, it’s so free and clean and lovely without. He did not say I don’t feel dirty and imprisoned by my pubic hair, he liked the way it curled softly stiffened brown around his penis. I’ll do it for you if you like, said Berenice, but he said not now, thank you.

Now you see it’s light-hearted, it’s funny but it’s very, very sexy little piece of writing.

C:         Yeah. Well you want to have a bit of fun with ...

R:         Oh you do. Well we do have a lot of fun not only with our phone calls but also with our writing, writing fiction and ... well essays too for that matter ... is great fun.

C:         I must say we’d have to bowdlerise our conversations rather because we ...

R:         Here?

C:         Yes, here.

R:         Oh we can’t ...

C:         We can’t tell you what we talk about all of the time because we ...

R:        Well we say did you say that review of X’s book, X’s frightful book in the ...

C:         Yes, that’s right, sounds absolutely ghastly ...

R:         Ghastly.

C:         ... persuade me to read that.

R:         Nothing. But look at the review, rave, rave.

C:         Rave, rave.

R:         Yes but we’re not naming names.

C:         Yes. Did you see that short story that everybody said is so fantastic?

R:         Yeah, what rubbish.

C:         And it was imitation writing.

R:         As Gerald Murnane would say.

C:         Yeah, I used teaching writing with Gerald Murnane at Deakin University and his ... one of his big things was to say that much of the writing that came across his desk wa ... fiction writing was what he would call imitation writing.

R:         I’d say fake, I like ...

C:         Fake writing, yes. So that people have imagined what a short story ought to be like and have put it down as it ... as they imagine it ought to be rather than actually writing it, if that makes sense.

R:         Yeah. And also that sense you’re writing from the point of view of say a 10 year old girl but you’ve got concepts and perceptions that the child couldn’t possibly have.

C:         Yes ...

R:         You’ve got an adult’s vocabulary and way of looking at things and when you really look at it, no, it doesn’t work, it’s terrible.

C:         No, no. That’s your imitation writing for you.

R:         Imitation writing.

C:         Yes ...

R:         Yes so we left off steam and get quite cross about things so that we can be polite and nice in public.

C:         Yeah, we’re being fairly polite and nice tonight for you, yes.

R:         Yes, we’re not saying anything awful about anybody, are we?

C:         No, we’re not, are we?

R:         Although I was interested in your expression packing down with the boys.

C:         Yes, in my story.

R:         Because that came from somebody in the paper writing about going to a literary festival and talking to some grand writers like Peter Carey and people and said he’d be packing down with the big boys. And Carmel and I thought ...

C:         Mm.

R         ... that has entered our vocabulary.

C:         Yes, yes because there’s always a bit of a debate about men and women in the literary world in Austral .. well throughout the English-speaking world anyway and as a result of much of that talk the Stella Prize was invented because there was an idea that the Miles Franklin Award went too often to men and so people got together and put together the Stella Prize for women.

R:         And in fact there’s a thing on Facebook at the moment that you probably haven’t got ‘round to looking at yet where the Stella Prize people have counted in the Sydney Review of Books the number of men’s and women’s ...

C:         Ah yes, I haven’t seen that.

R:         ... and the proportions are still hugely out.

C:         Still the same, yes.

R:         Still dreadful, yes. Something like 12% maybe or 20% of women’s books reviewed by women and all the rest is men’s books reviewed by men. Which I didn’t think about once upon a time, I ... those sort of gendered thoughts didn’t worry me but I'm fairly increasingly conscious of it now.

C:         Yes.

R:         Yeah.

C:         I don’t know how we work out how long we’re talking ...

R:         Well 40 minutes, I think.

C:         ... because on the phone we ... oh is there a clock? Oh yes.

R:         There’s a clock, look, a clock.

C:         Well, look, it’s gone 40 minutes.

R:         It’s gone 40 minutes.

C:         That’s magic. Perhaps people would like to ask us some questions.

A:         [unclear]

M:        Well listen, before we do go onto questions I just wanted to say thanks to both of you and just for your thoughts on particularly how long stories can last in your imaginations and the way that you hand them back and forth to each other and I really enjoyed you talking about writing parallel stories from the same beginning thinking there’s a proud tradition of that here in this city where of course Rosemary Dobson and David Campbell wrote their poems from the Russian in exactly that way and where you see where two writers start from the same point but go somewhere so different so thanks for those insights into the way that your writing friendship has released things like this from their 20 year slumber in a way. And the stories that you share and then ...

 

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