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The writer as performing artist

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Image by David Henley

It’s been a hectic year for me so far. I’ve organised and run a readathon, appeared at five writers festivals (Emerging Writers Festival, Willy Lit Fest, Bendigo Writers Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival and Write around the Murray), launched two books, read at a fundraiser for Visible Ink and done a bunch of interviews. It’s all good stuff – getting out there, talking about books and ideas, meeting cool people, learning how to mingle and be spontaneous and talk confidently. Even selling a book or two. All of that matters. But when I look at what I’ve written this year, there’s not a great deal going on.

I wrote an article about why commemoration of Anzac Day gets my goat for Overland. I wrote a brief essay/rant, ‘A letter to the west‘, for my performance at Emerging Writers Festival. And I wrote a piece I’m very proud of – the speech Bob Brown will give on the last day of human civilisation – for a Patrick Allington/Seizure Online project called Rhetoric. I’ve also written one short story which I’m still trying to make utterly perfect.

Novel writing? No. None.

Until yesterday, that is. Yesterday I started again. This morning, before breakfast, I did a little bit more. And I reckon I felt cheerier on that train ride into work today than I’ve felt in months. Five hundred quick words of writing is, for me, so much more satisfying than a book launch. Which is ridiculous.

How about you, fellow writers? Would you rather write, or talk about the things you’ve already written? Edit, or spout some ideas on stage? And is there a way to get the perfect mix?

[Postscript – I just realised I’m not quite done: I’ll be on Writers Bloc bookclub with Geoff Orton next week talking about Formaldehyde, but there’s a good chance I’ll do it from the couch in my pyjamas.]

[Post-postscript (Nov 23) – the photo on this post is from an ABC Radio event held at WAM in Albury: ‘Now Hear This’, where poor unfortunates like myself told a story from their life without notes. It was broadcast last weekend, so if you’d like to hear it, listen here.]

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15 thoughts on “The writer as performing artist

  1. That pic at the top of the page is the best ever. Ever. And you forgot how you’ve supported other writers by tweeting and RTing about their books. But you’re too modest to mention that, so I’m doing it here. (Love also the pic with Slinky Steger.)

  2. Oh dear, I’ve just finished the biography of Thea Astley, and Lamb talks specifically about “writer-as-entertainer” and then of course, it would be now, but I’ve been to two writer events – Robert Drewe last week, and Kate Llewellyn this week. We readers love it of course, but we should never expect it. I remember once going to an event with Coetzee. He’s not at all comfortable with such events so he was introduced, he did a reading and he left. No discussion, no Q&A. I didn’t blame him but it was a shame!!

    1. As a reader I love it too, and of course it’s always fun seeing a witty, warm, likeable author who looks comfortable and happy to be doing what they’re doing. But deep down I kind of want everyone to be a bit more like Coetzee, to honestly show how awkward and unpleasant the whole thing can feel. I like seeing Christos Tsolkias speak – he feels very unmannered, at ease with his lack of ease if that makes sense.

    1. And I completely loved your performance with Jason Steger – you are superb on stage. I’d be interested to know how you feel about doing things like that though (other than the inevitable terror beforehand…)

  3. I don’t feel superb on stage. In any way. That interview with Jason was unusual because he asked me some quite personal questions up front, and often those things are a bit tough to get out in a normal conversation, so to talk about them in a public setting feels almost like a kind of pole vault over the normal rules of conversation and into a sudden intimacy. In that situation, once I was on the other side of those disclosures I felt I could talk about anything, completely freely, with a kind of brazen ease. And I actually felt quite high for a day or so afterward, and then it dawned on me that I had been utterly without reserve, and I felt a sort of post-revelation-embarrassment. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where that ashamed feeling comes from. Is it because I’ve shared beyond what is appropriate in that space, or is it because what I’m sharing is never appropriate in any space? I don’t know what my responsibility is in that regard. But every time I do a panel is different. It’s unpredictable. Personally, I enjoy watching or listening to writers who seem to struggle a little with public speaking, or who are striving to be honest in that moment, and aren’t too polished or prepared. Christos Tsolkias was one of the first writers I ever saw speak, and his discomfort and ambivalence was what made me feel I’d found my tribe.

    1. I love this, Jessie. Yes to that feeling of being high, and the shame afterwards, and not knowing what’s right to say when or to whom. I forget in some way that I’m not just talking to this one person, I’m talking also to anyone who is listening or reading, and I don’t know who those people are or what it’s OK for me to say to them. I forget while I’m talking, then remember later and feel profoundly uncomfortable.

  4. I love all these comments. And, Jane, I realise I didn’t answer your question. I’d prefer to be writing, but I also enjoy the talking about it (with the right people. Sometimes talking about it can be excruciating.) Love editing, haven’t had the opportunity to spout ideas on stage, I think I’d like that least; not the performative aspect of it but the getting a word in aspect. That’s why I’m liking doing the radio: people actually listen and you get a good go! (Invisible woman syndrome…)

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