Tag Archives: Bill Condon

SWF2011: Sunday

I didn’t get to the Festival on Sunday morning, so missed out on A C Grayling’s session, The Good Book, which the Art Student said was superb. I plan to listen to the podcast. We bought a copy of the book, which describes itself as a secular bible, and the Art Student is threatening to organise a bible reading circle among our atheist friends.

I was back on deck in the afternoon for

2:30: Poems on Pillows
Australian Poetry Ltd, the new ‘peak industry body for poetry’ (I didn’t make that up!) ran a competition in the lead-up to the Festival. People were asked to submit 10-line poems on the theme of Sweet Dreams. Seven poems were selected, printed on postcards and placed on the pillow of every bed in the hotel where Festival guests were staying. At this session the seven winning poems were read to us, six of them by the poets.

My guess is that the audience was mostly friends and relatives of the winners, and losers who had come to see what they’d been beaten by. It turned out I belonged in both categories. My submission, which I’m too embarrassed to reproduce here, played around with  Daisy Bates’s phrase ‘smooth the pillow of the dying race’ and amounted to a little squib about genocide. I’d failed to notice the Sweet Dreams theme and wasn’t surprised when I didn’t make the cut.

I would have been delighted to find any one of winning poems on my pillow, and it wasn’t surprising to hear that at least one distinguished writer was seen addressing his postcard poem to his mother.

Five of the winners are connected in some way with writing for children or young adults: Tricia Dearborn, Bill Condon, Libby Hathorn, Laura Jan Shore and Richard Tipping. I don’t know about the others, Scott Chambers and Josh McMahon. When I pointed this preponderance out during the brief question time, one of the panellists recognised me and replied by drawing attention to me as a benefactor of children’s poets in my past life as editor of the School Magazine, which was good squirmy fun.

4.00: David Hicks and Donna Mulhearn
This was my last Festival event, David Hicks’s first public appearance since the publication of his memoir, in fact since his detention in Guantanamo Bay. He was in conversation with pacifist Donna Mulhearn, who had gone to Iraq as a human shield. She did a very nice job of shepherding him through what must have been a gruelling event, even though the audience was demonstratively sympathetic. She kicked off, for example, by saying she was going to ask him the question that was on the forefront of everybody’s mind: was it true that he had been invited by Channel 7 to appear in Dancing with the Stars? Yes, he said, it was true, and his wife had wanted him to wear the costume to this event, but it’s purple with sequins.

For the most part, things felt very raw. Talk about terror and pity – and shame and rage! Mine, I mean. Hicks said at the start that during those years of being kept incommunicado, thankfully unaware that he had been abandoned by the Australian government, he had learned to detach from his experience, and that was how he was managing this experience. He spoke pretty much in a monotone, but did manage to say he was ‘annoyed’ by the way the press had bought into the lies and distortions told about him. He has never been convicted by a legitimate court of breaking the US or Australian law, and has received no compensation, explanation or apology from either government, not even an acknowledgement of the extraordinarily harsh treatment. The press received his memoir with almost total silence. And Donna Mulhearn told us of something Miranda Devine said in her review that went beyond her normal level of vicious contrarianism to pure evil. The current Labor government, having decried the treatment of Hicks when in opposition, has made no moves in his support in government.

‘This shouldn’t be about me,’ Hicks said. He got passionate describing the sufferings of the people of Kosovo as they were told to him when he went there to join the KLA, and reminding us that people are still being killed in Kashmir. Julia Gillard’s statements about Julian Assange sound very like John Howard’s about Hicks: both seem perfectly content to abandon an Australian citizen to a dangerously extra-legal fate in the US.

One tiny grace note: throughout, Donna Mulhearn pronounced the Gitmo prison’s location as Guantamano Bay. Of course this was inadvertent, but I imagine angels rejoicing at this tiny act of disrespect.

I plan to buy David Hicks’s memoir. It feels like a duty to give the horse’s mouth a go, given all agenda-driven stuff I’ve read about him elsewhere.
——
I haven’t mentioned the absence of PEN Chairs this year. At past Festivals theere has been an empty chair on the stage at some events, representing writers who are imprisoned or harmed by governments. At each session where there was a chair, details about one such writer would be read out. It’s a shame that the tradition was abandoned this year, when Liao Yiwu, invited to appear here, was prevented from attending by the Chinese government. And I haven’t mentioned the busker who sat hunched over a clickety-clackety typewriter offering to type a word portrait for five dollars. I haven’t said much about the weather (glorious), the crowds (big), the volunteers (orange-shirted and everywhere), the app (fabulous), the serendipitous encounters (constant), but I imagine you know the sort of thing.

Now it’s all over bar the reading.

Prime Minister’s Literary Awards short lists

The shortlist for the fourth Prime Minister’s Literary Awards has just been published.

On the Book Show on 12 July, Hilary McPhee said, ‘Once you’ve published someone and like their work, you stick with them and read them and see what they’re doing with themselves.’ That’s true of me in my own small way. So I’m thrilled to see on the children’s and young adults’ lists a number of people whose work graced the pages of The School Magazine during my stewardship.

On the Young Adult Fiction shortlist:
Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God, Bill Condon (32 items in SM, between 1992 and 2005, including poems, stories and plays)
The Museum of Mary Child, Cassandra Golds (incalculable contributions to the magazine as member of editorial staff)

On the Children’s Fiction shortlist:
The Terrible Plop, Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrated by Andrew Joyner (mainly excerpts from Ursula’s books in my time, but after I left she joined editorial staff and Andrew became a regular illustrator)
Star Jumps, Lorraine Marwood (42 poems between 1998 and 2005)
Harry and Hopper, Margaret Wild and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Thinking about it, I can’t claim to have published Margaret Wild, but she’s an Annandalean, so I’m thrilled to see her there too.

I hope they all win.

There are also awards for general fiction (with names like Malouf and Coetzee shortlisted) and non-fiction (with contenders ranging from the extreme lyricism of Mark Tredinnick to what the judges describe unpromisingly as ‘monumental history’ and ‘prescient analysis’ by John Keane).

Previous decisions on these awards have been eccentric, so the winners are anyone’s bet. I won’t even hazard a guess. Unlike, say, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, they’re not arms-length decisions: the judging panels recommend but the Prime Minister decides, and in the first year of the awards, John w Howard did in fact overrule the judges to make sure the Anzac myth got a boost. Let’s see if whoever is Prime Minister when these winners are announced (I can’t find a date on the site) has enough grace to refrain from bending the prize to her (please!) or his ideological agenda.