I uploaded the last blog post and didn’t even have time to check it before racing off to the final event of the festival (apostrophes on the festival dinner post are now in the right place…) This weekend has been a whirl. I’m back in Wagga now, but my mind is still buzzing with thoughts about the final event, the book club style conversation with Jason Steger and Cate Kennedy.

This event was easily one of the most well attended of the festival, and I don’t think the audience was disappointed. The mood was nicely intimate, and it did feel as if we were listening in on a relaxed chat between Steger and Kennedy. All that was missing was a fireplace, and a glass of sherry.

They began by discussing Kennedy’s writing in general – how she came to writing, when she began taking it seriously – and a focus on storytelling then seemed to naturally develop. Cate claims this is what she is most interested in all her writing (and she’s written in many forms – poetry, short stories, a novel, even songs). She says it comes from her family, and an upbringing where you would ‘stand or fall, based on how well you could tell a story around that table.’ The focus on storytelling is interesting, because it makes you think of the crafting of a narrative, and this is questioned later on. Is the ‘story’ really most appealing part of Cate’s book The World Beneath?

Steger’s questions bring a really good measured pace to the event, even though we know the talk must move to talk of the novel in question. Following a question regarding what ‘spirit’ Kennedy writes in, she eventually gives us this: ‘To be a writer you must have empathy, and a really good memory.’ I like this. It feels quotable too. I tweet it straight away. Interestingly, despite her somewhat conservative approach to engaging with online writing, Kennedy presents as a very open and thoughtful author.

Before moving to The World Beneath Steger asks Kennedy about her short stories (I have heard much praise of her ability with the form – and she is of course Black Inc’s selected editor for the Best Australian Short Stories 2010). The best analogy she gives is one of looking through a door, but only getting a short glimpse before it closes. Everything has to be perfect if you are to get a sense of what’s inside. The door always closes quickly. Analogies that help with crafting are useful, sometimes, to a certain extent. This is one I wonder if I will think of in the future. Perhaps on one of those rare occasions I am putting together one of my own short stories.

And then a segue into the realm of the ‘Book of the Festival’. (‘A short story is like spinning a plate. A novel is like spinning ten plates.’) I have read the book. I have read and really liked the book. The World Beneath is a novel that enters the lives of a separated couple and their fifteen year old daughter. The failings of all three are laid bare as the novel unfolds. And, as Cate tells us, ‘everyone in the book has this experience of having their world view knocked sideways’.

I don’t want to reveal everything about the book, but it is enough to say I admired it on a number of levels. The narrative pull is strong: I was quickly turning pages as the tension mounts toward the end, needing to know how it would turn out. But then there are other elements. An audience questioner raised the idea that perhaps it wasn’t the storytelling so much that is the best part of the novel, but the way other things ‘unfold’, the way the characters continually unfold as the work itself does.

Cate was very generous with her answers, and at all points willing to reveal all she could about the process of writing the book (interestingly, again a good editor was placed as being pivotal). Jason Steger directed the flow of conversation perfectly. Thinking about The World Beneath was the best way to end the festival. It left us all having read a really well written book, and also left us a little illuminated as to how such an object is created, an important thing for writers’ festival to do.

David and I drive home. We are tired. But we talk of future writing projects. A good writers’ festival experience does this to you, it seems to open up possibilities for your own work, things you just want to keep roaming over.

Well. This brings things to a close. It’s been an intense and enjoyable blogging experience. I hope I managed to bring just a little slice of the Albury Write Around the Murray Festival to you.

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