I did my best to prepare for this festival and my blogging duties. I read Chris Masters’ Jonestown. I read Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath. But I have to now admit a failing publicly (I seem to be doing this a lot lately): I did not have the time to get to Melina Marchetta’s book, The Piper’s Son.
Accordingly I went to the Melina’s session a little unsure of what I would make of it. Will her talk rely on knowledge of the book? Will the audience ask questions beginning with ‘So in the book, when you wrote X, did you mean Y…?’
Whatever happens I think, I am still here to cover the event. And as it turns out the event is still very interesting, worthwhile. Phew.
Marchetta is an engaging speaker, and the real bonus of this session was that she spoke very specifically about writing tactics, about the construction of novels. Because as she says, when writing she is not simply letting it come out – she is ‘…constantly aware of the fact that [she is] constructing.’ I like this. I am suspicious of anyone who talks of the need to write, the act of just letting it flow, or even that it is some kind of therapy. For me it is enjoyable, but work. Constant artifice. As Melina said towards the end of the session ‘you’re constructing – there’s nothing natural about it.’
Marchetta’s latest novel is the sequel to an earlier book, Saving Francesca, but interestingly it doesn’t need to be read as a sequel. It takes a character and continues with him. Marchetta says she did however think of the time between books, and in a sense the characters have grown with the readers who first read Saving Francesca. It reminds one of the Harry Potter phenomenon… maybe.
There were two main things that struck me about Melina’s talk today. Firstly it was her honest focus on craft, putting in the hard work to make writing appear easy. There is a chance that she is lucky, blessed with a good relationship with her publishers, sure. But I suspect there’s also an attitude a writer needs to have to create such a relationship. Marchetta mentioned this a number of times. The people she works with in publishing are as exacting as she is. It leads her to say ‘I kind of like the fact that the people in my life constantly want more from me.’ It is a useful transactional process.
The other thing that stayed with me was Melina’s focus on the inner lives of men. My interest has been piqued by her discussion of this, so much so that I will be seeking out a copy of her book today. Marchetta said that one of the reasons her novel is titled The Piper’s Son is that it is as much about the father (the piper) as about the son. This relationship is pivotal. But she faced a problem in trying to represent this relationship. To present it truthfully, it was important to her not to have the two men communicating overtly. There couldn’t be a lot of dialogue where the father and son talk about what’s going on, what they’re feeling, because this would be completely unreal. Marchetta had to present ideas of a relationship, about men, and about grief, without the convenience of dialogue. I’m intrigued by this, because there seems something intuitively correct about what she was saying.
I suppose we must go and read her book… There are good reasons to do so. Melina Marchetta looves ‘writing about adults that fail a lot’, but, she also writes in order to ‘find that place where people find hope.’