Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 18, 2015

2015 History Writers’ Festival

I’m just back home from a great day at the History Writers’ Festival held at Readers’ Feast.

I attended two sessions:

Stories of War, History in Fiction, in which authors Steven Carroll and Robert Gott discussed with chair Angela Savage, the thorny issue of how much responsibility an author of historical fiction has to maintain historical veracity, and how much freedom is there to invent.  Both authors agreed that the facts ought to be right, but, well, sometimes they’re inconvenient.  Steven Carroll said, for instance that in writing The Gift of Speed it was important to be accurate about the cricket matches that frame the story, but that when he wrote The Art of the Engine Driver he needed a dramatic event for his conclusion and ‘the ‘Spirit of Progress’ never was involved in a major accident so he had to make one up.  Robert Gott, who writes crime novels set in the 40s, has found that his book’s retelling of an urban myth to reflect the truth of events upset some readers who would rather believe in the myth.   Sometimes also, the significance of an event is falsified, making it more important than it was at the time, as it is in one of Gott’s books which magnifies the importance of a fringe far-group during WW2 far beyond its real significance at the time.  This was a really interesting session, and it reminded me that I have Steven Carroll’s book A World of Other People on my TBR and I ought not to be denying myself the pleasure of reading it.

The other session Enduring Legacies, was chaired by Julianne Schultz, editor of The Griffith Review with guests Clare Wright, Ross McMullin and Jenny Hocking, all distinguished authors in their own right as well as contributors to the latest edition, Enduring Legacies.   This session sent me straight to the Readers’ Feast shelves afterwards: I would have bought all four books except that I already had Clare Wright’s Forgotten Rebels of Eureka anyway. (See my review). I bought McMullin’s Farewell Dear People; Hocking’s Gough Whitlam, His Time (Vol 2 of the Whitlam biography, I already had Vol 1); and of course the Griffith Review too, which I started reading on the train home.  I liked this session because I like a good stoush (as long as it’s intellectually rigorous).  The discussion began with the interesting proposition that ‘acts of national forgetfulness are an act of national aggression’, by which Clare Wright meant that forgetfulness is not necessarily benign.   While we are awash with Anzac remembrances at the moment, we are not hearing about the 100,000 people who marched in the streets against the war, and there is a collective hush about the two conscription referenda that divided the nation.  Ross McMullin mounted a persuasive argument that that when we buy the argument that Gallipoli made Australia a nation, we are wilfully choosing to forget that Australia had an impressive international reputation as a progressive nation before WW1.   Jenny Hocking reminded us that Whitlam’s progressive policies were profoundly influenced by his war service in the Pacific, shaping his geopolitical focus and his commitment to international bodies like the UN.   Not everyone in the audience agreed, which made it good fun…

There are other beaut sessions tomorrow so if you are in Melbourne, check out the festival website or call Readers’Feast on 9662 4699!

 


Responses

  1. […] a certain synchronicity about finishing this book today, the very day on which I attended the History Writers’ Festival at Readers’ Feast, where one of the topics under discussion wa….  Because this novel, The Profilist, is a splendid example of playing with the historical truth to […]

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  2. This festival sounds wonderful. I really must get online to find out about things as this and get myself a cheap ticket to Melbourne from Hobart and attend something. That bit of water between us is so annoying. 😆

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    • I think we have the same problem: I always find out about wonderful things happening in Tassie too late to do anything about it.

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  3. Sounds like the Anzac session was great – I’m going to the Fed Square version tonight and looking forward to a bit of chat about that forgotten, progressive Australia.

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    • Hi Jane
      If you can get your hands on a copy of the Griffith Review, it’s really, really good.

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      • I’m going to pick one up this evening, for sure. And just in case you’re interested, Overland was kind enough to publish an Anzac piece today that I wrote.

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        • I know *rueful smile*, but I can’t afford to subscribe to everything, and even if I could, I haven’t got time to read everything…

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          • Oh no, not my fiction story, this other thing (which is free) https://overland.org.au/2015/04/dont-mention-the-war/

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            • Wow, Jane that is a powerful article, and brave too, given the predictable response. I’m proud to know you!

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              • Oh thanks, Lisa (all the people saying it’s ‘brave’ make me nervous!).

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                • Well, there is a lot of sentiment about, and an awful lot of money being spent, so it is brave to stick your head above the parapet and say something that’s not in the script. I think there are more people around who feel uneasy about things than are prepared to say so, for fear of being labelled unAustralian.

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  4. Sounds like a great festival Lisa, and one I’d have attended if I’ve been in town. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the notion that forgetfulness isn’t benign. Just think what we’ve done by forgetting the indigenous inhabitants of our nation, because that’s really what we did isn’t it – forget they were here, forget we trampled over their country. Hopefully, we are nor remembering and that remembering will result in new more positive directions. I love it when thinkers turn ideas on their heads like this.

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    • It was a top class festival, and it’s a shame it wasn’t better attended.

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      • Wasn’t it? Do you think it was an issue of promotion. That topic, and those speakers, would have me running.

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        • I only found out about it because I get emails from the Griffith Review and they had a session there. I mean, I live in Melbourne. I follow/get emails from heaps of bookish people and organisations. Why didn’t I know about it?

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          • It’s amazing sometimes, the things we don’t hear of. For me, I think it’s sometimes because I just don’t always manage to read everything that comes in.

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        • Yes, that too. Sometimes the inbox is just so full that I delete ruthlessly anything that isn’t essential without reading it.

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          • Moi aussi … And hope I’ve made he right decision!

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  5. […] I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, which I bought last week at the History Writers’ Festival held at Readers’ Feast Bookstore.   There is much wise and thoughtful writing in this […]

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