I flew into the Gold Coast in glorious weather, staring out at the mountains and inlets, the blue green ocean. I was ready to get some sun on my skin.
When you thrust seven strangers together, there’s no guarantee they’ll get along. Some of us had gotten up at 5:30am, some were feeling poorly, and one—Zacharey Jane—had to do all the organising, driving, and lots of the speaking. But we crowded together in the van and got straight into the D&Ms: about family, writing, past careers and lives. And we met readers.
I spoke with Betty and Joy over scones at the Tweed Library, after Craig Sherborne and Ashley Hay spoke about resilience, chances, objects, history and more. Betty was a librarian in Sydney during the war in the late 1930s. Both Betty and Joy had radiant smiles. I swapped with them my own Nanna’s stories about the American GIs. Betty put on a perfect American accent. They both seemed delighted to be there, mingling with the writers.
We had to drive to Byron and back, to drop cars off and pick items up, and on the way saw the immediate aftermath of a horrible accident. Two cars, badly smashed; ambulance, fire, police, and a long line of cars which we knew we’d have to join heading back. I can’t find it in the news today, which may be a good thing. Hopefully no one was badly hurt. We gasped and shook our heads but none of us looked away.
Ashley and Craig spoke briefly, at Tweed Library, about objects, ‘those little domestic deities in our lives’. In times of crisis, or difficulty, or even anxiousness, some objects can signify ‘care being taken and love being given’, such as a cup of flowers next to a freshly made bed, for a house guest. Zacharey’s The Lifeboat also shows a fascination of the power of objects, and care taken in their choosing and placement. When the castaways are coming to stay with the interpreter, the main character in her novel, she throws away a half bar of soap and replaces it with ‘a soft cream bar’.
The new soap smelt of well-dressed women who didn’t do their own ironing; it came wrapped in white tissue. Small, crumbling fragments of soap were left behind, powdering the inside of the paper; I lifted it to my face and inhaled, then carefully folded it back over the crumbs to capture them.
She also puts fresh blue towels at the end of their beds, and matching flannels, and places ‘interesting books they might enjoy’ on the coffee table.
When I opened the cupboard in my hotel room this morning I noticed the coffee, tea and sugar packets were arranged with exquisite neatness. I know it’s different if someone is being paid to do it, but the care was evident—the employee’s fingertips pushing the edge of the sugar packet until it sat just so.
We made it back up North and went to Salt Bar in Kingscliff for our first pub event. It was an intimidating environment to walk into. Huge extended families enjoying their parmas and chips, and football on the wall. But Zac is unflappable. She began setting up props and cutting up prompts for our word games. As each writer introduced their books and gave a little reading they were competing with squawking laughter and the scraping of forks and knives, but soon the background patrons moved away and we were left with our keen audience, who pulled their chairs even closer, and seemed to love every minute they got to spend in the company of Zac, Craig, Ash, Sam and Nick. Tim and I hung back at the start to be the eyes, though I’ll be chairing some of the sessions myself as we go on (yes, I’m nervous).
I loved Samuel Wagan Watson’s reasoning behind the title of his new book Love Poems and Death Threats: these are the daily workings of the writer; you could receive a love poem from your publisher one minute, or a death threat the next. And regarding poetry, he said, ‘we do live in a very violent world… it’s hard to put sunset and butterflies in the daily news’ (and so, too, in art).
Two other moments in the talk: Nick admitted that the fear of obsolescence in his character in Analogue Men may in fact reflect his own. This was when Zac was asking about autobiographical elements in the authors’ works. Even if it’s not on the basis of technological ineptness, as it is for Nick’s character, I think that statement is one all of us, on some level, can relate to. We can all become irrelevant in different situations. And one of Ashley’s final notes was a lovely one, she spoke about the stories we tell each other to get ourselves through—about friendship, about kindness. The Railwayman’s Wife is populated with these moments.
The audience joined in our fun game of ‘story stick’ (come to one of the events to find out more) and then we had pub food and a couple of drinks, then sang along to Bowie and passed around my flask of Lagavulin 16 in the van.