A review: day one at Writer’s Week

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Published on the Adelaide Festival website: A review: day one at Writer’s Week

“Standing in the dusk watching the great yellow eye of the tram light rushing towards her, she understood why some words were worth binding in leather and handing on.”
 – Kate Grenville, One Life: My Mother’s Story

Adelaide’s festival season is in full swing and once again the shady landscape of the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden is transformed into a literary oasis for Adelaide Writer’s Week 2016. Late summer sun shone down on day one of the six-day festival, and crowds gathered on the warm grass or under the shade of encompassing trees to hear stories from the day’s inspiring feature writers from Australia, the UK, the United States, Spain, New Zealand and Israel.

The garden was alive and buzzing the entire day as people made their way down the winding path from King William Street and between stages, the bookshop, the café and children’s areas. Families set out picnics on mismatched blankets and couples lounged on the side of the hill, while eager literature lovers rushed to find front row seats for their favourite writer.

The day’s explored themes included memoirs of war and family, conversations of identity, women and politics, and imaginative explorations into memory, science fiction and history. This year Adelaide Writers’ Week celebrates the short story, with an early session panelled by accomplished writers Etgar Keret, Fiona McFarlane and Jim Shepard.

Crowds

By mid-morning, seats were filled at the East Stage for returning Australian author Kate Grenville’s talk about capturing her mother’s life in her recent book One Life: My Mother’s Story. The crowd hung on her every word and were often in laughter as Kate retold humorous and heart-warming moments from her parent’s lives. She commented on once asking her father why he married her mother all those years ago.

“And what did your father say, when you asked him that?” asked an audience member at the end of the talk.

“He said, ‘well, because everyone was getting married!’”

Kate Grenville signing books

Energy was high between sessions as groups rushed between stages or jumped in line for coffee or lunch, while others stayed put in their seats beneath the blue shade sails. People turned in their chairs to avidly discuss with strangers what they had just experienced, a buzzing of chatter mixed with relaxing orchestral music playing from the stage speakers.

One session of the day, ‘On Memory’, featured two writers from the United States, Jesse Ball and Laura van den Berg, and this year’s only New Zealand writer Anna Smaill. Along with Adelaide Writers’ Week Director Laura Kroetsch, the three young writers discussed the possibilities of memory as a disease, and the potent power it has on all of us.

Jesse Ball, whose original and fascinating novel A Cure for Suicide explores what happens when one ‘starts life over’ without memory, shared how our experiences as humans are two-fold, that every memory has an edge that can cut you. “Memory is at its strongest when shared with other people, not just in your own head,” he said.

Jesse Ball, Anna Smaill, Laura van den Berg, Laura Kroetsch

Day one of Writers’ Week was also the beginning of Kid’s Weekend, and the garden was full of parents stirring a passion for reading in their children. At the Nylon Zoo, a parade of colours wound its way through the crowds. Children dressed as butterflies and parrots flapped their wings wildly as they ran across the grass, capes flying behind them.

Under the wide branches of a grey gum tree covered in children’s drying artwork was the Nest Studio. A mother sat by a shelf of picture books reading Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordan to her small son in her lap. “Once upon a time in a very busy city, on a very busy street, on top of a very tall building, Rosie found Herman. And Herman found Rosie. The city was never quite the same…”

Far away from the stages stood a tall red shade sail, under which dozens of kids sprawled out on cushions for story time. The light soaking through the shade sail turned their faces pink and alight with wonder as they sat listening to the story presenter while their parents rested. One tired dad, three squirming youngsters surrounding him, took what one could imagine was a well-deserved nap.

Nest Studio

The entire day saw people joining together to celebrate and discuss writing, reading, and everything that literature stirred within them. A trio of straw-hatted women pulled chairs from the back of the audience to form their very own reading circle, coffee cups, sandwiches and canvas bags brimming with freshly purchased books at their feet. One man set up his laptop on a table by the café, his fingers typing away at his own writing as he sipped a beer.

Children rolled down the hill, grass sticking to their clothes, and groups of friends relaxed under the shade of native trees. Lines for book signings stretched far up the hill for writers like Lisa Genova and Magda Szubanski, who moved the audience with her honesty and pride when discussing her father and her own identity as a writer and a human being. At the end of the day the crowds made their way out of the garden, minds ignited and arms heavy with books, until the next morning when day two of Adelaide Writers’ Week would begin.

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