Perth Festival releases Writers Weekend program, with Lisa Taddeo, Helen Garner and Tim Winton to speak
After stepping away from the microphone last year, Gillian O’Shaughnessy has been busy reading up a storm for her new role.
With 25 years behind her at the national broadcaster, O’Shaughnessy left last year to focus on other pursuits, including writing short fiction and making her way through her house full of books.
The former ABC Afternoons host has also spent the past few months programming Perth Festival’s Writers Weekend, which she says is both “a tribute to writers, but a love letter to readers”.
Over the weekend of February 26 and 27, authors from around the country and world will share the stories that helped shape their works.
After being held at the University of Western Australia since 1999, before being hosted at His Majesty’s Theatre last year, the event is now returning to the grounds of the Fremantle Arts Centre.
With the theme of the overall Perth Festival centring on wardan (the ocean), Fremantle-based O’Shaughnessy used that concept to guide her ideas for what authors and stories to bring on board.
“When you think of the ocean as a broader metaphor you can think of connection and I think reading and books are a beautiful way to achieve that,” she says.
Last year O’Shaughnessy sat beside journalist and Boy Swallows Universe author Trent Dalton (albeit from through a computer screen live-streamed from his home in Brisbane) to chat about his second novel All Our Shimmering Skies.
Soon after, Writers Weekend curator Sisonke Msimang floated the idea of the pair splitting the load as she was busy also writing a book herself.
With Msimang curating the A Day of Ideas: At Sea, which will be held at the Subiaco Arts Centre on February 19, O’Shaughnessy got to work deciding what writers could be involved in the wider program.
Over the two days, WA writers including Liz Byrski, John Kinsella, Natasha Lester and Sara Foster will discuss their works, including debut author Josh Kemp, whose novel Banjawarn follows a true crime writer who goes on a “road trip from hell” through the northern goldfields while trying to return a young girl to her estranged father in Leonora.
Comedian Judith Lucy is also set to appear live back in her home town to discuss her memoir, Turns Out, I’m Fine.
“The Writer’s Festival has always had a strong focus on local authors and West Australian stories, as it should and this is a really wonderful forum to promote them,” O’Shaughnessy says.
Beloved WA author Tim Winton will also be providing the closing address to the weekend.
This year marks Winton’s 40th year of publishing since the release of his first novel An Open Swimmer in 1982.
His 29 books have been translated into 30 languages and been widely adapted for stage and screen and he has won the Miles Franklin Award a record four times.
A longtime activist in marine conservation, he is a central figure in the historic and ongoing fight to protect Ningaloo Reef, and will be reflecting on the Festival theme of ocean.
While last year’s event was hindered by the closed borders, the planned reopening early next month may also see more authors than planned able to speak in person.
“I haven’t got down to the detail on who will definitely be coming now, but I think it is safe to say we should be able to get some of our Eastern States writers in,” she says.
While currently planned as a livestream, Monkey Grip writer Helen Garner will be speaking with O’Shaughnessy herself, who says she has read all of her work.
“I love Helen Garner and think she is one of the world’s greatest living writers,” she shares.
“She chronicles our culture, the dark corners of suburbia, the funny, the unspeakable and the ordinary with singular clarity of prose and the sharpest of wit.”
Their discussion will centre on Garner’s third volume of journal entries, How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998, which charts the end of her marriage.
“It is a curated excerpts from the diaries she has kept all of her life but it reads like a very pacey fiction novel. I read it in a day — it is so riveting.”
After streaming in Brit Bennett, whose novel The Vanishing Half debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times fiction bestseller list last year, another internationally bestselling writer will be appearing via video link — Lisa Taddeo.
“She undertook this decade-long project that resulted in her book Three Women which was an international publishing phenomenon,” O’Shaughnessy explains.
Spending eight years researching, Taddeo drove across the United States six times to embed herself in the lives of the women the book focuses on.
“It was a book that lifted and centred on stories of women who had been through particularly difficult times and have them a chance to have their voices heard.”
Other beloved Australian authors also set to take part including two-time Miles Franklin Award-winning Michelle De Kretser and The Slap writer Christos Tsiolkas, who has had several of his works turned into television series.
Burial Rites author Hannah Kent will also talk about her highly anticipated third novel Devotion, while Pip Williams will speak about her hugely successful debut novel The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Also included in the program is Michael Robotham (When You Are Mine), Bri Lee (Who Gets to Be Smart), Julia Baird (Media Tarts), Lech Blaine (Car Crash) and David Allan-Petale (Locust Summer).
On Sunday, readers of all ages will also be catered to, with the Family Day featuring story time, talks, workshops and conversation sessions with children’s authors and illustrators.
“It’s obviously so important we also connect and engage with kids and families,” O’Shaughnessy says.
To continue to make the events accessible for all, many are free and the Pay What You Can ticketing system is back.
The Perth Festival Writers Weekend will be held over the weekend of February 26 and 27 at the Fremantle Arts Centre. For the full program and tickets, go to perthfestival.com.au
Tim Winton Closing Address
Sunday February 27, 6.30pm
As one of the country’s most prolific and successful writers, Tim Winton has brought the people and places of WA to the page in a way that has endeared his stories with readers for coming on 40 years. A passionate advocate for marine conservation, especially with regard to Ningaloo Reef, he will be closing the Festival with an address on wardan (ocean), offering insight and inspiration from his lifelong engagement with the sea.
Helen Garner: How to End a Story: Diaries: 1995 – 1998
Sunday February 27, 1pm
Well known for incorporating herself into her work, Helen Garner has opened up in her most profound and personal way with the release of three volumes of her diaries. The final in the series charts the time between 1995-1998, when she was fighting to hold onto her disintegrating marriage. The Monkey Grip author will be speaking with Gillian O’Shaughnessy about revealing her innermost thoughts to readers, and how she railed against the confines of this relationship and came out the other side.
Saturday February 26, 10am
Debut WA author Josh Kemp will keep you gripped from the first page to the last with his Australian gothic novel Banjawarn. The winner of the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the story follows true crime writer Garreth Hoyle whose destructive love affair with hallucinogenic drugs has sent him searching for ghosts in the unforgiving desert of Western Australia. But when he meets a young girl who has been abandoned, he decides to help get her home.
Kalyakoorl, ngalak warangka (Forever we sing)
Saturday February 26, 4pm
Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse are both best friends and creative collaborators, who have been preserving language through making music. In this session, the pair will speak about their work writing contemporary songs that showcase the beauty of rare Noongar language. And with less than 400 fluent speakers, the song sheets contained in their book (which represents their first two albums) will help ensure language is carried on.
Car Crash: A Memoir
Sunday February 27, 2.30pm
In 2009 Lech Blaine piled into a car with six of his best mates. As they were driving through the streets of Toowoomba the driver lost control, and in a split second all of their lives were changed forever. Three of the boys died and two were left in comas, but Blaine managed to walk away unharmed. His powerful memoir is a raw and honest account of grief, trauma and masculinity.
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