At the Byron Writers Festival this weekend a late-afternoon session titled “This Book Changed my Life” incited considerable discussion about the influence of story. Chaired by Adam Suckling with Tracey Spicer, Susan Wyndham and the vivacious Barry Jones, each panelist in turn presented pivotal books from their childhood and adult-hood, followed by a recommendation for the Prime Minister, and then a tome they believe changed the world.
Amongst the socio-political manifestos and megaliths of literature, dystopian novels featured more than any other single genre, both in the panel and in contributions from the audience after. Surprising? Perhaps not. In recent years there’s been a noticeable trend toward dystopian narratives, in fiction, graphic novels, cinema and television. Classic masters such as Phillip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and George Orwell are returning again and again to centre stage with screen adaptations, political goofs, and a growing suspicion that these fairy tales are not so far removed from reality as we think.
Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Allhallowtide, Night of the Dead, whatever you call it and however you think it came into being one thing’s for sure, it’s become a majorly lucrative chocolate-selling and movie-renting business. This year why not save your consumerist fervour for Christmas and instead stay home for a quiet evening read, with a flickering candle and a glass of brandy or something. What to read, you ask? We have just the thing.
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of fictional dads that doesn’t lead with Atticus Finch, so here he gets a category all of his own. This guy had it all. A lawyer raising two kids, teaching them to be real humans (the audacious character of Scout alone is testament to his fathering abilities) and defending the indefensible from the vilest aspects of human nature, all the while dispensing ageless advice to his children on the front porch of their Alabama home.
Last weekend Byron Bay hosted one of the largest writer’s festivals in Australia, with three days of marquee action in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate and many more satellite events and workshops in the surrounding area. Writer’s festivals are a sublime experience, crammed with ideas and reflections on culture, politics and current events as well as the wonder of fictional worlds and the nuts and bolts of the writing profession. As usual I returned home with a stack of new books to add to my bedside pile, all bearing the scribble of their maker and some rare insight into their creation.
For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.
– Karl Ove Knausgård, Min Kamp
It seems, beyond all reasonable conjecture, that the latest literary sensation is not epic fantasy or young adult drama or even adult colouring books, but something altogether new and unexpected — a Nordic fictional memoir in six volumes.
You heard right. A six-volume memoir. Why, you may ask, would anyone’s life be worth six volumes of text, let alone someone who is only several decades into his life? And then, more to the point, why on earth would anyone want to read the whole damn thing?
So I’m reading Martin Amis, because we all have to at one point or other. For some reason considered part of today’s ‘canon’, his name gets thrown around with the likes of Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, company that should already set the alarm bells ringing.
So, have you heard the news?
Maybe not. I stumbled across it accidentally on Twitter just this morning, but publishers and marketing departments the world over are scrambling to declare that this hitherto unexpected event has broken the internet and set millions, if not billions, of hearts a-flutter right across the known muggle universe.
New releases from four Booker-prize winners; posthumous works from Christopher Hitchens and Terry Pratchet; a tribute from William Shatner; and several commemorative reimaginings for Shakespeare’s 400th death-day. It’s shaping up to be a veritable feast of a year.
Not for the faint of heart, or short of mind.
Snaps for Marlon James, the first Caribbean to win the Booker Prize since V. S. Naipaul won in 1971 with In a Free State, and the third in a row of winners who have not been Irish, English or Indian.
James’ win should put a smile on many a rebellious face, much like the subject matter of his book A History of Seven Killings, which covers the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the 1970s and traces the cultural fallout through the following decades, employing a surprisingly diverse array of narrative voices.
Last week I got a bit academic on you and started down this road of form and structure, and what it means to readers and writers and so on. The reason for this dialectic digression stems from my own exploration of the concepts of form over the past few months while I have been structurally editing my manuscript. As anyone who has ever done this knows, ideas of form are integral to the structural process.