May 21, 2009

AWRF 2009: Martin Edmond

Martin Edmond was a joy. He was "in conversation with" Peter Wells, whose high-strung air, which included at times clutching the arms of his chair like they used to do in the old Star Trek when it was a bumpy ride, was a perfect counterpoint to Martin's rumpledness. That's mood, not look. Because actually Martin was one of the best dressed of the Festival, and his were indisputably the best shoes there. No trapezoidal top seams or toes pointing up into the air, but good old black leather Doc Martens with the chunky rubber treads, neither scuffed nor spit-shined, just an understated saddle soap gleam.

I imagined him showing up in them at someone's house, an ex-railroad shack a kilometre's walk from where the sealed road left off. It would be dusk when he knocked on the door, unexpected, holding a bottle of wine, slapping the dust off the thighs of those dark blue trousers, slightly reminiscent of auto factory workers or Greek fishermen.

He talked about when he was an aspiring novelist "hanging about libraries" and how looking back, he now realises those years - 20 of them - were about finding his voice, which didn't turn out to be that of a fiction writer. "People are always a bit dismayed when they ask you what you write, and you say 'non-fiction'," he said, at which Peter Wells quipped "It's because they were hoping you were Harold Robbins."

The blurb of Martin's new book, The Supply Party, calls it a "quest-memoir". "I have to ask, what is a quest-memoir?", dryly asked noted memoirist P.W. "Oh," said M.E, "It's that the publishers were on to me for the blurb, and people are always confused about where my books go in a bookstore, so I thought I'd invent this new category." I understood "guest-memoir" at first, which works too.

The book looks at the infamous "ill-fated expedition" ("it's never mentioned without being called ill-fated" sighed M.E.) of Burke and Wills, with its 21 tons of luggage including "dandruff brushes for the camels" -- I still don't know if this is a joke or not, which I guess is actually the point. But the writer concentrates his insights on Ludwig Becker, the German scientist who served as the expedition's naturalist. "It's posited on the idea that I could get to know the interior workings of a man who never revealed himself intimately to anyone."

I told him how I had met him at Montana Poetry Day at the Library, how I remembered his very evocative reading of a beautiful poem. "Ah yes," he said. "I read that poem by Alan Brunton, and I muffed the last line. I couldn't get 'magellanic' right." Magellanic, such a Martin Edmond word. So now I have a copy of Luca Antara signed by Martin Edmond, with the annotation "to Karen, on a magellanic day".

"What do you like about writing?" he had been asked.
"I like sentences. I love a well-turned sentence." was the reply.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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