May 28, 2015

Tim Winton at AWF15

Auckland Writers Festival

New Zealanders may not always excel at loving their Aussie neighbours but there was a full house and warm appreciation for Tim Winton on his return to the Auckland Writers Festival. Claire G of Grey Lynn Library heard him interviewed by Jim Mora and contributed this guest post. 

In person the guest from Western Australia looks a handy bloke: solid, a carpenter type whose ponytail nobody would tweak.  But Tim Winton tells us that writing is “the only thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how to do anything else.”

He won an award with his first novel in 1981. The life-changing success however came with Cloudstreet, his fourth. “It came at a time when we were broke and we had three little kids and I didn’t know where the next mortgage payment was coming from.” After that Winton didn’t have to worry about money for a long time.

The books kept coming and so did the awards (which he doesn’t really discuss at this session; nor does his interviewer ask). Many of us across the ditch finally discovered him when Dirt Music was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002.

He’s not especially confident, he admits. “The older I’ve got the harder it gets. Just because I wrote a book last year doesn’t mean I can write one this week.” To outwit writer’s block, he applies his ‘three desks’ strategy. If progress at one desk becomes difficult, he moves to another, to focus on another project. So far the trick hasn’t failed him.

As a boy Tim Winton told tall tales. He regales his Auckland audience with what might be another one:  that when walking home from school he regularly stopped the neighbourhood bully from beating him up by telling stories all the way. His long-honed skills in eavesdropping – “I didn’t sleep so I listened in” – have probably also sharpened the observational abilities needed to write.

“I thought of myself as a writer from the age of ten,” he says. “But I didn’t know what good writing was. I grew up with Archie comics.... I thought Alistair MacLean was every bit as good as Mark Twain.” He credits luck and good teachers with bringing him to his present position as a writer of literary fiction or, as he also describes himself, someone who’s “in the the business of producing useless beauty”.

The Times of London has called him “a poet of baffled souls”, his interviewer reminds him. Winton’s a bit iffy about the poet moniker – he’s too humble, probably – but acknowledges his interest in people for whom “their lives are hard and their feelings are strong and they just don’t have the words to express them.”

His readers have strong feelings too, and apparently little difficulty expressing them. He receives “cranky, passionate letters” about why his endings are so open. His answer? He gets bored with books where all the ends are neatly tied. People expect there to be closure in life, he says, and there isn’t. “Most people die mid-sentence.”

-- Claire

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 18:03
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