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Port Adelaide hosted its inaugural writers’ festival this weekend themed ‘Living Landscapes‘ in the historic Hart Mill Precinct, with an impressive line up and books courtesy of Matilda Bookshop.

Living Landscape Writers’ Festival Day One Program

Hosted in conjunction with Writers SA, the program comprised talks and readings examining our relationship with the environment and the role it plays in art, followed by a series of workshops to learn the craft of nature writing. The venue was perfect, set beside the beautiful Port River, home to a variety of life, including dolphins.

I attended the afternoon sessions, the first a panel discussion on ‘Writing the Changing Landscape’ with Ali Cobby Eckermann, Inga Simpson and Jill Jones, facilitated by Writers SA Director, Jessica Alice. It was fascinating to learn about their connection with country, the living world around them and how they capture and express this in their work, often giving voice to the damage we’re doing. Ali spoke about healthy moments and how childhood homes become unrecognisable. Inga grew up on a farm and sought solitude to develop her work. Jill shared examples of mindful suburban walking without distraction. There was talk of the creature’s we’re responsible for, how nature is giving us the solutions and a request for us to be curious again. But the most profound words for me were these when discussing those in power:

Just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you hold the riches.

Ali Cobby Eckermann
Molly Munro and Hannah Kent

The next session was a conversation between Molly Munro and Hannah Kent exploring ‘Nature as Character’. Molly echoed attendance to country and explained how Kangaroo Island, the setting for her latest work, is the last spiritual stopping place for indigenous cultures in South Australia. Hannah referred to the ‘livingness of things’ and shared her intimate connection with the landscape of Iceland where her first novel was set. Both stressed the importance of place in their work, how it must be more than a backdrop to a story to engage not just their readers, but themselves too. They also shared writers who have influenced their writing and that’s one of many things I love about these events, the reading recommendations you leave with, where you discover new writers and work, thought and theory.

I had booked Rachael Mead’s workshop – ‘Writing the Landscape anew through Poetry’ – today, but a deadline snuck up on me so unfortunately I had to cancel. Yesterday was a memorable afternoon, which left me deeply thoughtful, reminding me again how glad I am that I grew up when I did, with a childhood outside exploring nature, back when seasons were sure of themselves.

I went to the launch by Carol Lefevre of Jean Harley was here last night at Dymocks bookshop.

2017-03-03-13-17-52

This is Heather Taylor Johnson’s second novel, Pursuing Love and Death her first published in 2013 by Harper Collins, a domestically rich story with the protagonist suffering from Meniere’s disease, a debilitating condition of the inner ear causing vertigo and tinnitus, which Heather herself battles with. So Heather’s second novel has been hotly anticipated.

Published by the University of Queensland Press, it explores love, relationships and the impact of absence. Jean Harley – wife, mother, lover, dancer – is sunshine in the lives of those around her, but when tragedy strikes they are forced to continue without her. Despite a little unravelling and a few storms, Jean leaves a powerful legacy to abate them. I’ve heard it’s a tear-jerker

Heather is first and foremost a poet, with a number of sole and collaborative collections to her name, and her lyricism is reflected in her exquisite prose.  I recall Heather sharing an extract from the draft of this book last year at a reading with other poets, which has stayed with me, and Heather’s knack for scene-setting is like an intimacy shared, demonstrated by the excerpt she read yesterday from the chapter “Emotional Fishing”. Here’s a snapshot:

Charley sat as far back as he could, feeling out of place, though that was nothing new. His bald head shone under the fluoro lights and the back of his neck itched – an eczema problem that flared up when he was nervous. He kept smoothing his long beard to a point – another nervous tic. One might think he was made of tougher stuff because if this was an eye-for-eye world, here was a man who’d seen things that should’ve blinded him, a man who’d done the sort of things people don’t talk about at the dinner table but read about in newspapers over breakfast…”

Quoted as being “a book to savour” by Hannah Kent, it’s clear this will be another stunning read from an extraordinarily talented writer. A visceral narrative with complex, relatable characters, Heather offers us a world to get lost in, absorb, making us ponder our place in our own.

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