Perth festival launches Writers Weekend programme, with Lisa Taddeo, Helen Garner and Tim Winton to speak
After stepping away from the mic 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 working her way through her house full of books.
The former ABC Afternoons host has also spent the past few months programming the Perth Festival 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 across the country and around the world will share the stories that helped shape their works.
Having been held at the University of Western Australia since 1999, before moving to His Majesty’s Theater last year, the event now returns to the grounds of the Fremantle Arts Centre.
With the theme for the entire Perth festival centering on wardan (the ocean), Fremantle-based O’Shaughnessy used this concept to guide her ideas about writers and stories to bring.
“When you think of the ocean as a larger metaphor, you can think of connection and I think reading and books are a great way to do that,” she says.
Last year, O’Shaughnessy sat next to journalist and Boy Swallows Universe author Trent Dalton (albeit via a computer screen broadcast live from his home in Brisbane) to discuss his second novel All Our Shimmering Skies.
Shortly after, Writers Weekend curator Sisonke Msimang floated the idea of the couple sharing the load as she was also busy writing a book herself.
As Msimang organized A Day of Ideas: At Sea, which will be held at the Subiaco Arts Center on February 19, O’Shaughnessy got to work deciding which writers might be involved in the larger program.
Over the two days, WA writers including Liz Byrski, John Kinsella, Natasha Lester and Sara Foster will discuss their works, including first author Josh Kemp, whose novel Banjawarn follows a real crime writer who goes on ” road trip from hell” through the northern goldfields while trying to reunite a young girl with her estranged father in Leonora.
Comedian Judith Lucy is also set to appear live in her hometown to discuss her memoir, Turns Out I’m Fine.
“The Writers’ Festival has always focused on local authors and Western Australian stories, as it should, and it’s a really wonderful forum to promote them,” says O’Shaughnessy.
Beloved WA author Tim Winton will also deliver the weekend’s closing keynote.
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 widely adapted for stage and screen and he has won the Miles Franklin Award four times.
A longtime marine conservation activist, he is a central figure in the historic and ongoing struggle to protect Ningaloo Reef, and will reflect on the theme of the ocean at the Festival.
While last year’s event was hampered by border closures, the planned reopening early next month could also see more authors than expected able to speak in person.
“I haven’t given any details yet on who will definitely be coming now, but I think it’s safe to say that we should be able to bring in some of our writers from the eastern states,” she says. .
Although she’s currently slated to live, Monkey Grip writer Helen Garner will speak with O’Shaughnessy herself, who says she’s read all of her work.
“I love Helen Garner and think she’s one of the greatest living writers in the world,” she shares.
“She tells of our culture, the dark corners of the suburbs, the funny, the unspeakable and the ordinary with singular prose clarity and the most quick-witted.”
Their discussion will center on Garner’s third volume of journal entries, How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998, which traces the end of her marriage.
“It’s selected excerpts from the diaries she kept throughout her life, but it reads like a very fast-paced fiction novel. I read it in one day – it’s so captivating.
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 appear via video link – Lisa Taddeo.
“She undertook this decade-long project that culminated in her book Three Women which was an international publishing phenomenon,” says O’Shaughnessy.
After spending eight years researching, Taddeo traveled across the United States six times to integrate into the lives of the women the book is about.
“It was a book that lifted and focused on stories of women who had gone through particularly difficult times and gave them a chance to have their voices heard.”
Other beloved Australian authors are also expected to take part, including two-time Miles Franklin Award winner Michelle De Kretser and The Slap writer Christos Tsiolkas, many of whose works have been made into television series.
Burial Rites author Hannah Kent will also talk about her highly anticipated third novel, Devotion, while Pip Williams will talk about her bestselling first novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words.
Also on the program, 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 for, with Family Day featuring story time, talks, workshops and conversation sessions with children’s authors and illustrators.
“It’s obviously so important that we communicate with children and families and engage with them,” says O’Shaughnessy.
To continue to make events accessible to everyone, many are free and the Pay What You Can ticketing system is back.
The Perth Festival Writers Weekend will take place the weekend of February 26-27 at the Fremantle Arts Centre. For the full program and tickets go to perthfestival.com.au
Closing speech by Tim Winton
Sunday, February 27, 6:30 p.m.
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 ways that have endeared his stories to readers for 40 years. A passionate advocate for marine conservation, particularly as it relates to the Ningaloo Reef, he will close the Festival with a talk on the 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, 1 p.m.
Well known for integrating herself into her work, Helen Garner opened up in her deepest and most personal way with the release of three volumes of her journals. The series finale traces the period between 1995 and 1998, when she was struggling to hold on to her disintegrating marriage. The Monkey Grip author will talk with Gillian O’Shaughnessy about revealing her innermost thoughts to readers, and how she went against the boundaries of that relationship and came out on the other side.
Saturday February 26, 10 a.m.
WA’s debut author Josh Kemp will keep you hooked from cover to cover with his gothic Aussie novel Banjawarn. Winner of the 2021 Dorothy Hewett Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript, the story follows true crime writer Garreth Hoyle whose destructive love affair with hallucinogenic drugs sent him on a hunt for ghosts in the unforgiving wasteland of America. Western Australia. But when he meets an abandoned young girl, he decides to help her return home.
Kalyakoorl, ngalak warangka (Forever we sing)
Saturday February 26, 4 p.m.
Gina Williams and Guy Ghouse are both best friends and creative collaborators, who have preserved the language while making music. During this session, the duo will talk about their work writing contemporary songs that showcase the beauty of the 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 continuity of the language.
Car accident: a memoir
Sunday February 27, 2:30 p.m.
In 2009, Lech Blaine piled into a car with six of his best friends. As they drove through the streets of Toowoomba, the driver lost control and in a split second their whole lives were changed forever. Three of the boys died and two remained in a coma, but Blaine managed to escape unscathed. His powerful memoir is a raw and honest account of grief, trauma and masculinity.