WHOSE STORY IS IT?
Speaking to Drusilla Modjeska about her new memoir, Second Half First, we touched on the complex ethics of life writing. As the author of two previous award-winning “fictionalised” memoirs, Poppy and The Orchard, Modjeska has stuck to the facts and used real names in this account of her past 30 years. “It is a difficult line to draw,” she says of what to include or leave out. “You cannot tell your own story without talking about the people who have been part of forming you, all the people we’ve loved and known and worked with. But the contract of friendship and the intimacies of friendship are that they are private. I feel it’s not for me to tell, for instance, the [close friend] Sophie’s story or the story of Helen Garner’s marriage to Murray Bail. I can write about how Helen and Murray at different times have been significant in who I came to be and the writer I came to be, but I don’t think it’s right to go over the line and tell their story.” Modjeska doesn’t like the way Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard exposes people using their real names in his frank autobiographical novels, though she found the bestselling books interesting and readable. “Imagine if Knausgaard was in our world here, so we all knew the wife, the ex-girlfriend, everybody – it’s hair-raising really.” Modjeska sent her book to each person she writes about – friends, family, former lovers – and all have been generously happy with their portrayal even if their memories differ. Her approach seems a wise and clear guide for other memoirists, though not guaranteed to be trouble-free. I will be in conversation with Modjeska at Gleebooks on Thursday, October 22, at 6.30pm.
BOOK HELPS SAVE A GARDEN
Wonderful news that the NSW government will preserve – at least for 30-60 years – the magical public garden Wendy Whiteley created on railway-owned land at Lavender Bay after the death of her husband, artist Brett Whiteley, and daughter Arkie. Shared credit should go to writer Janet Hawley, whose beautiful new book, Wendy Whiteley and the Secret Garden, showcases the 20-year project, led to a recent ABC n Story and helped persuade the nature-living Premier Mike Baird of its importance after a private visit with Whiteley and Hawley. Hawley first wrote about the garden for Good Weekend in 2006 and the book, one of the last published by Julie Gibbs at Penguin’s Lantern imprint before its closure, already has almost 6500 copies in stores and has been reprinted.
AUSTRALIA’S SUPPORT VANISHES
Indigenous writer Philip McLaren is among the ns speaking at next week’s Asia Pacific Writers and Translators’ conference in Manila, titled Against the Grain: Dissidence, Dissonance and Difference. A Kamilaroi novelist and adjunct professor in Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney, McLaren will give a keynote speech on “Grasping the Indigenous nettle and owning it”. Jane Camens, the n founder and executive director of APWT, says there is no n government funding for the event, which has been held in other Asian or n cities in the past seven years. Her proposal for three-year funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was unsuccessful and the midyear round of Council funding – which had previously supported the event – was cancelled after budget cuts. Camens suspects the problem is that Manila is not an economic priority. Future gatherings will be held in Guangzhou, Jakarta and , so she hopes for government interest in an organisation that has built cross-cultural relationships among writers, translators, agents, publishers and creative writing teachers, and provided writers for Griffith Review’s recent New Asia Now issue.