Tag Archives: Marion Halligan

The morning read (and a Weetbix smear)

Angel by Deborah Halpern, Birrarung Marr, Melb...

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Caren has Monkey and Sparrow safely strapped into the double pram. She walks with me to the foot of the stairs and then heads off, all intrepid, down the grassy hill towards Birrarung Marr. The playground there is amazing and Monkey (we both hope) will love it. Sparrow is due for a sleep, but he’s gazing around and waving at everyone and yelling to the morning. They’ll meet me at 11 so I can feed Sparrow before the next session.

I probably look impossibly cool (or pretentiously Melbourne) in my sneakers and jeans, a piece of curled bone through my right ear lobe, a MacBook Air settled on my lap. No one would guess that I had to pick a dried Weetbix smear off my neck and make sure both sides of my maternity bra were clicked up (I have been through entire mornings without realising I have one breast swaying) before heading in to the Cube for The Morning Read.

Jane Sullivan read from Little People. In 1870 four little people came to tour Australia and were treated like rock stars, they had groupies, this is based, she says, on truth. And this: “A soft voice, and clean hands, and the smell of peppermint”.

Abdulrazak Gurnah reading from The Last Gift. He stands and moves to the microphone and then speaks to the techs. “Would it be possible to turn the music off? There’s music coming out of the speaker here, the kind of music you hear when you call the bank.” His is a book about a man who is unable to speak, but wants to speak. The last gift is that he is finally able to speak. It is a story about secrets, and their corrosive nature in intimate settings. “This was in the days when Mogadishu was still a port, and not a slaughterhouse.” “It was the way he looked, like someone who had been places and done things.” “And when his eyes were open, she thought he was someone who liked peace.”

Marion Halligan reading from her short story collection “Reading the Fox”. She says it’s funny having to choose from short stories that are also short memoirs, trying to manage in advance what we’ll think of her. “She was sure she would recognise him. There was the photo, and he said he would carry violets.” “Edible wasn’t a word that came to mind.” “…the air was frostily sweet.” I thought we were hearing something from a long time ago, the description of the train station, meeting a stranger, mothers and children. Maybe it was the violets? I pictured wartime, lost people; I heard sepia. But suddenly there are emails and computers and I have to shift in my seat, to shift time. “Words through space, in emails and telephone calls.” “I like short stories. If you look at my novels, they are really bunches of short stories that serve one big story.”

Tess Gerritsen reading from The Silent Girl. A crime writer, her American accent and the way she reads and the noir story from the first sentence makes me feel like I’m listening to a voice over, instead of an actual, live, voice. “In San Francisco even summer nights are chilly.” “Cold and hunger eventually disperse the last of them, leaving only the girl who has nowhere to go.” “I hear the floor creaking, I smell burning candle wax.” “She has raw talent and she is fearless; two things that can’t be taught.”

Three seats down from me are a couple. They hold hands. There are bells pealing from the church across the road. They hold hands, hers on top, their fingers laced. His right thumb is tapping on her forearm. His eyes are closed but the lids are fluttering. He is listening blind, he is tapping a story into her body. I feel the relief of having no person, no body, pressing up against mine. I breathe in the space and words around me like the scent of something clean, like grass, like newly brewed lemongrass tea with cut ginger, like me.

The glue of good fiction (and a sleeping Sparrow)

My pram being used as a laptop tableI type this with Sparrow on my back. My airbook is balanced on the hood of the pram and jiggles as I type. I hear “the intimate space of other people’s relationships” and “reflect our own world back to us” and I sway and type and sway and hope that Sparrow will be lulled by amplified and echoing voices instead of kept awake.

There are four women in armchairs in a semicircle on the stage. Marion Halligan is introduced first. She has an easy slouch, a silver grey bob, and Sparrow is saying “ya ya ya” in the soft, raspy way he has. I zone in and out. I hear and don’t. I see the Yarra beyond the glass back wall of the BMW Edge theatre and a girl child riding her bike, swerving to miss the clichéd joggers and tourists.

Enza Gandolfo is chairing and next she tells us about Jane Smiley and Gail Jones.

This theatre is big and full of light. There is a huge space at the top, at the back of all the seats, and I am relieved because maybe this bringing a baby into sacrosanct adult space will be ok. He blows raspberries into the middle of my back. Sings into my shoulder blades. Can I rock and type and bounce for an hour? People in the back row turn to look, and mostly smile.

The last to be introduced is Elizabeth Stead. I keep bouncing and trying to listen but there’s more “ya ya yaing” and a gang of seven year olds is inspecting the architecture of the glass wall on my left. A child with tracksuit pants that don’t quite cover her ankles traces one of the metal supports and lags behind to peer in at us. A teacher moves her on.

Enza wants to know what kinds of relationships these writers are interested in exploring and Marion says birth, love, marriage, and betrayal. She says she’s tired of hearing this called women’s writing, that Shakespeare wrote about the same thing too. She’s interested in the having and the not having of children. She says that this generation is full of young women pushing forty and desperately trying to get pregnant.

Sparrow still singing. And doing this thing where he pushes his whole body against the ergo and jiggles up and down at the same time with a loud “ah ah ah ah” like that will help him escape.

Gail talks about the collapse of the present into the past. That when people leave the room we don’t stop having relationships with them. She says that there’s the physics of the text, but it’s the metaphysics; time, space, memory, the inner and outer, that interest her.

1.15 and I think Sparrow is asleep. His breathing has taken on a regular, deeper cadence. Can I stop rocking?

I concentrate again and hear Elizabeth say “I write more about people who are lonely.”

It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I walked into a wind tunnel in the city yesterday that nearly pulled the pram from my hands. I wrenched my shoulder in the holding on against that fierce blowing and now the ergo straps have set up an ache. It’s not comfortable, standing up here. I listen but my heart is beating fast. Always this division. I can’t listen with my whole self. Part of me is reserved for “is he waking?” and “will he be hungry when he opens his eyes?” and “I could sit in that chair there to feed him” and “if he makes too much noise we’ll just have to leave” and, and, and.

And suddenly they’re all talking about flat irons, and who remembers them, and the ironing of old wedding dresses in Paris.

Then Jane says “the occasion of the storytelling is displacement” (I am displaced). “You just start writing” (I am writing). “The novel is linear because words are linear… that’s your boon and your bane… you hope that once the words enter the reader’s mind they’ll become three dimensional”. I am entranced. I forget, momentarily, about my children, and I am all there, all words, undivided, inhabiting this talk, breathing it in. Gail is speaking and she says “you don’t need to know where you’re going, you need to see the space of illumination in front of you”. I see the space of illumination in front of me. The way is clear.