Dec 5, 2017

Helen Garner reflects on the essential contradiction of being a professional writer

"Writers don’t tend to hang out together. In fact, they repel each other. How can writers sit in a room together?"

True Stories presents Helen Garner’s journalistic oeuvre; the many crisp, genre-defying items Garner has written between her books. Each story strikes with knife-like precision, including this extract sent exclusively to you from Crikey. In it, Garner asks what the point of a writers’ festival could be when writers tend, for the most part, to be anxious hermits. Perhaps you’ve been to a writers’ festival with a particularly reclusive literary figure and wondered the same.

Somewhere between 1978 and 1992 the gilt had worn off the ginger-bread. Festivals had lost their festiveness and turned into work. Their magic had fled.

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2 thoughts on “Helen Garner reflects on the essential contradiction of being a professional writer

  1. Irfan Yusuf

    I only read one Helen Garner book. Something about a master of a posh Melbourne college who went through a hearing in the Magistrates Court. As a Sydney sider, I had never heard of this college. As a lawyer who has run hundreds of these cases in NSW and Victorian courts, I couldn’t tell what the point of the book was.

    Maybe I’m just a cynical lawyer.

  2. Misha

    Irfan, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I think you’ve missed the point of literature, or at very least literary journalism. The First Stone is not about the case itself, or to be more accurate it is only partly about the case. It’s also a window into sexual politics and how we behave and what it’s like to live in Melbourne and go to college and be young, or be a Master at a college and exercise power and have your career trashed by serious allegations of misconduct. I can’t go past the Martin Amis description of good writing, which is that it’s a victory in the war against cliche. Every received or bland thought, ever regurgitation of conventional wisdom, is a small defeat. And ever fresh insight, every moment of seeing things exactly as they are and conveying what this is like, is a small victory. Chalk up enough of those small victories and you’ve got great writing. Garner is a master of seeing things we haven’t noticed and showing us what they reveal. As she is especially fascinated with the moral universe of the law I suggest you read Joe Cinque’s Consolation and This House of Grief, and most especially her recent feature in the Monthly, Why She Broke.

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