Friday, March 10, 2006

More on Writers' Week

Have been too busy going to WW to blog about it in instalments as I had hoped to do. If one is a home-town littery person but with no actual book out, one is likely to find oneself chairing sessions and that is how I spent Tuesday -- Minette Walters in the morning and Helen Garner in the afternoon both said they would rather do their Meet the Author sessions as a conversation than as a presentation, so there was a bit of preparation to be done, making sure one did not run out of probing questions.

Actually, I hate probing questions, at least in this context. Most writers have done nothing to deserve to be probed, which in any case I had no desire to do; nor was there any need, since it's a defining characteristic of writers that they do actually want to talk. What seems to me a very masculinist (and rampant, heh) aspect of (radio and TV at least) journalism culture at the moment is some odd notion that an interview is a contest, and that a good journalist will win it at any cost and make his or her subject look as silly and evil in the process as possible, using any means including bullying, misrepresentation, constant interruption and/or naked pig-rudeness in order to do so.

Fortunately none of these was appropriate either to Walters or to Garner, who were both generous and forthcoming in their answers to questions. Walters inserted a soft layer of English good manners between herself and my questions and so was utterly charming but not entirely direct; Garner was more forthcoming and hurled herself head-on at whatever she was asked, including an audience question at the end when a woman got up and said 'I told my friend's daughter I was coming to see you and she said ERGH, I HATE Helen Garner!'

Garner was flawlessly courteous in the face of this, as it seemed to me, breathtakingly rude and ill-willed intervention. It wasn't even brave; the woman expressed her hostility while directing it through two layers of indirectness ('my friend's daughter'), pinning the source of the bad feeling on an absent young woman so people wouldn't react with hostility to her personally, and smiling as she said it -- a classic deflector of others' responses to whatever dreadful thing is coming out of one's own smiling mouth.

But even without that, it seemed to me an appalling thing to pin down a stranger, and a guest, in front of a large crowd with a remark like that, and put to her in a position where she is obliged to respond with courtesy when clearly the more appropriate response is a smack upside the head -- regardless of where one stands on the whole First Stone question. Or stood. It is, as Garner pointed out, over ten years since that book came out. Much has changed.

Anyway. More later, when I get back from today's last-day sessions.


Perry Middlemiss said...

The idea of a confrontational interview I can understand if the interviewee is a politician, but a literary figure? Well, okay, James Frey deserves it.

I've seen the same sort of aggressive questioning of authors at science fiction conventions. There it's mainly a matter of someone trying to "big-note" themselves. And then there's the audience member who has no intention of asking a question but just wants to make a statement, that goes on and on and on.... Every panel chair-person needs to be aware that they will encounter one such during any three or four day event, and be ready to cut them off at the knees the first time they draw breath.

Anonymous said...

Some people seem to take deep, personal offence if they don't like someone's book. Perhaps they feel they have been conned by the author. And, of course, once someone is a public 'name' they are public property - fair game. The combination of these two things prompts some very bad manners from audience members.
Remember what Barry Humphrey's mother said: Be nice, and remember you're out.

Melissa said...

Well, I thought it was charm & warmth all round from you Kerryn, and Minette Walters and Helen Garner. Loved the idea of a conversation rather than speeches. (Nice to see you in action, Kerryn, I was one of your Aus Lit students at Melb Uni long ago in the 80s & rapt to discover this blog.) Adelaide Writers Week ought to be an official national treasure of some sort. Tho' I'm always disappointed by the ego-driven statements from the audience, they are usually balanced by some wonderful questions out of left field.