While it's always lovely to have the literary world turn up in one's home town -- cheaper, too -- there is one major drawback: constantly having to choose between two parallel sessions, both of which you want to go to, is par for the course at any writers' festival, but that's exacerbated by the fact that in your home town, real life goes on. The house and the family and other aspects of daily life continue to need your attention on a daily basis: the cats, the plumbing, the convalescent sister, and of course the small matter of making a living.
And one or other of these things meant I missed hearing a number of Australian writers that I really wanted to hear: Malcolm Knox, Marion Halligan, David Malouf and Sonia Hartnett, for a start. I also shamefully didn't make it to the special citizenship ceremony for J.M. Coetzee that was held on the Monday morning.
But I did hear Delia Falconer read beautifully from The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers and answer a more than usually interesting series of questions from the audience. I heard Helen Garner talking about what it's like to re-take-up fencing in middle age: 'I learned to fight with a sword.' I heard Peter Goldsworthy read poems I've always liked, and Nick Jose talk so engagingly about his new novel Original Face that I'm now several chapters into it and bloody good it is too.
Fiction writer, poet, essayist, biographer and historian Barry Hill, newly returned from six months in the Whiting Studio in Rome with his wife Rose Bygrave of Goanna Band fame, came over from Victoria just to be in the audience and to see South Australian friends; while people are still talking about Hill's Broken Song, and while he began to collect prizes for his next book, The Enduring Rip, before the prizes for Broken Song had quite dried up, he's now well into his next project -- a collection of poems on the paintings of Lucien Freud -- as well as the two after that, one of which involves Japan and the other one opera. (It's exhausting just to listen to this kind of thing; it makes you want to take up making embroidered pot-holders and never write another word.)
Other random impressions and sightings: Dutch journalist, novelist and screenwriter Tim Krabbé is very funny, Canberra fiction writer Dorothy Johnston is very smart, novelist and essayist Marion Halligan worries more than she needs to about the reviews of her books, historian Stuart Macintyre looks fitter and saner than any Dean of an Arts Faculty has a right to look in 2006, novelist James Bradley's new novel The Resurrectionist looks black but riveting, ABR editor Peter Rose goes right on working at cafe tables even when at writers' festivals, Robert Fisk has a bloody enormous Adelaide fan base, and UK poet Simon Armitage and NSW nonfiction writer John Hughes are both extremely cute.