I titled my last post with a quote from China Miéville and then realised I didn’t actually write about the session it came from. So without further ado here are the sessions I skipped in my last post.
I was very excited for the talk by Margo Lanagan, you may remember that I loved Sea Hearts (or The Brides of Rollrock Island, as they call it here). She was on with Melvin Burgess who I was less excited about, he stood up a couple of times in the conference and each time mentioned his own books A LOT. But he was good fun, talking about the validity of teenage, male sexual curiosity and the problems with treating sex as filthy or taboo in teen fiction. He read from his book Doing It which reminded me of a sexual Adrian Mole and talked about the controversy stirred up by the media over very little. Margo then talked about her own controversy over Tender Morsels, something that wasn’t an issue at all in Australia. The subject matter is definitely dark, including incest and rape, but it is handled skilfully and delicately. As Lanagan said, there is actually nothing graphic in the book, just enough suggestion so that you can figure it out if you’re aware of the issues while readers who know nothing about it could miss it entirely. She read a scene to prove it and, although no details are given, in a way it was more haunting for me because it leaves room for you to provide whatever horrible details you can imagine.
It was wonderful to hear her read though, Lanagan’s writing is beautiful and original. She talked about the creation of her own kind of country vernacular, her love of writing that doesn’t hand you everything on a plate and that taking the protection of children too far becomes damaging in itself.
From there I hurried to the sold out China Miéville event. I originally had only bought tickets because I was kind of stalking Patrick Ness. Only in the perfectly legal, going-to-all-his-events-regardless-of-what-they-were sense! Anyway by that point I’d heard Miéville say enough smart and sensible things at the conference sessions to be interested in his event. It was great, a really chatty session between the Miéville and Ness. They covered playing with genre (whether through fidelity to or subversion of the rules) and the ideas for his novels. Miéville talked about his preference for what he calls the ‘literature of estrangement’, literature that shocks or startles the reader with new ideas and feelings of alienation. He also voiced an idea that I think is really important: “loads of authors have no fucking idea about their own books”. This is something I also heard from an inspirational literature teacher (but with less swearing) and something that has stayed with me. An author is often not the best person to analyse their own work, they’re too close to it for starters, and also a work can mean different things to different people, sometimes taking on meanings and interpretations an author’s intention can close off.
The feeling I was left with after the event was just how smart Miéville was, smart in a way I would like to be. He was informed, engaged and eloquent on lots of topics with enough humour and modesty thrown in to make him completely charming. A great night.