Well there was some, but not much, chat about Jane Austen in the session, Three very attractive men talk sensitively about Jane Austen, hosted by columnist Mark Dapin and featuring two of Australia’s most prominent authors: Tom Keneally, and Rob Drewe. Actually between Dapin’s tattoed biceps, the twinkle in Keneally’s eye and the merry sparring humour between the three men, there was a lot to be attracted to, writes Richelle Buckingham*.
Both Keneally and Drewe talked about their working day, both admitting to early morning procrastination – several newspapers, and cryptic crosswords later, the serious business of writing would (hopefully) ensue. At 73, Keneally chuckled that he was very much ‘…seduced by the cryptic crossword and girls with walking frames.’
The authors also talked about the inherent loneliness of the writer; as Keneally says, ‘…the solitude of writing can be a problem in magnifying depression.’ But Drewe and Keneally both agree the accomplishment is worth it. With that twinkle in his eye, and that whiskery gnome like appearance that wouldn’t be out of place, fishing rod in hand, beside your garden pond, Keneally pointed out that the festival audience gives you the kind of illusion that they have all read your book – and you could tell that Keneally and Drewe relished every moment of it.
The talk went on to ‘prose’, what type did the author’s prefer? The shared opinion was, less is more, although a variation of light and heavy can be good. But as Drewe said, ‘Let the verbs do the work …too many adjectives, too flowery.’
Keneally, with Schindler’s Ark (List) and The Chant of Jimmy BlackSmith, and Drewe, with Our Sunshine (aka Ned Kelly) and Shark Net, have seen their work successfully adapted for the screen. And as proud as the authors are of this accomplishment, they also sagely advise not to be too precious about the adaptation. As Keneally says, ‘The director looks at your book as a point of departure not as the bible!’
Well there was some discussion of Jane Austen, unlike any other discussion ever of Jane Austen, adds Marian Edmunds.
Tom Keneally said Jane Austen is a genius but she “annoys the hell out of him”. Where are the servants? Where are the philanthropists, Where are the Jacobites?.
Keneally’s take on the action in Jane Austen novels, “I must say, Ms Whatever, I find your company exquisitely stimulating and I would like to further our acquaintance, instead of saying,” he said, “how about it love?”
“So if you look at other writers Tolstoy – Dostoevsky, they had the servants, and Rob’s (Drewe) great work Shark Net had a serial killer,” said Kenneally. Jane Austen should be sauced up with a serial killer too, he said.
By which time the audience was in fits of laughter.
“You get the impression that the British Empire was just there to allow these silly girls to tremble around the drawing room and say, ‘Oh Mr So and So’s come,” said Kenneally.
“A nice woman in the line waiting for coffee – who was a Jane Austen expert, unlike me, told me Jane was aware of the possibility of sour and bitter marriages,” said Keneally. “The way she places marriage as the the great God of the millenium is a little like the Bolsheviks looking on the October revolution as the coming of the millennium and what did they get?” he said.
“Stalin. And half the girls in the book who are yearning for marriage, they get Stalin too,” said Keneally. “There a few controversial remarks on Jane Austen, and i know “‘ll be flogged for them,” he said.
But there was no flogging in evidence, just roars of laughter. And Keneally was not done yet.
He spoke of the Merchant Ivory movies where “people turn up a grand country houses and you see a bloke leading a horse away – and i think why didn’t they make a movie on that bloke. What are his yearnings and aspirations?”
“That’s what annoys me a bit about Jane even though she is a genius,” said Keneally.
Rob Drewe has never read a Jane Austen novel but said he’s got a “nine-year-old daughter who’s obsessed with Jane Austen or what you see on TV and the movies, and following that she’s obsessed with Colin Firth’s wet shirt.”
Keneally interjects: “As the nice woman in the coffee line said, ‘that’s as close as anything gets to wet'” in the works of Austen.
“It doesn’t get any more sensitive than this,” said Dapin wrapping up.
Thomas Keneally’s latest book is ‘The People’s Train’ – fighting the Russian Revolution from Melbourne. Rob Drewe has released another collection of short stories The Rip; and Mark Dapin, has published three non-fiction books, and has his first novel coming out later this year.
* Richelle Buckingham is a freelance writer who graduated from Southern Cross University in 2008.