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Canberra, the funniest city in Australia

Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann’s session began, typically, with a mention of the writers of the world who have been imprisoned for speaking out; symbolized by an empty chair. As Petria Wallace pointed out to Lewis and Uhlmann, in this country we can write openly about secrets, and call it fiction.

For a session titled Canberra, the funniest city in Australia, not a great deal was said about the city, except that it is the obvious place to set an Australian political thriller/satire.

“Canberra is a great place to set a book,” said Lewis, “and with a few exceptions, there’s never been a book of this kind.”

“And,” added Uhlmann, “for once being accused of making it all up isn’t a bad thing.”

They were talking, of course, about The Marmalade Files; Lewis and Uhlmann’s freshly minted romp around political Australia. The novel stars a hard-hitting workaholic journalist, much like the authors. The novel also features a recently deposed and very angry Foreign Minister, a minority Labor government with a leader struggling to keep the party afloat after tensions with the Greens begin to surface. Lewis and Uhlmann have remained tight-lipped about the inspiration for these plot elements.

The gentlemen clearly had the time of their lives writing this book, a departure from their usual columns and editorials. They described the process of fiction writing to be liberating and found it easy to collaborate using iCloud technology. Uhlmann remarked that they would both upload their work to the cloud, and then the editing process was the removal of Lewis’ adjectives.

There were, of course, some serious questions to be asked this session by chair Petria Wallace. “Who wrote the sex scenes?” she put to them.

“Yes, there are two raunchy sex scenes.” Uhlmann told the audience.

“I thought there were three?” Lewis interjected.

“Well, two and a half.”

“Two and a half shades of grey.”

“We wrote them together.”

The co-authors were letting out their inner lads, their wit and banter wouldn’t have been out of place on a comedy panel show.

Wallace pointed out that the book is quite critical of the Greens and wondered if it might be considered a “poisoned pen” letter to the fringe party. Lewis wouldn’t have any of it. He said the book doesn’t take any sides and portrays all parties as comprising of good people and bad.

“Besides,” he quipped, “one of the things the Greens should get as they develop (as a political party) is a sense of humour.”

It was suggested that any book, especially a thriller, set in Australia’s political landscape would have to be riddled with comedy and satire because “in federal politics, you either laugh or you cry.”

The gentlemen produced too many anecdotes to reproduce here, but they were well told and well worth hearing. Whether it was about Paul Keating’s enraged, curse ridden, over-the-phone tirade at a blind journalist. Or about Canberra’s real life transvestite security analysts, and their fictional counterpart in the novel. If you enjoy these comedy stylings then the book is optional, but it would be a crime to pass up any opportunity to see these two men together.

David Wilton is a Southern Cross University media student.


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