Yesterday I ventured down to beautiful Sydney for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, a week of brilliant seminars with a variety of writers, storytellers and other members of the industry and community on a wide array of topics, books and ideas. As much as I would love to have attended every day, it is simply too difficult to achieve with my job. But luckily the one day I did attend, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun triumphantly returned.
My friend and I went to three different seminars, and I’m going to talk about the third one first, because I can. The third seminar was an interview with Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the author of some of my favourite books including The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game and most recently The Prisoner of Heaven (which I reviewed a few months ago here). He discussed the cycle of books, of which these three are all a part of, and of which he is currently working on the final instalment. He also talked at length about his writing process and his attitude to his own stories, which was really quite interesting.
Carlos was very soft spoken, but quite funny. He claimed he was cursed with microphones failing on him, and sure enough his microphone did fail on him at one point. When he spoke of the ending of The Prisoner of Heaven, he cheekily said “I imagine a lot of you in the audience reached the end of this book and thought ‘Oh, it all makes sense now, it all clicks into place. I understand this now.’ Well, you don’t.” He confidently assured us that there are a lot of twists in the final book that we can all look forward to, and this made me smile (for the record, I thought to myself exactly what he said, when I finished the third book). He also had a great view on movie adaptations of books, saying he utterly refused to allow any of his books to be turned into movies – he said it would have to be “over my dead body, literally” – which achieved a mass of applause. As he said, his stories are about books, about readers and writers and storytellers, and they should remain only as books. Nothing can be gained from adapting them for other mediums, and I have to agree with him.
Another seminar we attended was called “Human Endurance In The Extreme South” and was presented by Justin Jones, also known as Jonesy (a very Australian nickname). Jonesy and his best made, Cas, who authored the book of their journey titled Extreme South, are a couple of Australian adventurers who have climbed mountains all over the world, and achieved increasingly daring feats of endurance and extremity. Last year, they made history when they completed the longest unsupported polar expedition ever, walking and skiing from the edge of the Antarctic to the South Pole and back, over a period of three months.
The seminar was interspersed with footage from the expedition, during which we see these two men struggle not to break down emotionally, deal with the physical challenges including many injuries, frostbite, and losing 56 kilograms between the two of them, as well as just the simple challenge of staying alive and not accidentally falling into a crevasse (something which nearly happened on the second day). Justin told us how the weight of their bags they were dragging were “the same as a tall fridge filled entirely with beer”, and explained that they burned through 10 000 calories every day just to keep going. He also explained that at the start of the journey they found out that a Norwegian was trying to do the very same thing as them, at the same time, and suddenly it became a race. When the Norwegian ended up several days ahead of them, he did something incredibly noble that they’d never forget – he waited before the last few kilometres for them, so they could finish the trek together as a trio. For me, this was very inspiring, utterly terrifying and completely lunatic, and I respect these men deeply for their endurance and love of such experiences.
The other talk we attended was about the Classics (i.e. the ancient Greek and Roman classics) and what these ancient stories still teach us today. This seminar consisted of a panel of creative types including Robert Greene, David Brooks and Richard Gill, who all had quite different and interesting ideas on the topic. While trying to avoid the idea of relevance, they continually returned to it, reiterating that these ancient stories are still relevant because the society we are in now has so many striking similarities with the societies in which these old tales were first told, and so they still ring a bell with a lot of people. Ultimately, Richard nailed it as he said “these stories are still important because of important, intelligent minds like yours (Robert’s and David’s).” In other words, these stories are still relevant because storytellers help make them so, and keep them alive in the process.
After the festival, I met up with more friends and we all ventured to my favourite pub in the city before heading out to a spectacular light show around Sydney…but that’s a tale for another post. Stay tuned for Part Two, in which I show pictures from Vivid!