Some writers treat them as a brute Darwinian struggle for survival
Monday, 31 August 2009, The Independent
Bemusing to the participating writer, the international literary festival must present a gripping spectacle to the observing anthropologist. Some writers treat it as a brute Darwinian struggle for survival, and to many participants, the festival is an opportunity for status adjustment and display. There are the local heroes with an international fame, returning like rock stars, arms aloft. But there are, too, the local writers whom not even Melbourne is quite sure about. They have a habit of packing their recitations with nine acolytes bearing pre-prepared questions; they audaciously make a point of disagreeing with larger reputations as publicly as possible.
And the audiences actually turn up, and sometimes have actually read a novel by you! I never get over this embarrassing miracle, however infrequently it occurs. In England, naturally, audiences are very keen to be unimpressed, and your friends and acquaintances are rightly never going to mention anything you ever wrote. So it's easy after the literary festival to come away very starry-eyed and even start thinking of moving to Australia, where everyone gets acclaimed and ferried about all day long. (I guess it would stop pretty quickly if you ever really did move here, though).
Best of all, you actually get invited to go on national television to discuss books for an hour! Imagine! A country where there still remains a television programme for people who like books! It seems a very old-fashioned notion, which the BBC long ago threw off with disdain. All in all, the Melbourne Writers' Festival seems a very kindly idea. I honestly see no reason why the writer's life shouldn't consist entirely of well-dressed and civilized Australians asking polite, informed and highly respectful questions about your books, and proffering, from time to time, useful envelopes containing a few dollars by way of per diems.