Sunday, December 19, 2010

The littoral truth - Tim Winton interview

by  Stephen Romei in The Australian December 18, 2010

'FOR my family," reads the dedication of Tim Winton's coastal memoir Land's Edge, "and for those who know that a bad day's fishing is always better than a good day's work."

So it's no surprise that when Winton (pic left, Jane Ussher), phones in for our interview, just a little late, it's the water that has delayed him, not the writing. Not that he hasn't been busy with the latter: the gently reclusive writer turned 50 this year and that milestone has coincided with a burst of "performance writing", as he describes it, a little self-teasingly.

First there is the Big One: the six-hour television adaptation of Cloudstreet, which finished filming in Winton's native Western Australia in June and is due to air on pay television in the middle of next year.

Filming Cloudstreet seems to have been one of the great Australian dreams since the novel was first published almost 20 years ago. Winton's saga of two working-class families, the Pickles and the Lambs, living on the same Perth street from the 1940s to 60s, won him his second Miles Franklin Award, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is on school reading lists and has a permanent spot on any ranking of Australians' favourite novels. Nick Enright and Justin Monjo's stage version, directed by Neil Armfield, was an international hit.

So why has it taken so long to come to the screen? There was a bit of a wrangle over the rights, which were held by American producers, but Winton, who's in a jovial mood when we speak, has another explanation: fear. "That's why so many directors didn't want to do it," he says. "Who wants to be the guy who's remembered for screwing up Cloudstreet?"

The bloke who is doing it, Matthew Saville, can relax though, at least as far as the author is concerned. For starters, Winton co-wrote the screenplay (with Ellen Fontana) so will be one of the co-accused if the series doesn't live up to what undoubtedly will be high public expectations. "Normally I can just shrug and smile because I don't write the screenplays or even read them usually, but this one I'm up to my freckle in," he says.

Moreover, Winton wants people to know that Cloudstreet is not the Bible. "It always amused me that everyone was treating it like some sacred text . . . I didn't get that." He confesses he resisted doing the script for a long while, not least because "it meant I had to read the damn book".

"I hadn't read it in almost 20 years. It was like boning up for the HSC . . . and truly, I would have flunked the exam, there was lots I'd forgotten. But in the end I got left holding the baby. For some reason the deal was contingent on me being involved."

This makes me wonder if Cloudstreet is Winton's favourite of his own books, but he's not touching that one. "I don't think I have a favourite and even if I did I wouldn't say, just like you wouldn't admit to having a favourite child," he says. "I think of them as all one work . . . though sometimes you do become inordinately fond of a particular book because it's the one that's selling and paying the rent and keeping the kids in uni."

But Cloudstreet is the one the readers love. "Yeah, who knows why?" Winton says with a laugh. "There's no logic to these things, and no justice probably. It's bewildering."

Full piece at The Australian.

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