It’s been a crazy six weeks, for the world, for myself and the twisting fortunes of global capitalism. On black Tuesday I found myself marooned in Perth, the capital of Western Australia – geographically the most isolated city in the world, watching my (meagre but only) US stock portfolio go down the toilet. This was a surreal experience, but one no doubt many of my US (and actually Australian, German and English readers have now experienced). It felt like I was watching Wall street burn from a iceberg floating in the harbour, absolutely helpless. I was in Western Australia having been invited to two writers festivals in small rural towns – the first Big Sky was in Geraldton – (north of Perth) and is a small coastal town with a curious frontier-like atmosphere – the victim of rapid and architecturally indiscriminate development in the ‘60’s and 70’s the locals are a curious mix of the mining rich, the rural poor and local indigenous community. Big Sky, although a small festival had a broad and wonderful eclectic cast of guest writers – from childrens authors, to performance poets, to well-known social Australian commentators like Hugh Mackay to erotic/historical fiction writers like myself. I think the high point for me was the key address by a wonderful Aboriginal/Irish writer/activist Stephen Kinnane who gave a potted history of his own family, which run as a metaphor for the ‘stolen’ generations of black Australian and mixed race marriages.
Mr Kinanne’s lecture was a lot more than that although, touching on broader themes of dislocation, the definition of culture and the challenges (and importance) of belonging to ‘place’. As a person of mixed background (Jewish/Protestant) practising agnostic with Russian/Polish and English grandparents and having grew up in two countries, living in three, I totally related. It is a fine balance one has to strike to survive both spiritually and emotionally when there had been such geographical displacement. The classic migrant story and themes I touch on in both Soul and The Witch Of Cologne.
I also worked with Neil Melville (well-known and excellent Australian TV actor) who read from my next novel Sphinx (a scene in a Egyptian bar in Alexandrian in 1977). It’s always illuminating to hear the work out loud, and invariably one ends up marking it up and editing for both rhythm and precision.
The second festival I was invited too attended was in Sprung festival, Albany (about four hours south of Perth) this was a much more picturesque town, the simuctra of an English whaling seaside village really. A larger festival, it was a collision of cultures with a Singapore poet (and about thirty teenage Singaporean boys – his pupils), Australian poets, children’s writers, non-fiction (One book was launched about the fight Green peace put up over the killing of the last whale off Albany which was a whaling town back in the 1970’s. Again, I ran an erotic writing workshop – really about structuring conventional narrative, but going into the emotional, psychological, poetic and onomatopoeia of erotic writing. This whole whirlwind tour in Western Australia took place over ten days, against the ever-deepening economic crisis that had now started to affect other countries outside of the USA like dominos. Ironically by the time I got back to Sydney (before flying back to the UK) China had started cancelling mining contracts with Australia – and I was swept back to Geraldton, the last stop for miners flying further North to the very same Iron Ore mines supplying the great industrial dragon China.