Friday, December 17, 2010

Dear Tim

The first time I met you, you blew me off at the bar because you were a Famous Writer who was just trying to have a quiet beer with your mate. I spent an hour preparing my eloquent speech, then roared into your blokey clinch saying, I've written you so many letters and never sent them. But your work means so much to me.

This gush met a fairly frigid response (fair enough, on thinking back.) You stayed impenetrably polite under the quizzical gaze of your friend. I said, Well, you tell these stories and we read them. It's a one way communication. You never get to see us. (So here is Me.)
You sparked at this but that's when the one way conversation ended because it was my turn at the pool table and anyway, I felt like all of my words had just run down the inside of my legs.

I've read The Turning, five years on, for the third time. That one-way conversation thing that I talk about is bullshit really because in that book I see people like me. I wonder if I am there sometimes, talking back to you;  freckly, fat-kneed, sitting cross legged like a hippy, drinking blackberry nip for the first time on the beach at the high school end-of-year party at Massacre Point. The Turning is a novel of short stories about the place I grew up in; Albany, or Angelus as you call it. I see the starboard train track of this parallel universe you are shaping - White Point, Angelus, Scarborough - crashing into the port's Honest Copper's Son as catalyst. Poor bugger.

This was the town that made a living from killing big creatures, whales, cows, horses and sheep. I'm a decade younger but I remember when the whaling station closed and the whaling heroes' hearts attacked themselves on their brown couches, or else they headed for the meatworks. I can still see the tightening of our own household, those close looks, more cabbage than meat in the pressure cooker. That's when we started netting the harbour, to eat.

I don't remember heroin ripping through the town and teenagers dying in toilets, because I had the protected status of being a kid. Twenty years on, heroin became a new reality when I was adult and two lovers died within months of each other and the inquest at the courthouse spilled out onto Stirling Terrace with angry parents in denial.

I don't remember the 'demons', the detectives from Perth who nurtured this town and precinct as their dropping off point and broke the legs of anyone who got in their way. In retrospect, they are certainly not 'myth busted' but 'plausible' because I do remember the tuna boats before the quotas and being told never to go down there. I remember the drug stories. I remember Boner McPharlin but like you wrote, he is dead now. His broken legs and busted heart made his mind quite crazy and he died never telling. Occasionally, a journalist will dig up that story. Someone else wrote a book about it recently, called it fiction because he couldn't get around the lawyers. Old Salt remembers all of it. Whenever we drive past the lay-by that bears Boner McPharlin's real name, I hear the whole lot.

I was Meg. I was Slack Jackie. I was the girl who you wrote of who gidgied cobbler in the mudflats of Cockleshell (Little Grove) and that mouth-breathing, hitch-hiking hippy on the road up north, and the broken, flawed girl who would let everyone and no one near her. I was the one who saw the sandstone degree as a way out. I was the girl who returned to see her neighbourhood gentiled into concrete tilt-up cliques, cluttered with unfriendly school mums who see freedom and beauty as an epitome of threat. A new age of real estate and blue gum plantations blooms, falters in the bright sun and goes to seed.

Perhaps this could be a rave for the next time I ambush you in a bar, Mr Winton.


  1. You are an extraordinary lady. The amount of times I've heard my own words dribble down the inside of my leg is way too painful (and funny) to even begin remembering. Gotta luv your work sugar.

  2. Great ST. Yes, I guess the power of a writer is their ability to hook into the reader so they belong in the book somewhere. It's still kind of weird though, because I am often left wondering just how much that writer has really experienced what is written, or maybe you just can't write it it if you haven't experienced it.

  3. Thanks Ciaran. It was a rather awful moment. Excoriating, actually.
    Have you read The Turning?

  4. Something I've been noticing the more I write, is my annoyance with seeing the 'mechanics' of a book - how the thing is built. Sometimes it is too visible to me. But Winton's work is always seamless, no joins, no visible construction. This never fails to blow me away.
    I think that this is how it (the creepy feeling that the writer is inside your head) works. The research and technique is invisible.

  5. Bah! There's another post. We are trapped in the shadow of the man. A few years ago, a teacher said to me, "You'll have to publish this overseas, it sounds too much like Winton to be viable here."
    I heard someone recently describe another successful W.A. male writer's work as 'Winton Lite' because is is simply not as good and though the country may be vast, it is not vast enough for anyone else to fit in without being compared to him.
    If I write like Winton, it is because I've idolised him and learned the language of Western Australia by internalising his prose. A silent, one-way mentorship if you like.
    I guess that copying is the first step of learning anything ... but I'm feeling ready to head off now and do my own thing.

  6. Mmmmmm....I think some of your writing is way more visceral and honest than Tim's. I am guessing you are as deliberately manipulative but I reckon you are willing to be more courageous with personal stuff, so it seems like a fair exchange. I don't mind being 'made' to feel something if I think the other person has really felt it too - otherwise I just feel a bit ripped off.

  7. Sorry, I love Time Winton's work but I remain slightly suspicious. Maybe I just don't like some of the ways he sees things.....

  8. MF is that spelling of "Time" Winton an intended error as in "Tim has had his time," or are you referring to him as Tim-e, as in Timmy? :) (a term of endearment no doubt). Yep, I don't know about a comparison between Sarah and Tim, for both are amazingly talented writers! I wished I had such talent! But the only thing I share with Tim is his first name (and a love of wilderness and coffee :)

  9. No, not deliberate error Time :D

  10. Hmmmm, you fill your space, Tim his, both are unique spaces, both are meant to be.

  11. I've gidgied cobbler (albeit Rottnest) but I'd never, NEVER admit that to Tim.

  12. He heh. Love your Wintoning, TWOP.