In between shmoozing and getting lost as a country mouse in the city, I did a talk at the Perth Writers Festival with Antony Loewenstein. It was always going to be an interesting session. Antony is an independent journalist who travels the world to expose all sorts of dodgey war-zone practices such as the government contracting of private companies who profit from the theatre of war (eg. here) - and I've been a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat. So yes, the juxtaposition was striking.
He was the rock star in this scenario and most of the crowd had come to see him talk. The venue filled as people organised themselves into the rows of white plastic chairs. My PhD supervisor KT arrived, which was gorgeous as she is one of the women I most admire and aspire to, and then Zeb Shyne walked in. Zeb dropped in to see me perform on her way to the Rocky Horror Show later that night. Needless to say, she looked fucking magnificent. Zeb and I have been friends since we had babies together twenty years ago. (I don't have photos of her, sorry. A bit distracted at the time. BUT here is one she took of us.)
During my round of radio interviews and festival talks, I realised that I get out of the place with no idea of what I've just said. It all goes by in a sweaty rush of adrenalin and on-yer-feet thinking and then it's over. People want me to sign their copy of my book and have a chat but I can see others in line clutching the book and getting cranky because there is only half an hour. I want to remember what I've just talked about but by then I'm so jittery and wired that I'm quite dysfunctional. I want to give every single person the kind of juice that I would expect myself from an author that I financially support - and to sign the book with words reflecting all these things. As a reader I'm aware that every book is a conversation and that the reader wants the chance to reply.
Oh yes, it is all very new and interesting!
Anyway ... at the book signing, I sold a few copies of Salt Story but the best moment was the two old women who came to talk to me. One remembered me from my wild thing days when I stayed with her in Fremantle. She and her husband were both sailors and he was famous for his street display of a formaldehyded great white shark in a glass cage.
Her companion was a wizened octogenarian. "You won't recognise me," she said. "But I worked with your grandfather in police forensics for fifty years."
Both women had seen my name in the newspaper and decided to come and see me. They didn't buy a copy of Salt Story that afternoon. Between KT, Zeb Shyne and two ladies who knew my childhood, I was blessed with an amazing audience.
Later I drove Antony back to his hotel in the city. "Where would you go, if you went overseas?" he asked. By then, trawling the city streets in my daughter's car, I was completely lost. Again.
"Alaska," I replied. "Madagascar. Portugal maybe. Mongolia. I'd love to go to Mongolia."
We passed Hay Street and headed for Northbridge. The road split with witches hats and flashing lights. We stopped to watch masses of people cross the road.
"Are all cities the same?" I asked him.
"Sort of. But no," he replied. "Some cities have the population of Australia, more, twice that. This place (Perth) is like one of those regional towns."
"You're an urban critter," I said. "You're comfortable in those environments, yes?"
I was thinking of home, of the green grass and big sky, and quiet, slow conversations in the supermarket car park. Also, I was quite lost and stressing about which lane the car should be in.
"This is a small town to me, Sarah. Now let me look up my hotel on goggle. Yes ... here we are. Turn right here ... now left ... ahh here it is."
I pulled over in the wrong lane, opposite his hotel. He reached over to hug me. This kind of freaked me out. It wasn't the intimacy. It was the fact I'd woken up with gastro and I didn't want to give it to someone on a writers' tour of Australia who was flying out in the morning.