I recently dipped my toe in the Sydney Writers Festival. I attended an author’s talk and have decided to give you guys an insight into the event.
Held in the double room of the Max Webber Function centre on Monday the 22nd Of May 2017, between 7:30 – 8:30pm. Storm and Grace by Kathryn Heyman was proudly presented by the Sydney Writers Festival and Blacktown Libraries. 2017 marks the Blacktown Libraries 50th birthday, in honor of this the library was giving out free promotional materials such as library bags, bookmarks and flyers. Also on hand for the nights event was Richard from the Book Haven bookstore located in Baulkham Hills, who was selling copies of Kathryn Heyman’s books; Storm and Grace, and Floodlines.
The night was kicked off by Margaret from Blacktown Library. After some housekeeping announcements it was time to dive in with Kathryn Heyman.
Kathryn started her talk with a reading from Storm and Grace, Her 6th novel. As an author of 6 novels, 12 plays, many short stories and many many poems. Kathryn explains how unusual it is for an author to know exactly how an idea begins. Most of the time she usually has no idea where it comes from, she usually makes up a story, some of it being true. But sometimes you can actually trace the moment of conception. For Kathryn with Storm and Grace she knows the exact date this story was born, 29/11/13.
On the 28/11/13, Simon Gittany was convicted of murdering his girlfriend Lisa Harnum, by throwing her off the balcony of his apartment. Kathryn had followed this case, in fact she was obsessed with it. In particular Kathryn was obsessed with Simon’s new girlfriend who was accompanying him to court everyday; Rachael Louise. Kathryn couldn’t understand why Rachael was there, even if she believed he was innocent of the murder, she had still seen photo’s and video’s of him physically assaulting Lisa Harnam. After seeing this footage, why was Rachael still there? What can’t she see? What about Simon dazzled her? These were just a few of the questions Kathryn was asking herself. ‘To be dazzled’ imply’s something gorgeous, ‘razzle dazzle’, when in reality ‘to be dazzled’ is to be blinded. Kathryn believed Rachael had been ‘dazzled’ and she couldn’t figure out why.
The day after the Gittany conviction, Kathryn went diving with her then 14-year-old daughter. It wasnt a good dive, the water was murky and Kathryn couldn’t see anything, except her daughter disappearing beneath her. Her daughter’s decent caused Kathryn to completely panic. While sitting on the boat ramp waiting for her daughter and the dive master to finish the dive, Kathryn started to think about her daughter and the dive, and the Simon Gittany case, and these two unrelated events had Kathryn worrying about young women.
During this time Kathryn was also very aware of books such as 50 Shades of Grey and Gone Girl, books that she saw a being vaguely misogynistic. Books that seemed to suggest that violence was sexy, Kathryn found this very troubling. It was a perfect storm of troubling circumstances.
The day of this dive, Kathryn got the paper to see what was happening with the Gittany case and on the front page of the Herald was a story about a free diver Nicolas Mevoli who had died whilst diving. This story launch Kathryn into a new obsession; an obsession with free diving. Kathryn’s new obsession and the perfect storm of the dive and the Gittany case came together. This world of sexy danger that is free diving, became a perfect metaphor for a dazzling, dangerous relationship.
Kathryn then went on to give us a bit of background on herself.
Growing up Kathryn never thought she would become a writer, in fact she had no idea what someone would do in order to become a writer. In the environment that she grew up in women read Mills & Boone and men read playboy or soft porn novels, And Kathryn read everything and anything she could get her hands on. The stories werent what Kathryn was interested in, they didn’t compel her to keep reading, it was the power of language. It was about understanding language and being able to articulate it. From a young age Kathryn knew that she could use language against others and that it could be used against her. She knew that language was powerful. Reading and being able to use language saved Kathryn’s life, just like it has saved many others, like it could save everyone.
Growing up in a single parent, Mills & Boone reading home, Romantic love trumped everything. Coming first in your year, ‘yeah that’s okay, but you don’t have a boyfriend’. That notion of being measured by your relationships, your boyfriend, bothered Kathryn. Kathryn’s upbringing played into her desire and her urgency to write Storm and Grace. Kathryn had actually sold her publishers on a different book, but became so obsessed with this book, with this desire to shout at young women ‘What the hell are you doing? ‘You are more’. She wanted to say to all women and men ‘ You are more, You deserve better, You are enough’. This idea that we have to have romantic love, or playing into romantic love being the most important thing in life is causing us real damage.
Kathryn closed off the evening be answering some questions and giving some insights into how she writes. I have included some of the Q&A here:
On writing Storm and Grace: For Storm and Grace, Kathryn knew the ending, she knew where the story was going. She wrote on pieces of paper things like; ten critical scenes, the first dive, the final dive, the early stages of the relationship. She then wrote other random thoughts or ideas, such as ‘the shade of water’. Once she had all of these pieces she started to put them into a very approximate shape. Knowing that the shape is going to change.
How do you decide what stories become novels and not poems, plays or short stories? Kathryn’s honest answer to this question was, it depends on who commissioned her. Kathryn went to drama school and became an actor, so the step into writing plays wasnt a huge one. As for how she chooses which stories to develop, Kathryn stated that it is instinctual.
Do you have any favourite Authors or books? Jill Dawson, she is an extraordinary writer. Tove Jansson a Finnish Author, she wrote beautiful books for adults.
The best advice you have received from a mentor or writer? Jane Rogers ‘enjoy where you are’. Lynn Alexander ‘take all of the praise into you’.
Is Storm in ‘Storm and Grace’ aware of what he is doing? Storm is a narcissist. He is led by his narcissism. He knows what he is doing, he is doing what works. He knows the vulnerabilities of theses women.
Kathryn finished the Q&A by quoting a Saturday paper review of Storm and Grace which I feel captured the book Beautifully. ‘Storm and Grace takes classic tragedy and classic romance and melds them together perfectly’.
Once the Q&A wrapped up we were able to say hello to Kathryn and get our books signed.
I hade a fantastic time at my first Sydney Writers Festival event. I will definatly be attending more Sydney Writers Festival events next year.
I loved Storm and Grace and I adored Kathryn Heyman. I highly recommend you check out, first and foremost, Storm and Grace, and than any of her other works you can get your hands on.