I'm not a live blogger, and probably never will be. So here from the good folks at Spirax and Uniball, and the tiny brain cells of yours truly, is a brief report on the session rather misleadingly entitled, "The Still Small Voice" featuring Emily Ballou and Cate Kennedy (with an unexplained scratching from Dorothy Porter) at the Melbourne Writers' Festival on Thursday.
After a blistering start where she interrogated the title of the session with some brio, Ballou spoke of voice not just as polyvocal (that's my word for it, not hers), ranging across accents and idioms, but as 'a gift, or a beautiful visitor' rather than 'something you can practise or pick up at the shops'. I chuckled loudest when she asked whether said title was meant to describe the panellists' voices, or worse still, their booksales, and what male writers might have said had they been invited to present on such a topic.
She noted that perhaps true voice is a myth, that the 'rhythm of voices will shift and grow as I do - not a style, but a heartbeat.' Reading from her latest book, Aphelion, set in the Snowy Mountains, she delivered a story from within the novel written in the voice and unerring idiom of an elderly Australian man, arguing the case for the polyvocal writer most successfully therein in a musical Milwaukee accent. (Perhaps it's only when we hear an American say 'bugger' that we realise what a peculiar expression it really is!)
Cate Kennedy described how the importance of having something to say has shaped her work, that all form and no content irritates her wherever it is found, whether in politics or the posturing of celebrities. There is 'a collision, a letting go of anxiety and letting words fall onto me', whenever authentic subjects/stories are found. As she says in her travel book, Sing and Don't Cry, from which she read a spellbinding passage about rain in the Mexican desert, "I want to record this, and let this record me."
She asked,"How can I create a voice that is doing what I want it to do?", suggesting that voice is shaped by details, by substance and content first and foremost, and noted a preoccupation with these concerns in all her work to date when she was preparing for the session.
Despite the absence of the main drawcard for me, poet Dorothy Porter, this session was nonetheless well worth the entry price, thanks to the powerful voices of the remaining speakers. There's some great reporting on MWF from Lisa Dempster of Vignette Press over at Locus, the combined blog of Vignette and Aduki Independent Press, including a pretty thorough SWAT analysis of the festival, complete with a comment from Rosemary Cameron (the organiser) and some remarks on the independent publishing session. I may well have more to say after the weekend's sessions - Louise Swinn's interview with Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida last Saturday was superb - but do keep an eye on Lisa's site in the meantime.