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AN EXTREMIST FAN GIRL’S TAKE ON AUSSIE BESTSELLERS

Melbourne Writers Festival has teamed up with Victoria University once again for the Reviewer for a Day program. Discover more MWF15 reviews on the VU Blog.

This is Sarah Halfpenny’s review of Aussie Bestsellers, edited by Vanessa Wiltshire. Halfpenny has a name that sounds like it’s straight out of a Bond movie (but is really annoying to spell out over the phone). She is a writer, editor, playwright, filmmaker and mum to three young girls. Move over 007! 

It’s 10 July 2015 and an email arrives. I’ve been selected to review the Aussie Bestsellers session at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

I panic and consider eating cake in the shower whilst crying, rather than accept the somewhat daunting offer. After all, when you’re the sort of person for whom the four words ‘New York Times bestseller’ sets your heart aflutter more easily than ‘those three little words,’ it’s hard not to get nervous at the prospect of meeting Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) and Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project), both of whom have had novels at number one on that esteemed list.

Fast-forward to 22 August – the day before Aussie Bestsellers, and by sheer coincidence, Liane Moriarty is making a speaking appearance in my suburb! I’m wandering through the forecourt of the local library when I spy her enjoying a coffee in the dappled sunshine.

Do I dare approach her? Will I come across as an extremist fan-girl?

It’s a fine line… I go with my gut instinct, which apparently is to be a stalker.

Me totally not stalking Liane Moriarty_web
The author stalking

A day later I’m front row in the bright, cavernous space of Deakin Edge at Fed Square. It’s not helping my campaign to not appear to be shadowing Moriarty! The room buzzes with the anticipation of stimulating and intelligent conversation, and we are not disappointed.

Moriarty and Simsion sit with convenor and fellow Australian author Toni Jordan, whose rapport with the authors is evident. She doesn’t miss an opportunity to rib Simsion about his Don Tillman-like meticulous novel planning methods, which involve scene cards laid out on floors, in stark contrast to Moriarty’s laid-back technique of simply starting with a premise, then making the story up as she goes.

So what makes a bestseller? Moriarty talks of readers responding to her humour and universally identifiable everyday situations, with Simsion chiming in that the ‘laugh out loud’ factor of his novels is rare, and more often reserved for film. They are both proud of the occasionally profound effect their books have had, getting readers through a hard time, or in the case of the couple married for 25 years, who declared The Rosie Project the most important book they’d read to help them understand each other.

Long walks and no strict daily word count are a way of helping ideas come to them. Simsion takes everything he writes from real life, drawing laughs with his statement that he “… still has a couple of friends I haven’t used in books yet!” Their goals when writing were simply to get published, and in Simsion’s words, “Everything after that is gravy.”

The issue of gaining credibility in Australia was fascinating, with both agreeing local visibility and legitimacy largely came from being a New York Times bestseller and selling the foreign rights to their books, which have been celebrated and translated into over 40 languages.

So what is next? Moriarty is only now starting to feel the pressure of being a bestselling author and the associated anxiety of whether her next novel will measure up, but she is mindful of enjoying the process. Simsion figures his upcoming third book – The Best of Adam Sharp, about a relationship rekindled after 22 years – has a ready-made audience prepared to have a look at it, and although he states he may never write a more commercially successful book, he’s excited about the prospect of writing better books in the future.

These “genuine, creative originators” (Jordan’s words) elicited peals of laughter and delight as they displayed their sparkling personalities and wit to an eager audience. Moriarty’s realisation that she’s somehow managed to incorporate sultanas into each of her novels, and that Americans have no idea what sultanas are, demonstrated her charming sense of humour. Simsion’s recount of trying to find universally understood alternatives for individual words like ‘wanker’ was hilarious. In short, the inevitable ending of the session was the only disappointment to be had.

As for my newly acquired penchant for stalking famous authors, I figure when you’re onto a good thing, stick to it…

More stalking by the author
More stalking by the author