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Pillow Talk with Tony Birch

Love. It stirs our creative spirits, brings us to our knees, inspires songs and sonnets and paintings and volumes.

In the spirit of this year’s Festival theme, When We Talk About Love, we’re asking authors and artists to share the passions that underpin their work. This week, we spoke with Australian author of newly-released The White Girl Tony Birch about bookish crushes (hello, Bronte sisters), the caress of a woollen jumper on a cold day, and the song lyric that stirs his heart.


Q. Love is a complex, multi-layered thing. What kinds of love do you explore through your writing or art?

In my own writing I explore love through adversity. I am concerned with people’s ability to show care and generosity toward each other in difficult circumstances. The world is sometimes very difficult. And love is necessary to deal with life’s challenges.

Q. What is the most beloved book in your bookshelf, and how did you fall for it?

I think that the book I love the most is Alistair Macleod’s collected stories, Island. I think I fell for it by repeatedly reading the first and last paragraphs of the story, ‘The Boat’. No matter how many times I have read those sentences, each reading makes me feel – well, in love with words.

Q. If love were an object, what would it be?

Too easy. It would be a pure woollen jumper, holding me close on a cold day.

Q. If love were a song, what would it be?

Cat Power’s, ‘Colours and the kids’ – not strictly a love song, but the line, ‘when we were teenagers we wanted to be the sky’, expresses everything about youth and love (it’s all downhill from there).

Q. Pen us a haiku to your heart.

rest my body
with tenderness within
a rhythmic caress

Q. Snog/Marry/Avoid, literary edition. Which three book characters would you choose, and why?

Snog: Every woman in a Lucia Berlin story (although, truly, I know I’m not worthy).
Marry: Every woman in every novel written by the Bronte sisters – Heathcliff Down Under.
Avoid: Julian and Dick from Enid Blyton’s, The Famous Five. They are inept and hold Anne and Georgina back – not to mention Timmy the dog.

Find Tony at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival