tv Talking Books at Hay Festival BBC News June 17, 2017 1:30pm-2:01pm BST
the archbishop of westminster celebrates mass at a service to remember those dead and missing. transport for london save the hammersmith and city line has been pa rt hammersmith and city line has been part suspended at the request of the metropolitan police and london fire brigade, coupled with planned engineering work safety concerns around the fire mean the circle line is closed. in other news — pc keith palmer who tried to stop the terror attack in westminster has been awarded the george medal for his bravery as the queen's birthday honours are announced. among others to be recognised is the scottish comedian and actor, billy connolly, who's been knighted. seven us navy crew are missing after a us destroyer collided with a container ship off the east coast of japan. more on those stories later. now on bbc news, it's time for talking books. hello and welcome to
talking books at hay festival. hay has been inviting audiences to talk, to think, to read and to reflect for 30 years. over ten days 250,000 people will rub shoulders with some of the world's greatest writers, thinkers and performers. all here in the beautiful surroundings of the brecon beacons in wales. today i'm talking to the australian author tim winton, who once compared writing to surfing. he's written 28 books for adults and children and his latest, the boy behind the curtain is about his childhood growing up in western australia and the impact that's had on his work. applause
now, most writers don't have a fish named after them. most writers don't have their face on a postage stamp. but then tim winton is not most writers. he wrote his first novel, an open swimmer, when he was just 19 years old, and he's gone on to write nearly 30 more books for adults and children, all very different, but to my mind, all sharing an ear for language, and an eye for the natural landscape, and he's pulled off that difficult combination of both literary and popular success. his latest book is called the boy behind the curtain and it's a series of essays, or true stories, about his life and the things that have influenced him.
so, tim, welcome to hay. thank you. is the boy behind the curtain the manual which explains what makes tim winton tick? uh... well, i wouldn't be so direct as that. but i guess ijust got to a point in my life where having made things up for a job for a living i was trying to explain myself to myself primarily. why did you feel the need to do that? you are a pretty self—effacing guy, you do not court literary celebrity, do you? that's the thing, i wasn't initially writing them for a reader, as just to understand where i've come from, the kinds of person i've been, the kinds of versions of myself. so it's just sort of unpacking, i suppose.
there are things you forget about your own life that re—emerge once you reach the lofty plateau of middle age. how difficult did you find it writing about yourself and were you any good at it? no, i didn't feel i was any good at it, it was very hard work, because as i've said, i've spent a lifetime making stuff up and it's quite low responsibility really when you are a novelist. i mean, you have a responsibility to the thing itself to make it work, so that it's organically hole and authentic. but when you are writing about yourself in terms of giving an account of yourself you are also including the lives and well—being of others, and no onejoined up to be in my circus. so, yeah, you have a kind of responsibility not to trample all over other people's feelings.
i just thought, this is why i'm not a journalist, this is why i'm a novelist. and yet i pressed on and i suppose i found accidentally i had a book. let's delve a bit deeper, the book has in my view, one of the most arresting opening sentences i've read ian lawlor long time and i wondered if you would read us a short extract from the beginning. i'm going to try. thanks. when i was a kid i liked to stand at the window with a rifle and aim it at people. chuckles i hid behind the curtain in my parents‘ bedroom with a 22 and whenever anyone approached i drew a bead on them, i held them in the weapon's sight until they passed by. they had no idea i was lurking there, 13 years old, armed and watchful, and that was the best part of it. handling the rival indoors without adult supervision was forbidden.
this was a fundamental rule. and i saw the sense in this regulation, and yet at 13 whenever i have the house to myself i went straight to the wardrobe, and through the rifle out. straight to the wardrobe, and through the rifle outlj straight to the wardrobe, and through the rifle out. i handled it soberly with appropriate awe, respect laced with fear, but then i carried it out, to the window and aimed it at innocent passers by. this didn't only happen in a time lord two, i did it for months, i stood behind the curtain alert and alone looking down the barrel of a gun at strangers. laughter applause let's talk about this boy with the rifle, why did you do it? well, i guess this is what i was asking myself during the writing and one of the reasons i wrote it and for a while i forgot i even did it. we had
just moved from suburban perth, my dad was a copper, he had been transferred to the south coast of western australia to a town called albani which at the time was an active whaling town. i found myself amongst strangers, the weather was different, it was british weather really. —— albany. that's the politest way i could describe it. i didn't know anybody and i was about to go into high school for the first time. i think ijust felt besieged and in an alien place. i was anxious, i think. and in an alien place. i was anxious, ithink. i and in an alien place. i was anxious, i think. i would go to the window and i would be calm and i looked down the rifle sight and be able to contain the world and people to just this very narrow focus. but it was a very dangerous thing, even
with an unloaded rifle to be standing at a window pointing it at strangers. had i been seen, had the rifle barrel snagged on mum's pristine curtain and the trajectory of my life would have been altered, ina of my life would have been altered, in a small town, my dad was the cop. imean, i in a small town, my dad was the cop. i mean, i could have been shot! family is important to you and the book indeed is dedicated to your mum and dad and they make many appearances in the book, not all of them flattering. i wonder what they did make of reading it. they said, tim, did you have any idea what your dad will make of this, soiling himself in public? i said, you don't know my dad, he's going to love this. mum reads it to him in bed once a month. she took it to a group
and the ladies laughed like drains, as they say. you touched at the beginning on how this book enabled you to work through some things that have influenced your fiction and one of the re—occurring themes, it seems to me, our chaos, accidents and chance, the way that life in weight spins on a dime. i'm thinking in your novel cloudstreet how sam pickles loses his fingers right at the beginning of the book and fish has the accident that many ways goes on to define the whole of the book. ijust wondered on to define the whole of the book. i just wondered where that came from. i think it came from our family culture which was defined by the old man's job. family culture which was defined by the old man'sjob. dad was family culture which was defined by the old man's job. dad was a traffic cop. we would go to the police picnic, the christmas picnic every year, and as families we would hive off into ourgroups, year, and as families we would hive off into our groups, they would be liquor and gaming over there, heavy haulage up there, the vice families would all gather around the cake and
the merry—go—round and we were in traffic. traficant the merry—go—round and we were in traffic. trafica nt subgroups, the merry—go—round and we were in traffic. traficant subgroups, we we re traffic. traficant subgroups, we were in accidents. all our dads and mums were in the job, as were in accidents. all our dads and mums were in thejob, as it were in accidents. all our dads and mums were in the job, as it was called, but when we asked what is your old man called, but when we asked what is yourold man do, called, but when we asked what is your old man do, yeah, the old man is in accidents. accidents were family culture, employment, dad was a motorcycle cop and hisjob family culture, employment, dad was a motorcycle cop and his job was to go and either stop people from speeding, orfine them go and either stop people from speeding, or fine them for speeding, or pick up the pieces when it all came unglued. so in a sense we lived ina very came unglued. so in a sense we lived in a very safe, nurturing household where mum and dad did everything they could to keep disorder outside. but, you know, dad, whether he liked it or not, brought havoc home with him every night, every day. and some days you could tell, some evenings if he came in, you could tell that
he even at a prank and you knew it had been a serious one, or a fatal, the old man's been out at a fatal, which sort of made it sound very normal but it's terrible. he'd come home, his mood would be different, he would smell different, he would smell of disinfectant and petrol and this weird iron smell, that was human blood. this confluence he would bring home with him physically you would pick upon as a kid. trauma was sort of central in a lot of ways to our happy life. through my dad's work i was seeing how quickly and how often people's safe, predictable happy lives were changed in a moment. you were literally t—bone
and by life, something would come along and smack into you and that's been my bread and butter as a novelist in a way. your father had an accident when you were five and you had a serious accident when you we re you had a serious accident when you were 18, which in the book you described as a gift. i wondered why that was. it's taken me a long time to realise that some of the terrible things that happened to us in our lives and do providers certain opportunities, and in my case i went to an 18th birthday party, i went late and someone dropped me offjust as the cake ran out and i got a lift home with somebody and i woke up in hospital. we'd gone through the front wall of a girls' school in a carandi front wall of a girls' school in a carand i was front wall of a girls' school in a car and i was in hospitalfor a while. physically my life changed as a result. and what it meant was in
breach really, was that i hurtled faster into the writing life. it intensified my vocation in a way. there were certain physical things that i had planned on being able to do. by this stage i was committed to being a writer. i always knew that was a dead gig when it came to making a living but i thought i would do that and i'm a big strong lad, i could work on it building site, or work as a deckhand on a lobster boat. after the accident i just couldn't do that. do you honestly think you would not have been a writer had you not have that accident? i would have been a writer but i would have been on a slower train. all of my friends were having a good time and i think i wrote three books before i was 24th and got married and had a baby. i was really strangely intensely focused. you had at the age of ten still up
in front of your classmates and said, "i want to be a writer." what was their reaction? i think i said i am going to be a writer. the presumption that then seems much more breathtaking now. i had never met a writer until i went to university and i didn't know i would university and i didn't knew—irweuldr to university and i didn't knew—irweuler to university because people like go to university because people like me didn't go to university when i was a kid. i don't know where they came from. i think i wrote a good poem that impressed the student teacher and maybe it wasjust poem that impressed the student teacher and maybe it was just that shot of adrenaline of approval that someone finally understood what i thought about myself. you don't get many moments in life when someone agrees with you fundamentally. and i got a good enough mark. but everyone laughed, you know, and they were right to laugh. what a ridiculous thing to say and what a ridiculous thing to say and what a ridiculous thing to say and what a ridiculous thing to try to beat, particularly in australia in the 605. to be a writer and make a living, it's all
wrong. a5 writer and make a living, it's all wrong. as i've said before i grew up on the wrong side of the wrong country in the wrong hemisphere, being a literary novelist. my goodne55. being a literary novelist. my goodness. we talked about your accident at 18 and then you talked about how you wrote feverishly and in many ways tho5e about how you wrote feverishly and in many ways those early years are characterised by your desire to write but it was also an economic necessary , write but it was also an economic nece55ary, wasn't it? you had a young family. and i write you had three desk5 in your study? young family. and i write you had three desks in your study? yes. if you got stuck on one project you could wield the chair over to the other one. explain that. we were young and poor and i was writing almost a book every year, i think i wrote almost ten books in my 205. i gue55 wrote almost ten books in my 205. i guess because i can but mostly because i had to. so i had this room that was essentially an enclosed veranda. the 5tump5 were gone so the
5tomach it was sloping down, you know, the chairs of the —— the wheels of the chair rolling forwards. i had three desk5 on this veranda which was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer. if i got stuck on something iju5t couldn't afford to try and figure it out so i would just leave it because i'm a great void of conflict, and i would just go on to do something el5e. would just go on to do something else. the problem would solve itself in my absence. yes. and then you had this enormous success with your novel cloudstreet, which has been described as the great australian novel. it sold in its hundreds of thousands. did that take the pressure off quiz like financially, yeah, it saved our bacon. pressure off quiz like financially, yeah, it saved our baconlj pressure off quiz like financially, yeah, it saved our bacon. i have a certain affection for that book. quite literally that christmas my
wife drove down to the city, we had no money in the bank at all. she went and asked if we could have come i think it was 150 bucks, if they could spot u5 i think it was 150 bucks, if they could spot us 150 bucks to get us through christmas, to buy some food, and maybe buy the kids a couple of presents. she had to do this humiliating song and dance at the bank. it was only a few months later that we were getting calls from not ju5t that we were getting calls from not just the branch manager but the big executive5 just the branch manager but the big executives at the bank asking if we would like to come out to lunch. we politely declined. it was really that close. we were desperate. that made life a little easier for us. in every sense except walking down the 5treet. suddenly we were visible. we
we re 5treet. suddenly we were visible. we were living in this tiny fi5hing town and i was the only male in the town and i was the only male in the town that wasn't either a 5kipper or a deckhand and we had a big veggie garden and i had long hair. everyone thought i was a drug dealer until i was on television as this writer of cloudstreet. i was an overnight success after ten books. it has not all been plain 5ailing because you write in the book, you describe it as having a nervous breakdown, when writing another novel called dirt mu5ic writing another novel called dirt music and this is not you at the beginning of your career, this was 20 years in. i'd been writing this book for seven years and i thought i'd fini5hed book for seven years and i thought i'd finished my last draft and i told my publishers it was all good told my publishers it was all good to go and they announced it to the world that there was this book coming from me. it had a slot, it was all real, and then there was
this day when it was finished, my wife left to go to work and i'm wrapping it up to send this dirty great thing off, she got home at the end of the day and i were still there wrapping it up, unwrapping it, looking through. i had this 5ick feeling that it wasn't fair. i wa nted feeling that it wasn't fair. i wanted to just burn it and run away and never speak of it again. it felt like people's job5 and never speak of it again. it felt like people's jobs were on the line andi like people's jobs were on the line and i made this commitment to people. as part of my family upbringingi people. as part of my family upbringing iju5t people. as part of my family upbringing i just couldn't let them down, because they would be so disappointed in me. i got up in the middle of the night one night and ju5t middle of the night one night and just thought, stuff it, i got on my bike andi just thought, stuff it, i got on my bike and i wrote down to the office in the dark and i got a ream of green photocopy paper, sharp and 20 pencils, and started again from the beginning and rewrote the entire novel in pencil in 55 days and
night5. novel in pencil in 55 days and nights. i think the first night that i wrote i went for so long that i stopped and it was dark and i think was the second day or night after the second day and iju5t kept going in this kind of red—hot fury. i fini5hed in this kind of red—hot fury. i finished the book and sent it off and it got published. i would never do that again. some of the endings of your books some readers find rather vexatious. i'm thinking in particular of your novel the riders and you talk in this book that you area and you talk in this book that you are a novelist who re5ist5 and you talk in this book that you are a novelist who resists the full shape of closure. i wonder why you do leave the door ajar.|j shape of closure. i wonder why you do leave the door ajar. i think it reflect5 do leave the door ajar. i think it reflects the openness of life. i think closure is a construct. clo5u re think closure is a construct. clo5ure a5 a therapeutic idea has merit, there is no question. but for
mo5t merit, there is no question. but for most of our lives we don't have resolution because it's not available. in many instances it's not possible. so many of us die without getting to the end of the sentence. but the idea that you would wrap everything up at the end of the book seems cheap to me. thought about your relationship with the natural landscape, because i don't think anybody can read a tim winton novel without 5melling don't think anybody can read a tim winton novel without smelling the salt, feeling the sea on their skin. idid salt, feeling the sea on their skin. i did wonder, i5 landscape ultimately more important to you than plot? yes. landscape's where i begin, its the first character. it d ictate5 begin, its the first character. it dictates the logic of what's going to happen in the story. it dictate5 who the characters will be, what kind of people they will be, what sort of lives they will lead. and, of course, in australia landscape is
really significant. you know, in the shaping of character. you are a great surfer... i don't know if i'm a great surfer, i'm a recidivist surfer, i've been doing it since i was five years old and i'm keener than i was when i was a teenager. you still surf? yeah, i love to surf, it is liberating. it is a bit like a writing for me. writing, and light reading, when it's going well asa light reading, when it's going well as a reader it's the same as when you are a writer, you are in the eternal present tense, you are taken up eternal present tense, you are taken up with riding the momentum of the wave. as a novelist and that is kind of what i do as well, i go up to the desk every morning, i wait, i bobbed around, and i'm waiting for something to show up. it is some event from across the horizon, some energy that i turn around and try to match its speed and ride it to the
beat and the feeling is divine when it works. laughter applause thank you. tim, it's been great, thank you so much. tim winton. hello. we are seeing a big leap up in temperatures compared to yesterday, temperatures are expected to get to the high 205 in some areas today, not surprising we are seeing plenty of sunshine, very strong sunshine across the southern half of
the uk. equally we had some low cloud to start the day, particularly the north—west of england, a few bits of low cloud and mr innes elsewhere. the cloud across the northwest is rather stubborn cloud tied in with a weather front bringing rather wet and damp conditions across the north—west highlands. low levels of uv here but unusually high levels, as you can see from northern england southwards, so for the bulk of england and wales it is very strong today with the sunshine wherever we see the sun. it will continue across the eastern side of scotland, northern ireland and the bulk of england and wales, the cloud melting away, just a little fair weather cloud at best. however, across the highlands of scotland, the western isles, and today the northern isles where we had good sunshine today, we have a weather front overhead bringing patchy rain and drizzle. beeston grampians, through the central lowlands and eastern part of northern ireland, decent spells of sunshine, strong sunshine and lots
of warmth and heat in the sunshine. it is fresher around the coasts, more like low 205, but even though we will see the low 205 the sun is just a strong, it is not temperature dependent, that can catch a few people out, and high levels of pollen. 0vernight tonight the biggest difference with the night just gone is it will be more uncomfortable for sleeping in southern and eastern areas because the humidity rises through the next 24 the humidity rises through the next 2a hours. we have fairly humid air with damp conditions continuing for the western side of scotland, to the northern and western isles and perhaps the far north—west of northern ireland but otherwise it looks like a similar day, lots of sunshine, if anything starting with more sunshine than this morning and asa more sunshine than this morning and as a consequence because temperatures are not as low as overnight we will see temperatures a degree or two up on those of today, tomorrow 31 or 32, and the heat stays with us across the bulk of england and wales through monday and into tuesday, just a slow cooling off, so it will be awhile before we see the heat diminishing, and not just by date, it will be
uncomfortably warm for some by night as well. as ever is more on the website. this is bbc news. i'm lukwesa burak the headlines at 2pm: theresa may is meeting victims of the grenfell fire at downing street. earlier she chaired a taskforce to coordinate efforts to help people affected. the queen says it's difficult to escape a very sombre national mood following tragedies in london and manchester. she's led a minute's silence at the start of events to mark her official birthday. i'm reporting close to grenfell tower. we're hearing that two london underground lines near the building have been suspended by transport for london this afternoon, because of fears about the building's safety. # in other news, pc keith palmer, who tried to stop the terror # who tried to stop the terror attack in westminster, has been awarded the george medal