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tv   Talking Books at Hay Festival  BBC News  June 18, 2017 5:30am-6:01am BST

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tower block fire in london. they warn it could take weeks to recover the dead and the number could rise. the british prime minister, theresa may has admitted initial support for victims "was not good enough". officials say a forest fire in central portugal has killed at least 2a people and injured several others, including a number of firefighters. the secretary of the interior told reporters that most of the victims had burned to death in their vehicles while trying to flee. french voters head to the polls for parliamentary elections later. the newly elected president emmanuel macron is expected to win a landslide victory, but voter turnout is expected to be low. prime minister edouard philippe urged people to "go and vote!" as we've been hearing a group of residents, volunteers and survivors of grenfell tower met theresa may at downing street on saturday afternoon. the bishop of kensington, the right reverend dr graham
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tomlinson, was also there. mark lobel spoke to him afterwards. i think it was a good meeting. i think it was a good meeting that enabled residents in the local area here to really express their frustrations and their hopes, their anger, their desires, and to put before the prime minister the things they really want to say. i think was a good thing to do and i think residents came away feeling that they had been heard and could say what they wanted to say. how did the meeting come about, and who was able to talk first? can you talk us through how the meeting went? it came about because... i was approached by number 10 on... i can't remember which day it was. yesterday, i think it was. i have been a volunteer the entire week. and the town approached me saying, could we pull together a group of representatives from the local area to have a conversation with the prime minister?
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and we worked very closely with st clements church, which is very well—connected in the local area, and brought together a group of people who were not representing anybody in particular, but people who were affected by the tragedy. there were people there who were survivors from grenfell tower itself, evacuees, local residents, there were volunteers, community leaders, and that was a group that was there. there has been a lot of discussion about the government understands people's needs here. are you more confident that they do, after theresa may's reaction? i am certainly hopeful that she listened. we all came away feeling that she listened very carefully. it was a robust conversation with forceful emotion in the room. people were able to say what they wanted to say. and we felt that that was listened to very carefully. time will tell what difference that will make. we are, i think, cautiously hopeful that we were listened
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to and hopefully that some of the statements coming out of number 10 indicate that something will come from it. the meeting lasted about 2.5 hours. what were you asking for, face—to—face? well, there were all sorts of things mentioned, probably too many to mention here. one thing was that they really value their community. there was a strong sense that they love living here and would not like to live anywhere else. they love the variety, the vibrance in the area, which we have seen in this past week. i think they wanted to say that the local community needs to be listened to, and that rather than decisions being made without them, that really concern them, they are not really consulted, they really wanted to make sure that residents were listened to and that they were involved as solutions were found to the problems that had been identified. they also wanted to say that this is the beginning of the process.
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we hope that the meetings we have had over the past couple of days are not the end of the process, but the beginning of a new culture of listening between government, council, local residents, and that we were to a better future for everybody. were you promised more meetings? at this stage, only two. we are unaware if more will come. others have been meeting with the government and council as well. i think this is all part of a patchwork of conversations that will hopefully lead to something more constructive. that's it from me, the breakfast team is here at six. now on bbc news — talking books. hello and welcome to talking books at hay festival. hay has been inviting audiences to talk, to
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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
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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
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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
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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 whole 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
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read in quite a long time and i wondered if you would read us a short extract from the beginning. i'll give it a 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 terylene 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 rifle indoors without adult supervision handling the rifle 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 had the house to myself i went straight to the wardrobe, and drew the rifle out. i handled it soberly, with appropriate awe, a respect laced with fear,
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but then i carried it to the window and aimed it at innocent passers—by. this didn't only happen only a time or two, i did it for months, i stood behind the filmy 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 albany which at the time was an active whaling town.
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i found myself amongst strangers, the weather was different, it was british weather really. 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. 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 terylene curtain and the trajectory of my life would have been altered, in a small town, my dad was the cop.
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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 would 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 her smocking 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, are chaos, accidents and chance, the way that life in a way spins on a dime. i'm thinking in your novel
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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 where that came from. i think it came from ourfamily 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 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. traffic had subgroups, we were in accidents. all our dads and mums were in thejob, as it was 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
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a motorcycle cop and his job was to 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 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'd been at a prang and you knew it had been a serious one, or a fatal, as we used to call it. 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
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this weird iron kind of smell, that i learned was the smell of blood. so, the kind of great world of consequence he would bring home with him physically and you'd pick up on that as a kid. trauma was sort of central in a sort of way to our happy life. through my dad's work i was seeing how quickly and how often people's safe, predictable and happy lives were changed in a moment. you were literally t—boned by life, something else 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 were 18, which, in the book, you describe as a gift.
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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 do provide us certain opportunities. and in my case, i went to an 18th birthday party. i went late and someone dropped me offjust as the keg 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 car and i was in hospitalfor a while. physically, my life changed as a result. and what it meant was in brief, really, was that i hurtled faster into the writing life. it intensified my vocation in a way. there were certain physical
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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 dud 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 a 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. right. so all of my friends were having a good time and i think i wrote three books before i was 2a and got married and had a baby. i was really strangely intensely focused. because you had, at the age of ten, stood 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." yeah, the presumption was breathtaking then and seems much more breathtaking now.
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i had never met a writer until i went to university and of course i didn't know i would go to university because people like me didn't go to university when i was a kid. yeah, i don't know where that came from. i think i wrote a good poem that impressed the student teacher and maybe it was just that shot of adrenaline of approval that that someone finally understood what i thought about myself. you know? you don't get many moments in life when someone agrees with you fundamentally. you know? 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 try to be, particularly in australia in the ‘60s. you know, to be a 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. you know, what was i thinking being a literary novelist? my goodness! we've talked about your accident at 18 and then you talked about how
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you wrote feverishly, and in many ways those early years are characterised by your desire to write but it was also an economic necessary, wasn't it? hmm. you had a young family. and am i right that you had three desks in your study? yes. so if you got stuck on one project, you could wheel the chair over to another one. just explain how that worked. we were young and poor and i was writing almost a book every year — i think i wrote almost ten books in my 20s. i guess because i can, but mostly because i had to. so i had this room that was essentially an enclosed veranda. the stumps were gone so i was sloping down, you know, the chair with the wheels, you're sloping towards the desk. it was gravity saying, "keep at it, keep at it." if you would try and push back from the desk... but i had three desks along this sort of enclosed veranda which was freezing in the winter and boiling in the summer.
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if i got stuck on something, i just couldn't afford to try to try and figure it out so i would just leave it, because i'm a great avoider of conflict, and i would just go on to do something else. and 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. and i wonder — i mean, it sold in its hundreds of thousands. did that take the pressure off? financially, yeah, it saved our bacon. so, you know, i have a certain affection for that book. because, you know, like literally that christmas, my wife drove down to the city, we had no money in the bank at all. and she went and asked if we could have, i think it was 150 bucks, just whatever, if they could spot us 150 bucks to get us through christmas, to buy some food, and maybe buy the kids
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a couple of presents. and she had to do this humiliating song and dance at the bank. and it was only a few months later that we were getting calls from not just the branch manager but the big executives at the bank, asking if we would like to come out to lunch. laughter. we politely declined. but, no, it was really that close. we were really desperate. and that made life a little easierfor us. in every sense except walking down the street. suddenly, we were visible. we were living in this tiny fishing town and i was the only male in the town that wasn't either a skipper 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.
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blah— dee—blah. i was an overnight success after ten books. it has not all been plain sailing because you write in the book, you describe it as having a nervous breakdown, when writing another novel called dirt music — and this is not you at the beginning of your career, this was 20 years in. what happened ? i'd been writing this book for seven years and i thought i'd finished my last draft and i told my publishers it was all good to go, and they announced it to the world that there was this book coming from me. and 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 was still there wrapping it up, unwrapping it, looking through.
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i had this sick feeling that it wasn't there. i wanted to just burn it and run away and never speak of it again. but it felt like people's jobs were on the line and i made this commitment to 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 just thought, stuff it, i got on my bike and i rode down to the office in the dark and i got a ream of green photocopy paper, sharpened 20 pencils, and started again from the beginning and rewrote the entire 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 it was the second day, or night after the second day, and ijust kept going in this kind of red—hot fury.
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and 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. and i'm thinking in particular of your novel the riders 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. i think it reflects the openness of life. i think closure is a construct. it'sjust, i mean, closure as a therapeutic idea has 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.
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a thought about your relationship with the natural landscape, because i don't think anybody can read a tim winton novel without smelling the salt, feeling the sea on their skin. i did wonder, is landscape ultimately more important to you than plot? yes. landscape‘s where i begin, it's the first character. it dictates the logic of what's going to happen in the story. it dictates 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
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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 like 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 just taken up with riding the momentum of the wave. as a novelist, that's kind of what i do as well, i go up to the desk every morning, i wait, i bob 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 beach and the feeling is divine when it works. laughter. applause. thank you. tim, it's been great,
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thank you so much. tim winton. for most across the country it is a dry and hot day, hotter than yesterday, highs of 31 in london, 26 for newcastle and into the mid— 20s edinburgh. the next few days it is forecasting at call and fresh across the north are staying on the hot side across southern parts of the uk. but is your weather. hello, this is breakfast, with rogerjohnson and naga munchetty. church services will take place today to remember the victims of the grenfell tower fire. police say at least 58 people are believed to have died. residents and volunteers expressed their anger at a meeting with theresa may in downing street. it was a robust discussion, there was forceful emotion in the room and people were able to say what they wa nted people were able to say what they wanted to say and we felt that was
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listened to and listened to carefully. good morning, it's sunday the 18th of june. also ahead: claims of growing inequality across britain. a new report says the gap between rich and poor is getting wider.
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