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Anna Broinowski

Nick Brodie

Margaret Linley

 

Anna Broinowski

W4W   What fundamental differences do you find between writing stories for film and writing books?

AB   I write long form non-fiction. I’ve found the main difference between making documentaries and writing books about my subjects (the propaganda filmmakers of North Korea and Senator Pauline Hanson have been two of my latest) is that print allows me the luxury of detail. Television is a brutally reductive medium and I enjoy being able to tease out the nuances of my subjects for readers. In film, you often have to rely on the juxtaposition of image and dialogue to communicate complex thoughts to the viewer. On the page, I can say exactly what I mean. 

W4W   What inspires you?

As a documentary maker I am constantly experimenting with the form: I often combine dramatisation and highly stylised montage with “straight” observational camerawork. My books are more structurally conventional. This is deliberate: because my subjects are already extreme, they don’t need stylistic embellishment. I prefer to play with a pretty straight bat. Having said that, I do use humour to counterpoint the seriousness of the issues I am exploring – both to give the reader some breathing space, and to generate provocative or lateral insights. In this way my filmmaking and writing is pretty similar.  

W4W   How did you get started in tracking the illicit, bizarre and subversive?

AB   With my first documentary, co-directed with filmmaker Andrew Sully, Hell Bento!! – an anarchic exploration of Japan’s hidden subcultures (the Otaku, Rockabillies, Bosozokku bikers, queer performers, AIDS activists, Tokyo Nationalists and Kyoto Yakuza) in the mid-1990s. The film was a cult hit at the Sydney Film Festival and has enjoyed an interesting trajectory since then, playing at underground festivals around the world. But it has never officially screened in Japan, as the Yakuza bosses we interviewed implied that if it was, some nasty things could happen…

Anna Broinowski will be appearing in conversation with satirist John Safran and Deakin University’s Lisa Waller for Please Explain!

 

Nick Brodie

 

W4W   What sparked your interest in history, particularly in regard to medieval vagrancy? That’s an interesting term.

NB   I’ve always been historically inclined. I used to dig rusty junk and broken pottery out of an old dump beside my home when I was a kid, so I was a bit of an archaeologist long before I studied archaeology and history at uni. (My best find: a silver fob watch!) Being curious about the past has been a part of my being for as long as I can remember. The road to medieval vagrancy was a bit meandering, but was basically an offshoot of an interest in medieval hospitals, itself an offshoot of an interest in the dissolution of the English monasteries in the 1530s, itself part of a love affair with the history of medieval Europe, etc, etc, back to the dump hole. Part of the joy of history is following your nose from one shadowy corner to another.

W4W   Your love of history implies that you have strong feelings about truth. Can you talk a little about the relationship between history and truth, in writing?

NB   History is such a perennially contested field because it is constantly in tension between objectivity and subjectivity, evidence and interpretation. It doesn’t really lend itself to soundbites, which is why it worries me that the end-product, the history book on the shelves or the public debates in the newspapers, often talk about ‘facts’ when they really mean ‘interpretations’. But, that said, I’m a firm believer that the practice of history is a search for truth, I’m no fundamentalist postmodernist circling the drain of relativity. You cannot always present a complete and universal truth, but you can usually point towards it with some confidence when you have sufficient evidence and a sound methodological approach. And perhaps even more usefully, it is generally easy to disprove a falsehood.

W4W   What are you aiming to do by bringing a fresh spin to old tales?

NB   Frankly, I’m indulging my newfound love of Australian history. I was put off it for a long time because of the simplistic, overtly nationalistic and nostalgic folk fables that simply survive as narrative relics from previous eras. So I’m just doing my own thing, turning the tables on venerable stories as I go. 1787 was about pointing out that Australian history doesn’t naturally start in 1788, for instance, making our national history bigger than just tales of exploration and settlement. Kin highlighted that Australian history from the late eighteenth century onward was about real and often ordinary people, going about the business of living, breeding, and dying, and that we are all connected to the past. I’m also really keen to bridge the gap between ‘popular’ and ‘rigorous’ history, and to an extent that means de-mystifying the ivory tower. In an essay I wrote a few years ago, for instance, I unpicked a process of what I called ‘fact-making by attrition’. This concerned the story of a frontier incident that had been repeated so often than historians accepted it as history, despite it being really easy to prove it never happened. From that small and shadowy corner, The Vandemonian War eventually grew, offering a new understanding of the past that was straight out of the archive. Originally, I didn’t even set out to write such a big and revisionist work. The ‘fresh spin’ was an accident of discovery, which is the great joy of being a digger first and historical authority second.

Nick Brodie will be appearing in conversation with journalist Paul Daley for The Vandemonian Wars.

W4W   What sparked your interest in history, particularly in regard to medieval vagrancy? That’s an interesting term.

NB   I’ve always been historically inclined. I used to dig rusty junk and broken pottery out of an old dump beside my home when I was a kid, so I was a bit of an archaeologist long before I studied archaeology and history at uni. (My best find: a silver fob watch!) Being curious about the past has been a part of my being for as long as I can remember. The road to medieval vagrancy was a bit meandering, but was basically an offshoot of an interest in medieval hospitals, itself an offshoot of an interest in the dissolution of the English monasteries in the 1530s, itself part of a love affair with the history of medieval Europe, etc, etc, back to the dump hole. Part of the joy of history is following your nose from one shadowy corner to another.

W4W   Your love of history implies that you have strong feelings about truth. Can you talk a little about the relationship between history and truth, in writing?

NB   History is such a perennially contested field because it is constantly in tension between objectivity and subjectivity, evidence and interpretation. It doesn’t really lend itself to soundbites, which is why it worries me that the end-product, the history book on the shelves or the public debates in the newspapers, often talk about ‘facts’ when they really mean ‘interpretations’. But, that said, I’m a firm believer that the practice of history is a search for truth, I’m no fundamentalist postmodernist circling the drain of relativity. You cannot always present a complete and universal truth, but you can usually point towards it with some confidence when you have sufficient evidence and a sound methodological approach. And perhaps even more usefully, it is generally easy to disprove a falsehood.

W4W   What are you aiming to do by bringing a fresh spin to old tales?

NB   Frankly, I’m indulging my newfound love of Australian history. I was put off it for a long time because of the simplistic, overtly nationalistic and nostalgic folk fables that simply survive as narrative relics from previous eras. So I’m just doing my own thing, turning the tables on venerable stories as I go. 1787 was about pointing out that Australian history doesn’t naturally start in 1788, for instance, making our national history bigger than just tales of exploration and settlement. Kin highlighted that Australian history from the late eighteenth century onward was about real and often ordinary people, going about the business of living, breeding, and dying, and that we are all connected to the past. I’m also really keen to bridge the gap between ‘popular’ and ‘rigorous’ history, and to an extent that means de-mystifying the ivory tower. In an essay I wrote a few years ago, for instance, I unpicked a process of what I called ‘fact-making by attrition’. This concerned the story of a frontier incident that had been repeated so often than historians accepted it as history, despite it being really easy to prove it never happened. From that small and shadowy corner, The Vandemonian War eventually grew, offering a new understanding of the past that was straight out of the archive. Originally, I didn’t even set out to write such a big and revisionist work. The ‘fresh spin’ was an accident of discovery, which is the great joy of being a digger first and historical authority second.

Nick Brodie will be appearing in conversation with journalist Paul Daley for The Vandemonian Wars.

 

Margaret Linley

W4W   What power do shared stories wield, do you think?

ML   We all feel as though we are the odd one out at different times, that no one else is feeling quite as vulnerable, exposed, silly, scared, rejected, angry as us. Or that we are the only one facing that problem or having to overcome that particular hurdle. But when we share a story we realise we’re not alone, that our feelings are pretty similar to what others are feeling, that our challenges are not ours alone. It is through sharing stories we know we are part of something else, other than ourselves. We care more about each other when we hear the stories from others. We’re kinder to others when we share a story, we laugh harder when it’s funny, and we know we’re part of a community. There’s a real pleasure to be gained by sharing books with friends; when someone hands you something they’ve just finished with the words, you must read this. Sharing stories makes us a better at being human. You have only to look at the enormous resurgence of interest in oral story telling (The Moth worldwide, in Geelong we have Big Word of Mouth) to see that people crave the connectivity that comes with shared storytelling.

W4W   Why do you love stories as much as you do?

ML   When I was little, my mother used to read the Billabong books (by Mary Grant Bruce) to my sister and I. We’d sit either side of her on the couch and be transported to another time and place. When she’d had enough reading (and it was always her who called an end to it, not us, we’d possibly still be sitting there on the couch begging for one more chapter) I would always be surprised to experience the lurch back into my real life. It was the power of those stories to create a whole other world which impressed me as a kid. I still love the way a good story can transport me. It is complete magic; the best kind. I can be entertained, made to laugh, brought to tears, learn about myself or about others, develop empathy, reinvent myself, try out adventures, be scared, be brave, be brought undone – all with the power of a story. I can forget a heartache (for the duration of the story, at the least), I can lose a grumpy mood, I can be transfixed and transformed by a story.

W4W   Can you talk a little about the universality of stories? How they change, or don’t change, from location to location?

ML   The human condition is much the same the world over, don’t you think? We all crave similar things – love, connection, security, trust. We all suffer loss, jealousy, fear and anger. We all struggle with the same challenges  – do I have enough, how will I overcome this, can I persevere, what will I do with this emotion, how can I protect my family, how will I win the fight? Stories reflect this universality just as much as they reflect the context in which they are set.

W4W   You have been here since the first Word for Word festival. What can participants expect from your masterclass?

ML   I wouldn’t miss the festival for quids. I’m very proud of Geelong having this festival, declaring itself as a culturally rich city. It’s inspiring and massive amounts of fun to be part of it each time.
I will be dealing with memoir in my masterclass. Memoir shows we are more alike than we are similar and it’s an extremely popular genre. I’ve written more than 500 columns about family life, which are little memoir pieces. I’ve also studied memoir writing at Chicago’s Second City and just a few weeks ago, at a live-in workshop in Galway, Ireland. I will be bringing with me the things I’ve learned doing all of this writing, and will encourage participants to think about the stories in their lives which could go under their (writing) microscope. We will be doing lots of writing, looking at examples of other memoir writers, working on specific skills and structures, considering our audience, and keeping in mind where the humour is in our lives.

Join Margaret Linley for a rib-tickling masterclass Finding the Funny in Memoir at Queenscliff Uniting Church Hall and as part of Team Affirmative for the Great Debate “Fiction is just a fancy word for lying”