Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Event: Ramona Koval

When Ramona Koval began to speak, the entire bookshop seemed suddenly at ease. Hers is a voice that we instantly recognise, as familiar as listening to an old friend, someone who we've been tuning into for years on ABC's Radio National. On Monday we had a chance to listen to her much-loved voice once again, when she came to Shearer's to talk about her new book By the Book.

Ramona spoke of her love of bookstores, and that being around books was where the idea for By the Book started. She told us about her childhood of reading, and the books her mother bought her as a child - and had a great anecdote about her mother purchasing a copy of the karma sutra! Certain books shaped her childhood, and there were books that defined her mother and family and what life was like for them. Ramona remembered a book in her house called Home Management Volume One. Published in the 1950s, it told you how to be a perfect family. She read it looking for instruction about how families and love worked, finding she often turned to books to find out about how the world worked, and especially to learn about love.

An important book for Ramona was Colette's My Mother's House and Sidowhere Colette plays fictional variations on the themes of childhood, family, and, above all, her mother. She delighted in Colette's stories, and encouraged us to read Colette if we hadn't yet - plus look for a photo of Colette on her 80th birthday taken by Walter Carone of her burning birthday cake (here it is!).

While Ramona loved Colette, nothing surprised her more than The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead. It mirrored the fault lines of her family, and the lack of affection between her parents. Her French teacher set Madame Bovary at school, and Ramona wrote an essay - calling EmmaBovary a woman ahead of her time. She was the only student in her class who didn't think that Emma Bovary was a bad wife and bad mother, just that she was an unhappy and bored woman. Because Ramona felt as though Emma was describing her own adolescent life: her mother restricted her social life, and chose her clothes. But she was grateful that her mother never restricted her reading life.

Ramona also told us a lovely story about how her granddaughter is learning to read, and read the first paragraph of her book. Her relationship to the books that have been written into her life was beautiful to hear, and By the Book is a wonderful memoir. It was also interesting to hear about how she treats her books! She said: "My books were my workplace, my office. I wrote in pencil all over them."

After signing some books for us, Ramona had to dash off to an interview with Phillip Adams on Late Night Live on the ABC. You can her the interview with Phillip here:

- Antonia

Event: Lindsay Tanner

Lindsay Tanner struck a sauve figure in his dashing black suit and navy blue tie when he graced Shearer's with his presence on Tuesday October 23. In a parliamentary career spanning 18 years, culminating in his position as minister for finance and deregulation in the Rudd-Gillard Governments, Lindsay Tanner always talked straight, and was always worth reading or listening to. His latest offering, Politics with Purpose, represents the better samples of work from his numerous and varied participation in public debate throughout his years in politics. In the words of the man himself, some of his works are 'lighthearted and whimsical', whereas others are deeply serious and take a thoughtful and considered stance in defending the honour of the Labor Government, which Tanner believes to be 'his duty'.

Just as his years in parliment demonstrated time and time again, Tanner showed us he is a man of true integrity with a real sense of what is right. Whilst he unapologetically carried out his duty to defend the Labor Government, he did so with a critical eye and maintained a focus on the future of progressive politics in Australia and the world as a whole. Some alarming statistics and trends around the Western system of progressive politics were revealed, including the worldwide drop in the Labor vote and how this strongly coincides with the rise of new and pressing issues such as sustainability and the impact of new technologies. Tanner spoke of a new political party gaining traction in Germany, the Pirate Party, that is run by and centred around young people and focuses on digital issues facing Germany. This party has consistently polled at 15% at the local level, and looks set to gain federal seats in the next election. Tanner sees this as a real indication of how absolutely necessary it is that the Labor Party worldwide needs to take a firm and consistent position on the new issues facing our ever-changing world, rather than desperately trying to hold onto an ideal that is becoming more stale and tired with every passing day.  

Of course, what the audience really wanted was the dirt on the ALP and the leadership spill, and Tanner delivered on this with grace and eloquence. He tackled curly questions from the floor with ease and diplomacy, only appearing ever so slightly flustered at the mention of Tony Abbott becoming a world power. He lamented the changing nature of the ALP, taking the audience back to the days where Labor was 'a bit nutty, a bit wacky', but full of members driven by their passion for progress and change for the average Australian. Tanner views the current climate of the ALP as being too focused on winning, and not focused enough on what made them the quintessential progressive party in Australian politics: innovation, new ideas and a real sense of social justice. He fears the fragmentation of the ALP will lead them to failure, and their continual ducking of hard choices, such as making true and committed stances on asylum seekers and climate change, will only further weaken their credibility in the eyes of the public.

Tanner's visit to Shearer's was thought-provoking, inspiring and a cold, hard dose of reality. The future of progressive politics in Australia is looking rather bleak, but Tanner holds out hope for a future where the ALP finds its feet again and builds itself up into the strong, inspiring and forward-thinking party it once was. Politics is a game, Tanner does not try to hide or disguise this truth, but he believes it is a game that should be played with dignity and with the big picture in mind. At the end of his visit, even though there was an unavoidable sense of sombreness in the room, there was also the smallest spark of hope for the future of the Left beginning to slowly reignite.    
 - Sarah

Interview: Victoria Alexander

Victoria Alexander is the author of three books: The Bathers Pavilion Cookbook, One and Colour: A Journey - her third book, which has just been released. Colour explores the implications and cultural meanings of colour. It has chapters on individual colours, their history and their influence. The feelings that certain colours evoke, such as feeling comforted, aroused or seduced, are at the core of the book. We asked Victoria some questions about her work and new book.

Q. One: Living as One and Loving it, which was published in 2010 is a book about finding oneself and loving what you find.  What was the journey from writing One to writing Colour: A Journey?

A. The idea for Colour emerged very soon after I finished One. It seemed a natural follow on, an expansion from One if you like - life’s as bright and simple or as dull and difficult as you make it. With colour as my constant companion it was a really stimulating two years researching and exploring my passion. It feels like I’ve used my life experiences for a worthwhile purpose in writing both books, but most especially with Colour as I was informed by having written and photographed One and heart warming feedback from readers. Both are a culmination of having done a design course, working on magazines, with film, creating The Russell and Bathers, my fine arts degree and travel, they’re all contributing factors.

Q. Whilst both One and Colour celebrate life, they have a calming and almost therapeutic quality to them, which is shown in both the visuals and the writing.  Was this intentional?
A. Yes. Very much so. Both books have also been called emotive which doesn’t surprise me as they come from my heart. After I fall in love with my concept, what I want to say, and get it straight in my head I write and photograph instinctually, not always in sequence but adding thoughts or images here and there. Building the book up intuitively. My voice begins to emerge little by little, to become clearer, until I have the sum of the whole. Sometimes a thought will start from an image, other times I will search my image files for the right one to match the thought behind the words.

Q. Colour: A Journey is a beautifully photographed book celebrating diversity and of course, colour.  Did you take the photographs yourself?  And were they taken just for this project or were some already part of your collection?

A. Both One and Colour are my photography. Colour includes 300 or so shots taken in ten countries. They were taken specifically to use in a book. I have a photo library of thousands of shots – when I travel I click every time I see something that intrigues me knowing it will one day be useful. They all inform. I build the images up until an idea I want to follow emerges.  I made a trip to India just after we had the first concept layouts for Colour down on paper in order to capture things like the pink hands during the Holi festival and other instinctive shots that I felt the book needed for balance and as a reminder of different cultures and traditions.

Q. You are an avid traveler.  Do you think travel broadens the mind?

A. Travel rejuvenates you, widens your horizons. You meet people you would not otherwise.  It serves as a reminder of the similarity in all our lives, our basic needs and helps alleviate prejudice. Travel opens the mind sensually, spiritually and practically. It’s broadening because it involves taking and managing risks, planning, financial concerns, observation and patience in a way that's dissimilar to anything else. I’m fortunate as I feel at home anywhere but know that’s not always easy for everyone.

Q. Having read One many times, I believe you don’t give much regard to regrets, however, is there a place or something you would have loved to photograph for this book to tell a certain story, but found that you couldn’t?

A. You are so right. I believe regrets are a waste of emotional space better filled with positive thoughts. We all make mistakes, do things that if we knew what we now know we would not do – they’re wonderful lessons. Had there been the space to include some of Mexico’s authentic hacienda style and cheery embroidery, Cuba’s chic shabbiness, Japanese assured restraint, Vietnamese minority tribal dress, Italian light and vistas and some Irish green that would have been heavenly. But it’s always good to leave a little something for next time. My mind and camera have already started clicking over on an idea for another book.

Q. Colour still has symbolic resonance in many cultures.  How do you view the Australian relationship with colour and our awareness of it’s impact on our lives and therefore how we employ it in everyday dress and life?

A. The colours used in traditional and traditionally inspired Aboriginal art have a significant cultural meaning unique to Australia and its great to see these appreciated.  I wish black had not become such a uniform, its almost tribal and is so often worn without any highlight. I know its practical and flattering but there are just so many other options.  Thankfully the trend for minimal white houses with a sameness about them seems to be reversing and we are seeing an appreciation again of lived in homes, not houses to look at. This means layering. I’m hopeful we are on a curve towards individuality with an appreciation for texture, colour and materials. With our vibrant light and lifestyle we should embrace a sense of self, our uniqueness, in both our dress and our homes.

Do you have a favourite colour?

All colours have a purpose and a place. I love all colours. I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad colour – it’s the way they are combined that matters.  They way you use them. There are browns that resonate with nature and sing in their natural environment that you wouldn’t look at them twice for clothes. Some colours that look great on one person make another look sallow. It’s impossible for me to choose just one. For interiors I love ‘that certain green’ as I call it in Colour, especially when it’s combined with another favourite - crimson red. Indigo, all tones of warm grey, wombat and natural linen for clothes. Lead white for a highlight in paintings. Wisteria in the garden. The softest, subtle pink as a highlight anywhere.  Turquoise and aqua for livening things up.  I definitely don’t have a favourite.

Tell us about your workspace.

Clearing my desk is always the thing I am going to do next. It seems to remain as next because there's always something more interesting to do. I've designed and am about to have storage built, which is part of the reason there is currently so much layering going on, so things will change soon. Although I've seen the wood on the top of my desk more than once it's part of my creative process to have piles of things - I can put my hand on anything and know where everything is. Everywhere else in the house is much more orderly. Meetings taking place at the kitchen table.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Interview: Richard Gill

Richard Gill is one of Australia's best-known - and best-loved - musical figures. His career has taken him from teaching music in Sydney's western suburbs to the role of Music Director of the Victorian Opera, and he's been involved with almost every major opera company and orchestra in Australia.  

Richard will be speaking at Shearer's on Wednesday October 31st at 7pm about his love of music and his life's work: from school days to the heights (and lows) of conducting and directing an opera company.  

We asked Richard some questions about his life in music and writing his memoir, Give Me Excess of It.

What was your favourite music as a child?  
My favourite music as a child was the Gregorian Chant and the music of the Mass.   

What did you enjoy most about teaching music - and do you miss it?  
The most enjoyable aspect of teaching music is watching how students uncover musical facts for themselves. I don't miss it as I still teach privately.   

What are the most difficult and the most enjoyable things about conducting?  
Everything about conducting is difficult. Getting to grips with the music properly, for example. The most enjoyable things are when everything is going swimmingly...rarely.   

What's the most important aspect of music to you?  
Its abstractness and its capacity to evoke, suggest and imply.   

What did you enjoy most about writing your memoir?  
When I'd finished. It was actually very cathartic and often very painful. 

Join us for an evening with Richard Gill on Wednesday October 31st at 7pm. Refreshments provided.  Tickets: $10, or $8 for frequent shoppers. Includes $5 off Give Me Excess of It.  Bookings are essential for this event. Purchase your tickets by calling Shearer's on (02) 9572 7766.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Interview: Gerard Whateley

Gerard Whateley, ABC sports journalist of the year, came to Shearer's to speak to Barbara about his new book 'Black Caviar'

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Event: Quarterly Essay with David Marr

David Marr candidly addressed a sold-out crowd at Shearer’s Bookshop last week. In true laconic Marr style he left little corner untouched, yet didn’t waste a word.

He warned the audience that if they were after ‘a spirited sectarian attack on Catholicism’ or a blind attack on Abbott, they would be disappointed, as he had aimed instead for a biographical study on a ‘fascinating and complex politician.’ Marr explained that most of the writing he does, he does it because he doesn’t know the answers when he begins, but is curious to find out…to find out what the ‘through-line is with this man [Abbott]’.

In the latest Quarterly Essay entitled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott, award-winning author and journalist David Marr discusses what he sees at the many contradictions of the enigma of the Opposition Leader. For someone who is largely viewed as the most successful Opposition Leader in the last 40 years, he remains fascinatingly deeply unpopular.

The Essay summarises the contradictions of Tony Abbott as [a]n aggressive populist with a sharp tongue; a political animal with lots of charm; a born protégé with ambitions to lead; a big brain but no intellectual; a bluff guy who proved a more than competent minister; a politician with little idea of what he might do if he ever got to the top; and a man profoundly wary of change.

Since the release of the Quarterly Essay on the 10th September, the contents has spread like wildfire, with many superstitious whispers about the dire impact such a drilling in the Quarterly Essay has had in the past on polling results – particularly in marking the end of Kevin Rudd two years ago. Marr joked that there are those who blame him for not doing his job well enough last time around enough as Rudd keeps on appearing all over the place.

Tony Abbott has the enthusiastic warm-hearted support of News Limited, which Marr claims largely controls the press in this country. Yet Abbott generally avoids the trap of difficult and hard-hitting journalists and interviews with the agility of a hare being hungrily pursued by a pack of rabid sabre-toothed wild dogs. Marr joked that Tony Abbott and Alan Jones have ‘the greatest unconsummated love affair in Australian politics’.

Marr discussed his first and ‘simply bizarre’ confrontation with Abbott in 1991 on Four Corners, with his ‘arch of experience with Tony’ ending with the demand that nothing be reported from an hour-long interview except for the words ‘I didn’t do it’ in regards to claims that after having being defeated by Barbara Ramjan for the SRC presidency during his time at Sydney University, he physically intimidated her.

Marr explains that Abbott’s wrecking strategy ‘works’ but leaves the challenge of winning government with a highly disliked leader. The difference in opinion between the major parties on ‘the boats’ is narrow, and the carbon tax is proving Abbott to be less believable, and subsequently the wrecking ball is facing problems. Abbott hones lines and mantras, and with only 15 words as the mantra for the election - it nearly got him there.

When Marr was queried about Abbott’s apparent aggression towards women, he responded by commenting that he doesn’t agree but thinks Abbott has aggression towards people in positions of authority in general. ‘His blokiness disguises that he is the absolute product of Killara [on Sydney's upper north shore]…and three sisters and a mother that adore him and forgive him…he does not dislike women…people like working for him… His physicality sometimes scares women (although laughing that it sometimes scares men as well).’

Marr’s prophesy is that despite the flicker in the polls this week, Liberal is still in the strong position to win against Labor hands-down. Abbott would have to plummet in the polls and Julia would have to be replaced with Rudd. The polls currently show that Malcolm Turnbull is twice as popular as Abbott, yet both leaders of the major parties are there because their parties want them there rather than the public. The other hurdle for Turnbull is that the Liberal party has been seized by and is being run by ‘climate change deniers.’ Marr concluded by claiming that the principal goal for the Opposition should be Abbott’s 2013 charm-offensive - just as rigorous as his ‘wrecking campaign’ in 2012.

Marr flirted around saucy political commentary with the confidence and spunk of the seasoned intellectual that he is – declaring that Peter Costello is ‘the most gutless politician any of us will ever see’ and that at Sydney University Abbott ‘was loathed…on lavatory walls’. David Marr took questions from the audience with charisma and confidence before flitting through the wine-sipping audience, sharing antidotes and advice.

The Quarterly EssayPolitical Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott’ by David Marr is available now in store at Shearer’s Bookshop.

By Stef.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Interview: Ramona Koval

Writer, journalist and broadcaster Ramona Koval needs no introduction - she was the presenter of ABC Radio National's The Book Show and is editor of Best Australian Essays

We asked Ramona some questions about her reading life and her new book, By the Book - about reading and living, and about the authors that have written themselves into her life: from Oliver Sacks to Oscar Wilde, Christina Stead to Grace Paley.

Ramona will also be here at Shearer's at 7pm on Monday October 29th. More details here, or call 9572 7766 to book your tickets.

Your new book By The Book is very much about the importance of reading. What is it exactly about books and reading that you think is so powerful? 

Books and reading are the main ways that we learn empathy,  a value that is  vital to a life well-lived.

What made you want to write this collection of essays?

I wanted to think about reading and what it has meant to me, as I had made my living through reading for so many years, and I still love the thrill of opening a book and wondering just how I will fall into its pages. 

What was the first book you read that made you fall in love with reading?

I loved reading Hills End by Australian children's writer Ivan Southall, and realised how transported and frightened and relieved you could be without leaving your room.

What was the most recent book you've read that made you fall in love with reading all over again?

I reread the short stories of Colette as I was writing about them, and was surprised to see how they still moved me.

Which interview with an author are you the most proud of?

I have my favourites which I collected a few years ago in "Speaking Volumes: conversations with remarkable writers" and when I look at that book and flick through the chapters, I can't believe I was so lucky to have had a job where reading and talking was the main component. 

Which interview would you rather forget? 

I wouldn't want to forget any of them, even with the more difficult people. I learned so much both from reading their work and  speaking with them, sometimes more about their insecurities and personal foibles, and how to manage extreme situations.

What do you think makes someone a 'reader'? 

Readers are people who realise that they can live more than just one life by opening a novel and they can travel the world by reading someone's account of a place they will never go. And that any of the most difficult times in our lives can be soothed by losing yourself, even for a little while, in a well-written book.