Hating Hemingway, Loving the Julias

Well, I’m a week into my Masters of Creative Writing, and one thing I can say with absolute conviction is that it is definitely delivering in the challenging and mind-stimulating departments. I have been well and truly pushed out of my comfort zone with the Week 1 readings which, as well as addressing some interesting fundamentals of book editing, have included Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Aristotle’s Potetics and a short story by Ernest Hemingway called Hills Like White Elephants.

Sophocles and Aristotle don’t really make my socks roll up and down, but you have to be impressed by the fact that they hold academic and narrative theory currency more than two millenia after they were written. But Hemingway?

I’m going to make a risky confession here. I hate Hemingway. For many in the literary world this is the rankest aspostasy, though disparaging Heminway isn’t quite the crime it was a couple of decades ago now that more revisionist attention has been paid to his less-than-PC personal behaviours.

Not so cool, Mr Hemingway …

But here’s the thing – I just don’t like his style. Pundits rave about his simplicty and directness, the pared-back beauty of his unadorned prose, the unimpeded dialogue, blah, blah, blah … Happily, I’m not quite alone in my subversive views. Blogger Rich Siegel says it all for me when describing his experience of reading Hemingway.

“All impenetrable. All boring. All overrated, as far as I’m concerned. Call me a lightweight. But if I want a healthy dose of obfuscation that requires tedious reading and re-reading, there are plenty of planning briefs I can get my hands on.” Yep.

I have also been catapaulted into a re-read of a great classic, Madame Bovary, a copy of which I just happened to have on my bookshelves. What were those 60s cover designers thinking?

Classic cover!

My mission is to consider Flaubert’s master work from a realist perspective, presenting my findings to our Theory and Ceative Writing class on Tuesday (and subsequently producing a 3000 word analytical essay). Watch this space to find out how I handle my first tussle with literary theory in several decades …

It’s been wonderful to immerse myself in student world and I’ve had heaps of nerdy fun setting up notebooks, pens (colour coded of course), email files and archive folders for each of my subjects. For me, studying – whether or not the subject matter is my particular cup of tea – is pure, unadulterated pleasure.

Also eminently pleasureable is meeting writers I admire, and currently being in Adelaide, I’ve been able to sneak in a few hours at Adelaide Writers’ Week, Australia’s largest, longest-running and most prestigious literary festival. I’ve been a regular attendee in the past, but this year there has been the added spice of finding several of the authors from my Masters reading list on the programme so I bustled off with signing copies in hand.

Not on the Masters syllabus, but certainly not to be missed was former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, discussing her second book (co-written with newly appointed WTO head Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala). Women and Leadership.

Signing groupies – me and Rachel in action

Julia’s pithy retelling of women’s stories from the frontlines of global political leadership was both fascinating and compelling and I can’t wait to find time to dig into this enticing book. My friend Rachel and I were a bit like starry-eyed groupies as we lined up to meet the great woman.

I also had the chance to hear from Maggie O’Farrell, author of a moving reimagining of the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, Pip Williams who has delighted readers with her feminist telling of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, The Dictionary of Lost Words, and another former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who was spruiking his autobiography, A Bigger Picture.

But my favourite session was with broadcaster, adacemic and very cool woman Julia Baird, who’s book Phosphorescence has sold more than 150,000 copies since it launched at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year. I love, love, LOVE this book! It’s full of the kind of hope and possibility and optimism in the face of darkness in our world that I hope to be able to capture and convey in my own writing.

Luminous …

I’ve chosen Posphoresence for an assignment in my Professional Editing Course where I will be writing a ‘reader’s report’ on the book, assessing it as though it was an unsolicited manuscript just landed in the letterbox of a prospective publisher. Needless to say, I will be strongly recommending publishing! At the signing, I disclosed to Julia that her book was the subject of Masters students’ deliberations and she was both amused and, I think chuffed. Funny, articulate, humble and insightful – what an author! I’d love to add her to the panel session with Kate Mosse in that future writing festival at which I’m hoping to appear …

Fabulous Julia Biard