Perth Festival is synonymous with an enriched mind and soul, and there’s one week in particular in which that manifests with a specific resonance: Writers Week. From searing memoirs and family sagas to historical epics and even fun little ditties, Perth Festival’s week-long ode to the written word invites some of the world’s biggest names as well as lauded local talents and emerging prodigies to talk all things literature and story.
This year’s theme – Our Imagined Selves – probes the age-old chicken-or-egg question: what comes first, reality or imagination? Author of best-selling novel The Sunday Girl, Pip Drysdale is no stranger to telling tales that fall somewhere between the true and the make-believe. Before she turned her hand to writing books, Drysdale had been a poet, a musician and an actress – all culminating in many ‘true stories’ that inform her writing.
“I really like the piecing together of things,” Drysdale says of writing fiction novels, particularly those with darker tendencies. “The mental acrobatics of it.”
“You pull from real life in that your work is informed by what you’ve learned,” she says. “I like to incorporate the upside to life with the underneath.”
Her outlook fits nicely into this year’s writers week, with Our Imagined Selves looming large overhead. “I find pieces of myself in every character I read,” she says, “and so through reading their story I, myself, get to live out various life paths without all the fallout that would accompany them in real life. For me, reading and writing is a way to live multiple lives simultaneously. But every single one of them requires me to imagine myself in their position, for me to create yet another imagined self.”
Ahead of her appearance with host Emily Paull on February 23, Drysdale let Fabric Quarterly in on her top picks at this year’s Writers Week.
An Evening With Ben Okri | 23 February
Drysdale admits that her first pick is probably the most obvious one – but An Evening with Ben Okri is not to be missed. Booker-Prize-winning novelist and poet, Okri’s most recent book, The Freedom Artist, interrogates our perception of freedom. One of the most significant literary voices of our time, he’ll be joined by the Centre for Stories’ head of oral storytelling, Sisonke Msimang, to discuss life, art and politics.
Shell | 23 February
“She’s just so cool,” Drysdale says of Kristina Olsson, long-serving Australian journalist and author of Shell, a big, bold and hauntingly beautiful story that captures a defining moment in Australia’s history. Olsson is set to discuss Shell in more depth with Dr Sarah Schladow, exploring themes of national shame and a world on the brink of seismic change. Set in 1965, at the intersection of the Vietnam War and the construction of the Sydney Opera House, which had become somewhat of a national scapegoat, Shell, rather terrifyingly, rings of a history repeating itself.
Poetry Like Water | 23 February
Particularly interested in the event’s promise to discuss poetry as a “machine for freedom”, Drysdale says Poetry Like Water is simply unmissable. With a diverse line-up that includes Chinese poet and essayist Zheng Xiaoqiong, Australian poet and Sinophile Glen Phillips and Sydney-based Chinese author and translator Isabelle Li – Poetry Like Water is here to demonstrate how poetry can be a force for cultural connection.
Jazz High Tea | 24 February
In celebration of smash-hit theatre piece Gatz coming to town, the Jazz High Tea is set to revive all things Gatsby and roaring twenties. “It’s a classic for a reason,” says Drysdale. Gatz director John Collins will join the high tea to chat about the timeless F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, while revellers relive the glamorous life over sparkling wine and sweet treats.
Boy Swallows Universe | 24 February
Trent Dalton is another Australian author who speaks of pulling from his own life experience for his fiction, so it’s unsurprising that Drysdale would have him on her radar. Dalton will be talking with journalist and lecturer Kathryn Shine about his acclaimed debut coming-of-age novel, Boy Swallows Universe.
The Tattooist Of Auschwitz | 24 February
Ever wondered about the true story behind well-known novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz? Drysdale has. We all have. Hear it first hand when the book’s New Zealand-born author, Heather Morris, talks to Angela Meyer all about it.
The Girl Without Skin | 24 February
A writer of thrillers and dark-love stories herself, it would have been amiss if Drysdale didn’t list at least one Writers Week event of the crime-thriller-mystery persuasion among her top picks. Scandi-crime is a thing – a big thing – and its latest literary sensation, Mads Peder Nordbo, is set to join the festival to unpack the world’s love affair with his genre-of-choice and its translation into English.
Writers Week runs from Monday, 18 February to Sunday, 24 February. Catch Pip Drysdale talk about The Sunday Girl on Saturday, 23 February.