This is your first program as curator. How have you approached the task of curating such a big event?
Part of it is putting together a wish list: asking who do you really want as a guest and seeing how you can make that happen. And part of it is looking at what’s available to you at the time – you have to be opportunistic when you’re programming, everyone knows that – but you can’t be led by that too much. With the time, talent and resources you have, you do the best you can to get to where you want to be. It’s also about finding a balance between control and play – you have responsibilities, but you also want to introduce elements of risk, of chance and play, so that people can come and experience something they might not have predicted. I’m very much a collaborator too and love working with great people on something such as this. Building on and listening to other people’s ideas is hugely satisfying.
You also want to make sure – as much as it’s a cliché – that you can offer something for everyone. So there are certain elements of genre fiction, poetry, traditional novels, an architectural program and more.
Western Australian writers are well-represented in the program. What’s so important to you about recognising local talent?
In all arts festivals you’re bringing the world to the local audience, but you also want the local audience to come and see the world. People expect to see some headline international names but it’s also important to showcase local talent, because that’s how you bring people from outside the state to the Festival. We’ve got so much great local talent that goes unacknowledged – it’s partly due to the ‘cultural cringe’, the idea that it can’t be so great if it’s in our own backyard, which is the least true in WA out of all the other states, I would say. We have people who aren’t celebrated at anywhere near the level they ought to be and it’s the responsibility of any programmer of any festival such as this to bring these people to the attention to others.
To you, what makes a good story?
It has to be compelling and have a compelling narrative. It has to have some kind of philosophical underpinning, and has to acknowledge the role of aesthetics in interpreting the world. It has to appeal to the senses and be rich in texture, but it has to have a serious argument also. It’s like cooking, almost – a great meal can be both delicious and nutritious. The same is true of stories. There are serious stories to be told here, but they also have to be compelling and fun.
Who are you looking forward to meeting in 2018?
Alan Hollinghurst encapsulates a lot of what I say about story – about exploring important issues in a compelling and satisfying way. The way he manages to integrate politics, art and morality is incredible.
Helen Garner is a legend. As a journalist she’s someone I’ve always looked up to because she shows you a way to look at the real world – speaking of course of her non-fiction writings – in a way that’s so literary. She’s also a master of her craft; every sentence seems effortless, which brings a great deal of clarity.
Claire G. Coleman is also someone I’m really excited to meet. I’ve been following her on Twitter and obviously doing some reading on her while programming, and she seems really interesting. It’s great to have another strong Indigenous voice in Australian fiction – we always need more of that.
What do you hope audiences will get out of the 2018 program?
First and foremost: a good time. I really want people to just have fun. Following that, I hope they walk away feeling like something has changed for them, that perhaps they’ve been introduced to a new way of seeing the world, which is what art does, isn’t it? Hopefully, people will also reach a new level of understanding about how important literature is to our lives.
We have a wide range of different venues, so I do hope people will also take the opportunity to visit some of our smaller venues and hear the author’s voice in a way that isn’t possible to hear from the page alone.