I went to see Tara June Winch at the International Literary Festival in Wedding a few months back, on a beautiful late summer evening. She travelled to Berlin from France, where she now lives, having just won the Miles Franklin Award for The Yield, and gave the audience some insights into her work, followed by a stunning reading from the novel, with Charlotte Milsch moderating.
Listening to established writers talk about their work is always fascinating – how they found their way from aspiring to established author, their writing process, what keeps them going, the story of each particular book – and I’m a big believer in the power of mirror neurons and how watching other writers somehow helps you become one yourself.
She talked about the year she’d just had, her writing process, and how it felt to reconnect with her family’s language, Wiradjuri, which she didn’t speak while growing up but learned as an adult. As someone living in Germany and trying to learn the language, I can appreciate more than ever how speaking the language is both difficult and essential if you are going to do more than just float on the surface of a place. Language doesn’t just reflect the culture, and it is the culture, and I can’t wait to read this book (sadly there were none available on the night, for which I blame COVID.)
Here are a few things I jotted down from the night.
On writing and COVID
At the start of 2020 there was a sense for writers and artists that we’d really use the time to create but, as the monotony and pressure grew, a survival instinct set in. At times it’s been difficult and draining of creativity, but I reached out to other writers and formed some creative companionships with an unspoken rule to not talk about current affairs and stay in touch with the creative essence.
On being inspired by songs and poetry
Because I didn’t study English literature, my early relationship with books was very naïve, and I was always attracted to lyrics and the way that poetry could be so succinct. That was my entry into publishing.
As part of my writing process, I read aloud until it almost sings on the page to me. When I read something aloud and have to patience, when I’m editing it, to go back again and again, that’s when I know it’s ok. When I start to skim over words, I know I have to go back. I also write to music – the whole book was written with Archie Roach and other artists I love playing in the background.
On writing about Australia from her home in France
The whole idea of a writing residency is to leave home – it’s about giving yourself the distance for perspective and solitude. This distance also means that the things that make it onto the page are the things that really burned you. The most poignant memories are all you have at your desk – a smell, a quality of light. In France there is no Australia to be found in the forest or the city. So I have to find a friend to describe the smell of a particular flower, or watch amateur bird-watching videos on YouTube to get audio immersion of a place.
On reclaiming Wiradjuri language through writing The Yield
Language was reclaimed through mission and police records, and those who wrote down terms out of curiosity or even friendship and ultimately these become part of the healing process. There are no clean-cut villains. There is a kind of amnesia in Australian (about our colonial violence) that Indigenous Australians are always up against.
My father was removed at three years of age from his family and his culture. Although we grew up a proud Aboriginal family, it was a weight that hung on us. It was a healing balm to roll that language on my tongue again.