‘ISLAND HOME: A landscape memoir’ by Tim Winton

I like poking at his author photo on the back cover. Look at the broad Australian face. He’s a grandfather? Look at his beautiful hair. Like an American Indian unbraided without the feathers.

One of the things about Tim Winton’s fiction that really interests me are his protagonists- They are often men and women who are on the margins of society. And yet, he brings sympathy to these characters – people I would ordinarily turn away from in the street, people who are ordinarily inaccessible to middle class literary types like me. So pg 127 goes a long way in explaining to me why Winton choses the characters he does.

But to back track- I also didn’t know Winton was from a working class background, or the first in his family to go to university and that he went to an ugly place in order to learn to write – he chose the Western Australia Institute of Technology -which he still has a physical aversion to-simply because it had a creative writing program which was quite a new thing in the 1970s.

I love his description of the buildings: Page 127 “the interior is for worse: negatively corridors, mean fittings, bolted aluminium windows, every seminar room reeking of cigarette smoke and I live in carpet. Nasty corrugated concrete sides and industrial Park sprawl, it had the error of a wholesale storage facility.

God Almighty, I taught in an institute of technology for 15 years- at the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch – now renamed CPIT- and it killed my soul as well. I thought I was the only one who just couldn’t handle the sheer minginess of the architecture- the rough and ready dog box-ness of a university campus! I thought I was just a complainer. I also didn’t know Winton was influenced by the New Zealand writer Michael Henderson of whom Winton says, “his spare prose style and aesthetic passion inspired me” – now I’m on the hunt for Michael Henderson who died in 1998– Why haven’t I ever heard of him? But to return to the magnetism of these sentences I was telling you about. Winton describes being an apprentice writer and meeting, “haunting figures” in a “brooding landscape”.

He says of theses figues… “They off such a storied air. Their evasiveness invited invention, elaboration.”

Those words on the page send a message to me as a writer. I don’t know where they’ll take me but that message pulsed with flight and possibility.

People who give off a storied air, who carry blank spots and evasiveness really attract me as a writer. Then my job is to find a way to explain and dignify them so they are more than outlines.

Winton is a hero to me, a writing hero.

From pages 129/30:

Faulker, Hardy, Conrad and Patrick White – “what I responded to in these writers was the way they embraced particulars of the place and the music of their own vernacular.… In the deep gullies and matted clearings where shells of 1000 centuries crunched and clattered underfoot, I sensed a profusion of resonances I didn’t understand. It was like stepping into a room vacated only moments before. Everywhere … unfinished conversations seem to waft like spiderwebs… I was caught up with trying to find a vocabulary and a diction to match the strangeness of the places I loved and the taciturn people who are in habited them.

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