Author Event: Dr Roger Averill and Gideon Haigh

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Rotunda In The West are Creative Arts Industry events organised by Bruno Lettieri with the assistance of Victoria University staff and administration, Victoria University students and community artists. As a result, Rotunda events are usually an interesting mixture of:

Musical Performances:
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Creative Art Opportunities, such as submitting to Offset
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and Author Interviews

Bruno Lettieri interviewing Dr Roger Averill
Bruno Lettieri interviewing Dr Roger Averill
Michelle Fincke interviewing Gideon Haigh
Michelle Fincke interviewing Gideon Haigh

Bruno was eager to discuss Dr Roger Averill’s novel “Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz” a memoir-biography cross-over about Werner Pelz, a friend and mentor who appeared, on the surface, to be an excellent sociology lecturer at La Trobe University, however after his passing, Roger discovered that he was so much more. Bruno dived into the interesting themes involved in Exile, such as student-mentor friendships and the zest for education and knowledge in a time era where “Weapons of Mass Distraction” did not exist.

One of Werner’s greatest attributes was his ability to listen,” said Roger, and even through there were similarities between the two of them such as “coming to teaching at a later age, with more life experience,” however, Roger made it clear that the two of them weren’t alike in teaching styles, “I thought I should never teach because I could never be as smart as him, we are very different people so we’re very different teachers.”

Werner, at the end of his teaching life, taught reading and emotion. In order to ensure his survival, Werner had to cut off the trauma he had suffered,so he splintered off into this abstract academic life, which was why he considered society’s ability to abstract things as very dangerous. He had suspicion for certainty, he viewed society’s demand for certainty as a death wish, because the only thing that is certain is death, so he encouraged uncertainty in life. He was a flawed, fragile creature. Just like the rest of us.”

Roger explained how Exile was interwoven with 3 narrative strands:

  1. Biographic snippets of Werner’s life
  2. Snippets of Werner’s illness and his dying from a journal (written from Roger’s perspective)
  3. Werner’s papers from the archives at the University of Melbourne

Roger paused for thought when Bruno asked him if he thought his mentor would have been happy with the book, “I don’t know how I could answer that. All the people that have known him, for much longer than I, none of them objected. But as for him, he wouldn’t have read it, he wouldn’t have needed to, he’d lived it, he was very humble by the time I knew him. He would have said, ‘Haven’t you got anything better to do? But go ahead, if that’s what makes you happy’. There was no desire on his part to impress me. I was more shocked that he felt that he hadn’t done enough. So, to me, this book was a resuscitation, a brief counterfeit afterlife for him and anyone who can read.”

Michelle Fincke, long time friend of Gideon Hayes since they had first met in university, described Gideon as, “He said what was on his mind and didn’t suffer fools, because fools were everywhere, like land-mines, and I worried he would not survive the blast.” She described his writing as “open and rich”, his website as “sparse and self-deprecating.”

I found his comments and perspective on Journalism and reading fascinating,
When I got my journalism position at The Age, my interest with fiction ceased, I found out that there were more stories out in the real world, far better than I could make up myself. You work every word and every paragraph as absolutely hard as you have to, so that every sentence is as long as it needs to be.”

You cannot discriminate in your reading habits, though I find myself partaking in less recreational reading, I’m always reading for a purpose and I’m always trying to figure out, what is the writer’s purpose? What is the riddle or puzzle? What’s on your beside table is fundamental to you as a journalist or a writer.”

When asked about the writing process of his first published book, Gideon Hayes responded, “It was a piece of piss, more books should be like that, but you wouldn’t want all your books to be like that.” I found his choice of metaphors  amusing, especially for how he described how it felt to publish his first book.

It was like losing my virginity, a little anti-climatic, and thinking ‘oh well, got that over and done with’. You build that first publication up in your mind. You’ve spent all this time and energy into putting it all into this one shot, then you’ve shot your wad and then you’ve got nothing left over for your second shot. However, it was good, in a sense, to get that first book published so quickly.” He also described the printing process and how, due to printing errors,  he presented his finished manuscript to his publisher as a scroll.

While both Authors work in completely different fields (memoir-biography and cricket journalist respectively) from each other and myself, I walked away from the event contemplative and invigorated. Can we ever truly know a person, no matter how close? Do writers place too much emphasis on their first publication and therefore too much pressure on themselves to succeed? Though I do not yet know the answers, I’m still eager to find out.

Useful Links:
The Write Zone
It’s All About The Writing

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