An intriguing conversation between noted Australian novelists Kate Grenville and Marion Halligan took place on Thursday 9th April as part of the ANU/Canberra Times “Meet the Author” discussion series. The conversation between the two award-winning authors was unrestricted and organic, spanning a myriad of topics such as life during the Second World War, feminism, parenthood and literature.

Grenville’s newest release, ‘One Life’, provides a biographical account of her own mother. Grenville portrays her mother as colourful woman who, having always wanted to write a book herself, had an extraordinary impact on Grenville’s life and literary career.

“She knew every line in Macbeth. She knew every line of Keats,” reminisced Grenville.

Grenville also pointed out the age-old critical resistance against women, such as British novelist Elizabeth Taylor, who wrote about the everyday with the intention of giving a glimpse into the life an ordinary woman in the 20th century, an era of unprecedented change. Grenville said she aspires to tell stories of “invisible lives”, ordinary people and the mundane. History, as she sees it, provides the accounts of only ‘the celebrated’, and fails to acknowledge ‘the everyman’ in terms of “who they were, the choices that they made and the thoughts about the choices they made”.

Halligan summed up the simplicity and honesty of One Life aptly: “What this book is about is love and how some people manage it and some people don’t.”

Written over a period of eight years and re-worked through 27 drafts, Grenville discussed the difficulties of writing about one’s mother and recalled the number of times she almost quit. Yet, thanks to the kindness and encouragement of her brother, the fragments left by their mother now form Grenville’s compelling story.

The conversation between the two illustrious women then turned to the art of writing. The two seemed to agree that science and art are alike in terms of trial and error. While some things work upon experimenting, others lead to a dead-end. This set the final tone in the hour-long event before a brief Q and A session and Vote of Thanks.

Kate Grenville’s ‘One Life’ and Marion Halligan’s ‘Goodbye Sweetheart’ are now available at The Co-op Bookstore.

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