Podcast episodeCover image for of Strange Here: George Saunders

Strange Here: George Saunders  /  Fiction

‘If we were going to try to write a novel about right now, what’s the equivalent of a god’s-eye-view of right now? I think it’s … every thought going on right now, presented simultaneously.’

American writer George Saunders is one of the world’s most surreal – and most empathic – eyewitnesses to modern life. But quixotic? Not so much. In his writing, he’s generous with his subjects: offering them dignity where consumerism and politics deny it. It’s absurd and heart-wrenching stuff; often farcical, with echoes of despair.

Best known until now for his short story collections (Tenth of DecemberPastoralia) and collected essays (The Braindead Megaphone), Saunders has also written novellas, children’s books, and now, a novel – or something close to it, anyway. Lincoln in the Bardo defies comparison. Born from a kernel of history (Abraham Lincoln’s mourning for his dead son), the book hurls a giddy net of voices into the twilight between life and death, ruminating on love that – like all love – must end.

Having moved from field geophysicist to doorman, roofer and slaughterhouse worker before arriving at writing, Saunders himself is as shape-shifting as his writing. For the first time in Australia, he talks to Don Watson about his hyper-real prose, his simple, methodical approaches to writing, and his redoubled commitment to the profundity of art.

George Saunders speaks with Don Watson at Northcote Town Hall — Photo: Jon Tjhia

Podcast episodeCover image for of Picnic at Hanging Rock

Picnic at Hanging Rock  /  Australian stories

‘She felt herself choking and tore at her frilled lace collar. “Miranda!”’

Fainting spells, frilly collars, mystery, hysteria and a truly awesome backdrop – Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock might be 50 years old this year, but it remains a point of Australian cultural obsession. The book – written by Lindsay in just four weeks back in 1967 – has inspired a film, a radio play, stage adaptations, fashion spreads, music videos and a new miniseries coming out this year.

Why do we keep coming back to Lindsay’s eerie tale of a Valentine’s Day school picnic gone wrong? Perhaps it’s the ambiguity around fact and fiction; perhaps it’s the striking combinations of imagery or maybe it’s the maddening obscurity of the ending.

At this celebration of Joan Lindsay’s iconic novel (and its enduring myth), Helen Withycombe hosts a conversation between Lindsay's biographer Janelle McCulloch, theatremaker Tom Wright (who adapted the play for Malthouse Theatre in 2016) and Helen Morse, who played the French teacher in Peter Weir's film version of the story.

They discuss the true story (and the mysticism) that inspired Lindsay, the book's refractions of nature and time, the troubling history of Hanging Rock itself and why Lindsay’s tale continues to haunt and provoke Australian storytellers today.

Left to right: Helen Withycombe, Janelle McCulloch, Tom Wright and Helen Morse — Photo: Jon Tjhia

You may also enjoy   Podcast episode Australian Literature 101: Christina Stead: The Man Who Loved Children  /  Australian stories   Podcast episode Australian Literature 101: Patrick White: Voss  /  Australian stories   Podcast episode Australian Literature 102: Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock  /  Australian stories

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