It’s not every week you get a chance to chat with two megastar authors but that’s exactly what I did this week. Well, they chatted. I listened… from my place in the audience at their Perth shows.
The two events shared similarities, as you’d expect from two people in the same field of work talking about what they do, but there were notable differences too.
Gaiman, in his 4pm cozy, late afternoon slot was a sell-out. The line for signed copies of his books snaked around the foyer. The bar area was bustling. People shuffled up and down the stairs, and in and out of the building. When the time came, we made our way to our seats and filled them all. Each level of the Perth Concert Hall was filled with family, friends and strangers eagerly anticipating the start of the show.
There was a mosh pit of sorts. Between the stage and the first row of traditional seating was an area for the super-fans. There they had circular tables and angled seats so the people sat in them could imagine they were at some intimate, cafe reading – like what you might see of the beatnik poets in movies and on tv. Above them was a large chandelier and several individually hung lights that changed colours at various points to indicate a tone shift in Gaiman’s words.
Gaiman himself was treated to a rockstar welcome, a round of applause that seemed as though it may never stop – until he gestured for us to do so, and we obeyed.
My seat in the nosebleed section was labeled as ‘restricted viewing’ and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. Fortunately, the part of the stage I couldn’t see was empty. I could see the podium at which Gaiman stood and I could see to his left where two ladies worked in shifts to translate his words into sign language.
He read to us, answered questions that people had written on cards in the foyer, and opened up to us about the illnesses and loss of life that have taken his friends and fellow writers. In particular, he spoke of Terry Pratchett who I adore. It was incredibly touching.
I wrote notes: things to look up, observations and inspirations for written pieces of my own, poignant statements.
And, when it was done, I rushed out of the door to join the queue for books before it grew too long. I bought one, American Gods, but I could have easily bought them all.
One week later, and I found myself on the train to the city again. My initial observations were similar. The books on sale weren’t signed so the line was significantly smaller but the bar area was full and the line for drinks was long. The Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre has a larger waiting space and, on the surface, it looked like a similar sized crowd might have gathered.
I was wrong. The first indication that it was a smaller crowd was when I got to the door and was told by the usher that I was eligible for an upgraded seat. Suddenly, I went from Row X to Row A. When we were all seated those back rows remained empty. It was a disappointing sight. Here you have a woman whose list of awards and accolades is enormous, who has inspired protests, is active on social media, and is the brainchild behind a tv show that is immensely popular. I don’t know what kept people away – whether it was the ticket price or the assumption that she’d just be promoting/discussing her new book, I can’t say – but they missed out.
Atwood also walked on to a round of applause that appeared to gather momentum each time you might expect it to die off. Her whole ‘performance’ was an on-stage interview. I apologise, I didn’t catch the name of the woman who questioned her. At intermission, we were invited to pose questions via Twitter and Atwood answered some of these. A few of the audience generated prompts were a bit naff, and I’m not just saying that because mine wasn’t picked.
Again, I took notes: phrases I can use when teaching her novel, things that surprised me (like the fact she was published in Playboy), things that made me laugh out loud.
Atwood walked onto stage, an 80 year old woman with a handbag that she never went into during the show but that she carried, I assume, because she’s used to having it with her. Her curly, grey hair sat neatly on her head and there was a delicateness about her. I knew that demure look belied a fiery passion that lurked beneath it. However, I didn’t expect her to be so funny. She joked about cats and toilets, about politicians and cervixes, about having “too many fucks” in her book, and everything in between.
One thing both Gaiman and Atwood said, in their different ways, was the importance of Literature from the perspective of both reader and writer. They said that books allow us to experience the lives of others and become more empathetic, that writers allow us a safe space to see the hardships that people go through and some of the directions in which the world can head. From a creative standpoint they also said that Art and Literature allow us to outlive our bodies, that a part of us exists within our work and future generations will have the opportunity to know us through our creations.