Dear Author: A letter to Helen Garner

Dear Ms Garner,

I write this knowing that, given the overwhelming confluence of content on the internet, you will likely never read it. That’s the great paradox of this thing we call the information age, don’t you think? Despite the freedom of information online, so much remains largely invisible. Or visible, but lost. Perhaps that is a metaphor for our times. Nevertheless, I have no influence here. And so I remain.

Many years ago, when I was just a quiet, quietly ambitious journalism student, I picked up Joe Cinque’s Consolation, like so many others. I read it at a time when I was conflicted about my journalism studies. I felt like we were being taught to create the story, not seek it. We were being taught to invent the drama, not observe it. It was a formula, and to get great marks, we had to follow it. I needed a role model and I hadn’t found it in any of my lecturers, tutors or the books they prescribed.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation made me realise there was a different way of looking at journalism. That it could tell the whole story, from the beginning. You made me realise it’s possible to portray the emotions of the subjects involved, purely through the gentleness of the writing. Through considered concern for the characters. Where the writer is a soft presence. But present. So different to my lecturers’ mantra to lay out the facts with cold clarity. Make sure everything’s in the first paragraph, because readers won’t be bothered to commit beyond that. Time is precious.

Time is precious. And I recently committed a little of it to reading your new book. Everywhere I Look. The collection of stories, many of which have already been published, together form a beautiful snapshot of this world we live in. I was filled with envy when you wrote of Mrs Dunkley, your stern fifth grade teacher. When I went to school, anything more than the definitions of a noun, verb and adjective was considered superfluous to my early education.

I laughed a little at Red Dog’s Mutiny (I imagine the incident wasn’t funny at all though!), and at Tim Winton’s stout, “Thanks mate” to the priest’s offering. My eyes welled at your anecdotes about your grandson, penned with such love. But it is those beautifully crafted in-between moments that brought me the greatest joy. Have you thought about Twitter? Because your ability to craft a 140-character sentence would put many to shame.

You write:

A dark sky, striped low down with bands of translucent pearly grey and the faintest, driest yellow. Bare plane tree branches disposed against it, as in a painting.

And:

Peter Porter on The Book Show: ‘The purpose of form is to prevent you from putting down on the paper the first thing that comes into your head.’

So I apologise because that is entirely what I have done here, with my limited knowledge of form. I won’t pretend to do your writing justice. However, I am so glad that I spent a little of my time reading your book. Not one second I spent reading it was wasted.

I never did end up a journalist, but you were and still are a role model to me and to many others. You write on subjects we struggle to comprehend, on the complexity of the human condition. You do it with grace. With care and careful consideration. So thank you.

Amanda.

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