Book Launch – ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton
Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, 15 May, 2008
Previous book launches I’ve attended have been the literary equivalent of watching a band play at the local pub. The launch of Winton’s Breath on the other hand, was more akin to a U2 stadium spectacular – big and impressive, but not particularly intimate.
The place was packed to the rafters by Tim’s adoring fans, including more than a smattering of CAE PWE students. The launch was sponsored by Readings, who charged people a fairly hefty $10 per ticket for the privilege of having something sold to them.
Despite likening to ordeal to being subjected to ‘a ball-bearing enema’, Winton was an engaging and generally entertaining speaker.
A large portion of his one hour set was taken up by readings from his book. The theatre was funeral-silent as Tim read out some appropriate passages – enough to give a flavour for the book and characters without spoiling the plot. Tim’s reading was full of pauses and inflections – and noticeably at a different rhythm to my own prior reading of those passages.
Winton provided a broad outline of the plot and descriptions of the main characters and gave some background information about the writing of the book, and his take on the underlying themes and subtext. It was interesting to note that he doesn’t fully understand the themes of his books, even long after they’re finished. His view on these changes as he gets older and more reflective.
Question time was a highlight. The house lights came on, and Winton was genuinely surprised to discover that there were not one, not two, but three levels of fans hanging on his every word.
The MC reminded the audience that Tim was seeking questions and not comments. I’d never heard this before, but it made sense for this type of forum. Happily, the audience complied, and there were plenty of interesting questions without the microphone-hogging monologues that you often get at these gigs.
We learnt that Tim works hard on new writing for around four hours each morning – he’s ‘rubbish’ after about 1pm, so he uses to afternoon for other tasks related to the business of writing. He generally has a few things on the go; this was particularly the case when he was a younger writer struggling to make ends. He had to keep churning out the work, so moved from piece to piece when he became stuck.
We also learnt that although there are elements of Tim in his writing and characters, this is generally via descriptions of the landscapes of his youth, and his feelings in general. The main details of character and plot in the book are made up. He prides himself on being a story-teller.
Afterwards, Tim obliged his fans with a book signing. The queue snaked through the theatre, out the door, and halfway to Swanson Street. Pre-signed copies were available for purchase. A friend got mine signed and asked Tim for some advice for aspiring writers – it was “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”