21 August 2017

Three witty women add their spice to Canberra Writers Festival

| Suzanne Kiraly
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Kathy Lette says she writes because it saves her thousands on therapy.

Funny, irreverent and tackling some of the more difficult questions in life, the Canberra Writers Festival is hosting three extraordinary women who are great storytellers and write/speak in a manner that keeps us riveted from beginning to end.

I was fortunate enough to have interviewed Kathy Lette, Nikki Gemmell and Jean Kittson recently, and was thoroughly entertained by all three. If my interviews are anything to go by, then you are in for a real treat if you attend any, or all of their sessions during the festival.

Kathy Lette, says that she only writes because it saves her thousands on therapy. She’s witty, a rebel, and an Aussie icon from Cronulla (which she calls “the insular peninsula”), currently living in the UK, because she likes to “straddle the hemispheres”. Her claim to fame began with the massive hit that was “Puberty Blues” – the book and movie, and she tells me that it was about poetic justice.

“Poetic justice is the only justice in the world,” she says.

The story wreaked revenge on those surfie boys she grew up with as a teenager. Then, another book of hers (she’s written 14 so far), is a good follow-up in terms of being truly revealing.

“Girls Night Out” is a psychological strip-tease taking us from Puberty Blues to Menopause Blues, with tales of love, lust, men, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, mastitis, sexist bosses, teenage-daughter-wrangling, ageing,.. lots of grist for the mill, for sure!

I expect to hear much more of this kind of irreverence, at the “Girls’ Night In” event on the Canberra Writers Festival program on Sunday night, where she will team up with a plethora of women with much to say…. On Saturday afternoon, she is doing a one-woman show as well. Personally, I can’t wait!

I interviewed Nikki Gemmell at one of her children’s athletics carnivals – which is proving that despite the spicy, sexy books she sometimes writes, there is a modicum of normalcy in the framework of her life.

Nikki’s writing career started in year 3 when she saw her name in print in the school magazine, the “Keirabile Kookaburra”, and she hasn’t looked back!

Having read “The Bride Stripped Bare” and not been able to put it down, I was keen to find out just how that had affected her life. It must have been quite challenging in terms of the questions the media would have asked her since that time. She did say that you needed to get a tough skin as a writer, and despite the occasional interview where she has had to take on difficult questions (with some measure of judgement of her own morals), it has still all been worth it for her.

“If I am truthful and honest, there’s integrity in that, and I can go forward and not give up. It gets easier as I get older,” Nikki tells me.

Her latest book, “After” published by Harper Collins, is a hard-hitting novel about her toxic relationship with her mother, and her mum’s subsequent suicide through euthanasia.

“It was a love letter to my mother,” Nikki reveals and she also tells me that the last year they spent together was the best, because after a lifelong relationship where they “went for each other”, they had reconciled through sheer exhaustion and maturity. “I could do nothing else but write it, and it helped me get through the grief.”

Jean Kittson is not afraid of mentioning the unmentionable.

Jean Kittson has been flu-stricken for several days, so one hopes that our Canberra Winter will be kind to her when she arrives for the festival. (Apparently, she was here last weekend for a breakfast, in her capacity as ambassador for Palliative Care).

Kittson is not afraid of mentioning the unmentionable — topics we often avoid; like death and dying, and menopause. Her illustrious career as a comedian and writer was inspired in Year 3 when she wrote a scary story, which scared her teacher so much that she recommended her mother take her to a psychiatrist! (Her mum still has that story.) Then, in Year 7, she wrote a play, “The Gold of L’Or”, and it was highly commended (gave herself the lead role, of course). She felt good about that. By the time she was in senior high school (at a time when she admits she didn’t read enough), she convinced herself to ‘pretend’ to be a writer and to write like one. It worked and she did very well.

But the big break came when she wrote a monologue with humour in it and became a solo performer. She joined an improvised show called: “Let the Blood Run Free” and enjoyed mixing with other comedians and making people laugh. Of course, we know Jean very well also from The Big Gig.

Jean says that “writing has enriched my life…and opened many doors.” So, it’s not surprising that Jean was once quoted in the Herald Sun as saying: “I get such joy out of words. I never thought about being a writer myself, or even a comedian. To me, it was like aiming to be French, or taller. But I wrote for myself, even during high school and then, when I began working as an actress, I sat down and wrote my first monologue and performed it.”

Jean is a well-known comedian, of course, and she is quick to point out that you must be able to write your own material if you are to be successful in that field. She loves to tackle the big questions: “There is a lot of fear (around dying)…” and she enjoys broaching the subject in a way that opens it up and invites people to talk about it.

These are just three of the huge number of extraordinarily talented people coming along to the Canberra Writers Festival this weekend, and what an unmissable opportunity we have here to mix, mingle and hear from the best of them!

I’ll be there. Are you coming along?

Over 100 events will be held at eight iconic venues over the three days of the festival, which runs from Friday, August 25 to Sunday, August 27.

Book your tickets here: http://canberrawritersfestival.com.au

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