Emma Donoghue: 'I didn't need to take drugs – I had books'
Author closes the Sydney writers' festival by saying that she has been changed by the experience
Monday 26 May 2014 07.21 BST
After the crowds thin and most of the festival is over, the Sydney Theatre fills for one final session: the closing address from Emma Donoghue. Donoghue's speech, Giving People What They (Don't Know) They Want, explores the tools she as a writer uses to bring readers along for the ride. "It's all a big gamble," she says. Writers and publishers can't know what will sell, and readers don't know what they want until you give it to them.
The speech was written as she spent time in Australia this week at "the most fabulous of festivals. I've been to many festivals, and this is without peer." She couldn't have written it before arriving, she says, as "you should be a bit changed at the end of the Sydney writers' festival." And that change comes through: she references talks she heard and discussions she had with many writers over the week. She talks of Andrew Solomon's opening speech, Sandi Toksvig's Peas and Queues, Kate Ceberano discussing her daughter, and Nakkiah Lui on who gets to tell whose stories.
| Emma Donoghue: 'readers don't know what they want until you give it to them'. |
Photograph b Lynn Goldsmith
Donoguhe's books often tackle difficult and, at first, unappealing topics. As she talks about leading readers through stories gently, using interesting narrators, the power of humour, and of the small tricks of meta-references, you can see how Donoghue signposts not only her career as a writer, but her life as a reader, with books. She references everything from Barbra Kingslover's Flight Behaviour, to Dante's Inferno; from Agatha Christie to Mark Haddon. "I didn't need to take drugs" as a teenager, she tells us – she had sci-fi writers messing with her mind. It's a wonderfully expansive overview of the ways literature informs the way we think about the world.
In a theatre full of readers, that is who Donoguhe keeps on returning to. These tricks and tools are only good as long as they are there to serve the reader, who also needs to approach a book willing to be a little bit changed. And a writer, she concludes, "that crucial moment is where a reader opens a book and sees something they haven't seen before, and thinks 'what a great season for thinking.'"