The Godfather: Peter Corris on his swansong
I was scheduled to appear at the Sydney Writers Festival on 27 May. I was keen to do this because it’d be my swansong, my final book having been published in January, and also because I’d be ‘in conversation’ with actor, journalist and author Graeme Blundell. I’ve known Graeme for many years, from our Melbourne days. He is an aficionado of crime fiction who has reviewed a number of my books favourably and we’d done a similar gig successfully once before.
But by the time of the session I was in hospital with a cast on my leg. Could I do it in a wheelchair? I decided I could – with more than a little help from my friends.
The day arrived and a first-class nurse from the hospital, a Nepalese man named AJ, helped me to dress and compose myself in the wheelchair and trundled me out to the wheelchair taxi. If you’ve never been in one of these vehicles, try to stay that way. I imagine it’s something like being locked in a Black Maria. (Are there still Black Marias?) The chair is bolted in, you are strapped in and the windows are small and high up so that all you can see are roofs and the tops of trees.
At the Hickson Street wharf the driver alerted Allen & Unwin’s publicist, Andy Palmer, and he appeared to detach me from the taxi and take me to the Green Room. I was early; I got a glass of wine, chatted to Andy about our long association, and Jean, Patrick Gallagher (the head honcho of Allen & Unwin), and Blundell turned up. Then it was off to the venue, the Loft.
I was concerned about the setting. Given the wheelchair, would we have to do it on a level with the audience? Not ideal. No problem – there was a device to lift the chair up to the level of the stage. I would’ve preferred this be done with the audience in place for the dramatic effect, but this was apparently not the way. Up I was put, and I was in the wheelchair, miked up, a glass of water and Blundell beside me as the audience came in. Given my poor vision I couldn’t tell how big it was but I was told the auditorium was mostly full.
Graeme opened by inviting me to explain my condition. I told them I had had a blackout in the kitchen and that the stove, the sink and the fridge had hit me as I fell, with the results I described in the previous column. This got a good laugh and sympathy.
Jean had advised me not to play the whole session for laughs as I sometimes did, and I obliged. Under Graeme’s astute questioning I spoke about how I tried to create realistic characters with realistic problems, plausible plots and a social and political texture to work with the necessary sex and violence – to execute the popular-fiction writer’s craft, in other words.
I did make jokes, particularly about Shane Maloney, whom I accused of cutting deeply into my audience as well as being more widely translated than me. Blundell picked up on this and told how, when overseas somewhere, he’d mentioned that he was an Australian writer, and someone had asked, ‘Oh, are you Shane Maloney?
‘Thanks for that story, Graeme,’ I said. ‘You’ve made my day.’
The session went well with some good questions from the audience. One in particular I chewed over. I was asked if I missed Cliff Hardy as a sort of partner. I said I didn’t, not really, but perhaps a bit. I certainly missed chances to use his voice, to comment on things I heard and saw now that I could no longer write.
I was winched back down and signed about 30 books – a gratifying result in these hard times. Then it was back into the hands of Andy Palmer, my minder, and once again into the Black Maria after saying goodbye to Jean and others.
I was met at the hospital by Doug, another topnotch nurse, who wheeled me back to my room, heated up the dinner waiting for me and completed some injecting and pill administration. And so to bed, after a good event only made possible by willing helpers. Cliff Hardy himself could hardly have asked for better.