Saturday, May 14, 2016

Winterson and Wife

I stalked them along Queen Street, having caught a glimpse of Winterson's profile and feeling sure, or almost sure, it was her, snapped around and followed them back to the Aotea centre (we had been going for a walk).

My husband wondered if I'd forgotten which way we were walking. When I told him, he made us cross the street (only six lanes of it), worried I was going to approach them. He doesn't like scenes...

Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? was with her wife, Susie Orbach, author of Fat is a Feminist Issue among other powerful academic treatise on women and bodies and emotional health. They were both invited to the Auckland Writers' Festival to talk separately and together about their books and lives. They don't live together, Jeanette and Susie, one likes the light, the other the dark, as they revealed to us at an intimate gathering of 150 or so people last night, but they are partners, and I think are officially wed.
Susie Orbach's most recent book

I have been a fan of both authors and women separately, for a long time. Orbach was first. All the way back in 1992, I wrote a 5,000-word essay on eating disorders in my third year of university -- whilst a practising bulimic. Her book was almost foundational in the discipline of medical sociology I was studying that year, though the doctors, and some academics, did not necessarily acknowledge that.

Winterson came later for me when I became interested in life writing. Her memoir and autobiographical novel about growing up tough and strange in the north of England were highly influential on my approach to the task of writing my own, somewhat strange if not exactly tough memoir about growing up in Sydney. I guess she taught me it's okay to be strange.

... Sure enough, I stalked them all the way to the Aotea Centre, where they disappeared, without being noticed by anyone else, underground like a couple of literary gnomes, small, light and springy, and each with a similarly abundant head of fuzzy hair, as if they are equally matched in the power of their brains that are so hot-wired they frazzle the hair that grows out of them.

Their 'pop-up' demand-driven talk as an extra feature of the Auckland Writers' Festival and set up underneath the Aotea Centre, was fabulous: intimate, funny and insightful. Unfortunately their solo talks for the festival were sold out before we got there, but tomorrow night we go to see -- or rather to hear -- Gloria Steinem, so mustn't grumble.

And a big hip-hop-hooray to the Auckland Writers' Festival for hosting all these great writers!!!


  1. I too am a great fan of Jeanette Winterson . She & Susie have just been at the Sydney Writers Festival. I love hearing her voice. Richard Fidler, arguably Australia's best interviewer...thousands of his interviews are on podcasts or the ABC website...he has done a few with her. Her springy energy which you refer to is on view everywhere. She writes with it, she speaks with it she moves with it. She's a passionate extraordinary dynamo. You should have used your balletic skills and leapt into their pathway. I reckon both of them would have been gracious & encouraging about your journey. They both started publishing once upon a time. Next time ......go girl!

    1. Those balletic skills you speak of are fast deteriorating, I'm afraid, and unfortunately the queue for her encouragement was too long for an ageing dancer to leap in, but maybe some day. Good that our trans-Tasman festivals coincide. I appreciate the comment!

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