Melbourne Writers Festival 2014: Joan London in Conversation

Joan LondonA review by C J Dee

Joan London is already seated on stage conversing with Jane Sullivan when I rush in a couple of minutes after the event has commenced. A combination of Melbourne’s peak hour traffic and inappropriate footwear caused me to miss the beginning of the event; I was flustered to say the least. However, only moments after sitting down I was so engrossed in what Joan had to say that I completely forgot any concerns.

The session begins with Joan discussing her first novel, Gilgamesh.

Here Joan reveals that if not for Australian author Drusilla Modjeska, Gilgamesh may never have been published. Upon finishing her first novel, Joan put it in the bottom of a drawer and dubbed it ‘rubbish, romantic nonsense’. When Drusilla came for dinner and read Gilgamesh she insisted that Joan see the novel published.

Jane moves the session along to discuss Joan’s second novel, The Good Parents.

The Good Parents, Joan tells us, was formed when she decided that she wanted to write about a major life-changing event. The event she chose to write about was having children.

A good portion of the remaining session was dedicated to Joan’s latest novel, The Golden Age.

The Golden Age is the tale of Frank, a 13-year-old refugee from Hungary who contracts polio in Australia. While rehabilitating in the eponymous hospital, Frank falls in love with another patient named Elsa. Will their love survive outside of the insulated hospital society and translate into the real world or will it crumble in the open?

When researching for The Golden Age, Joan discovered just how resilient children can be. The tales from within the real Golden Age centre were ones of children being children. Wheelchair races; pranks on staff; and other games were a frequent event. In the hospital children were protected from the bullying and discrimination they suffered as polio survivors in society.

One of the most interesting points I found during the session was the way Joan envisions her characters. A stack of postcards featuring faces is Joan’s inspiration base for character aesthetics. When trying to envision a character, Joan will flip through these postcards until she finds a face that matches. The face then gets prime position in front of Joan’s workspace for the duration of the writing process.

Joan admits her writing process can be a very long one for novels. This is due to the method of writing ideas and pieces of the story on paper that can be found throughout her surroundings. Only when Joan feels that the parts will form a solid story will she begin the writing process.

While not the usual type of book I would gravitate towards, I will definitely be getting my hands on a copy of The Golden Age after hearing the stories behind the story.

The Golden Age cover

ISBN: 9781741666441
Published: 01/08/2014
Imprint: Vintage Australia (Random House)
Extent: 256 pages

– See more at: http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/joan-london/the-golden-age-9781741666441.aspx#sthash.jXSh7vRT.dpuf