Ballarat Writers Festival draws award-winning novelists to first showing

Family Skeleton: author Carmel Bird will discuss her darkly comic novel about a family of funeral directors who are beset by their own loss - and a filmmaker.

Family Skeleton: author Carmel Bird will discuss her darkly comic novel about a family of funeral directors who are beset by their own loss - and a filmmaker.

Two award-winning novelists will appear at the forthcoming Ballarat Writers Festival, which opens next weekend.

Carmel Bird and Sofie Laguna have both recently gained wider recognition for their writing by receiving significant prizes.

Ms Bird, who lives in Castlemaine, was awarded the $20,000 Patrick White award for her body of work. She recently completed her ninth novel, Family Skeleton, which she will discuss with local writer Bronwyn Blaicklock.

The Choke: Miles Franklin Award winner Sofie Laguna will talk about her latest novel examining the shattered life of a child and her struggle to survive.

The Choke: Miles Franklin Award winner Sofie Laguna will talk about her latest novel examining the shattered life of a child and her struggle to survive.

Sofie Laguna will be attending the festival to talk about her latest novel The Choke with critic and ABC Book Show panellist Jason Steger.

Ms Laguna won the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Eye of the Sheep, the story of Jimmy, a boy who finds life both difficult and exhilarating as he struggles to communicate.

Carmel Bird says her support of regional festivals meant she welcomed the opportunity to attend the first of its kind in Ballarat.

“These things are tremendously important to people who live in places like Ballarat and Bendigo, regional areas outside of the city,” says Ms Bird.

“I know they don’t have much money, so I was very pleased to be invited.”

Ms Bird’s novel Family Skeleton charts the fortunes of a family of Toorak funeral directors, the O’Days, and how their matriarch Margaret considers writing a memoir (The Book of Revelation) after her faithless husband dies in his mistress’s arms.

Bush vision: the hearse that appeared out the bush near Chewton in Central Victoria and inspired Carmel Bird's novel. Picture: Carmel Bird.

Bush vision: the hearse that appeared out the bush near Chewton in Central Victoria and inspired Carmel Bird's novel. Picture: Carmel Bird.

The author said the genesis of the novel arose after she encountered a strange vision while travelling to Melbourne Airport on a bus.

“Out of the bush near Chewton came this shining, beautifully preserved 1920s hearse, just sailing out of the bush and onto the road, into the distance. And something went ‘ping’ – it was quite magical.”

The Choke is Sofie Laguna’s third adult novel. It tells the haunting story of Justine, a child abandoned by her mother and raised by her ‘Pop’, a man whose visions of his experiences on the Burma Railway during World War Two torture him.

Ms Laguna says The Choke was inspired by a dark point in her own life when she felt alone and abandoned, and by seeing the 2003 Nick Broomfield documentary about the serial killer Aileen Wuornos, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer.

”I was really upset by the nature of Aileen’s childhood; I didn’t feel as much empathy as I might have for her victims,” says Ms Laguna.

“I so felt for the child that she was and the nature of her suffering, which was too great to endure. I wanted to give that 13-year-old a voice. And so that became The Choke.

The Ballarat Writers Festival is on October 20-22.