Charlotte Wood in Conversation with Caroline Baum
Event Recap by Samantha Mansell
On Saturday the 18th of June, myself and one hundred and twenty others were given the opportunity to step out of the rain and into the Thirroul Community Centre to listen to Charlotte Wood speak about her award-winning novel, The Natural Way of Things. The novel has recently won a range of awards, including the 2016 Stella Prize for its unique exploration of a dystopian future where a group of promiscuous women have been locked away and punished for their perceived crimes.
After scurrying in from the cold, we helped ourselves to generous servings of corn chips and vegan dips, and when everyone was settled inside the hall, anticipation seeped into the crowd along with the combined warmth from so many bodies, and we waited for Caroline and Charlotte to begin.
Caroline began with a question of how women’s sexuality is perceived, received and responded to within our social context, and how we can engage with this as writers. As a writer myself, I was particularly fascinated by hearing how Charlotte approached this as an established author. She began her answer by explaining her inspiration behind The Natural Way of Things. A grim anger wove through the mostly female audience as Charlotte told of promiscuous girls taken to an isolated location and demeaned, alienated and objectified in every possible way.
Charlotte then spoke of the problematic historicising of these issues: “Initially, I thought ‘thank god it’s not like this anymore’, but in a lot of ways we do still do this,” and it is this she wanted to explore. “As being part of the previous generation of feminists, I’m constantly shocked at the victim-blaming within society.” Despite the tense tone beneath these issues, Charlotte managed to find humour within it, snarkily describing the concept of the “feral” woman, which many of us have encountered when trying to express anger with an issue and being met with accusations of hysteria. She rallied us with her recollections of struggling to be a writer who can express “intelligent rage”, whose job it is to expose these issues, and delighted us with her envy of the immediacy of visual artists, declaring, “I'm going to say stuff it, and be Louise Bourgeois, and hang a uterus in a cage. It doesn't matter if people don't like you as an artist.” She then shifted to inspiring as she asked, “Why are we accepting the unacceptable? Why do we accept these things?"
After ending the conversation on a triumphant note, the audience was then eager to ask their own questions, inquiring about the writing process of containing an invented world, about the archetypes and other inspiration for her female characters, and the placing of her own work within the genre of feminist dystopias, against novels such as Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale.
A warm reception followed with afternoon tea and an opportunity for people to speak with Caroline and get their book signed, the Illawarra writer’s community relishing the opportunity to interact in the same place.
Written by SCWC
Posted on June 22, 2016