As testimony to one of Australia’s most celebrated authors, Brisbane readers filled the Ithaca Room at City Hall to meet with Writer in Residence, author Tim Winton.
The author of Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and My Island Home, has penned a non-fiction book—The Boy Behind the Curtain—full of extraordinarily powerful true stories and reflections that will stop you in your tracks.
Quiet, shy, laconically funny, Tim Winton answered questions about his childhood and pivotal moments in his life, and treated the audience to excerpts from his new book.
Right at home
Comfortable in his surrounds, Tim looked like every second surfer I’d seen on the coast over the weekend – long hair, red surfer T-shirt and jeans (not shorts).
He pays a compliment to the beauty of City Hall, jokes about the glass of water before him saying ,” I wish it was vodka” and confesses he’d much rather write fiction than his tell-all tale but concurs: “People might stop asking me questions. I can just say go read the book.”
He tells of being a thirteen-year-old boy and doing the forbidden – taking his Dad’s gun from the back of the cupboard. Over the course of a year he’d pointed the gun at passers-by through the gauzy front curtain of their house.
“This could have been a pivotal moment in my life. My Dad was the local copper and what if someone had seen me?” Tim says.
“I now look back and see an anxious little boy, who in looking through the sight of the gun was trying to make the world around him smaller, make it microscopic in order to cope,” he says.
“I’d just moved to a new town, was off to high school with a bunch of teenagers I didn’t know and didn’t feel that there was anyone I could talk to. I had a loving family, but I was the eldest so couldn’t talk to my siblings.”
Another pivotal moment was when Tim was five-years-of-age. He explains: “Dad was a motorcycle cop who always handled traffic accidents. Then one day it was my dad who was in a serious accident. A driver who’d run a stop sign slammed him into a brick wall.
“He was near death when paramedics arrived and was saved by them performing an emergency tracheotomy on the street. I like to think it was with a pen. The subsequent recuperation forced me to become the sibling enforcer and family protector. My siblings still joke that I have a managerial role in the family.”
The pen would have an impact in Tim’s life again, after a back injury incurred from an accident of his own, put an end to a labouring career.
“The injuries to my back were so severe that it put paid to my thoughts of being a brick layer. I dabbled in writing; I had to get going and fast so I could make a living for myself and soon after my young family. There was no Plan B.”
Writing was in the blood
“I have known since I was ten-years-old that I wanted to be a writer.I’ve been writing solidly since I was sixteen and had three books published in my twenties.”
Tim says he hated it when he was called a ‘wunderkid’. “This was my job. I had to work. I also loved reading; with reading and my writing you are in the moment – nothing else around you matters at that time. I sometimes feel weightless when I am in the moment.”
Asked about his relationship to author Elizabeth Jolley who taught him creative writing as an undergraduate, Tim says: “She was older than I am now when I met her but she taught me a lot about respecting other people and respecting other people’s work. She bounced my children on her knee and I miss her dearly.”
As he leaves the stage ready to sign our books he jokes: “For a Brisbane audience you’re quite civilised.”
One audience member summed it up for us all when she said, “I am so glad you’re not a bricklayer.” For a moment this storyteller was speechless, “Thank you for your kind words.”
It was a moment that resonated with us all.
The Boy Behind the Curtain is out now in hardback and ebook.