DYING – a memoir

Cory Taylor

Last night I went to the launch of Cory Taylor’s beautiful new memoir Dying.

Cory is a friend of mine but the advertising for this event was the first I knew about her impending death. At first I glanced at it and laughed, thinking it was a publicity stunt. I hadn’t seen her in a long while, but thought she was happily writing in her cottage in Japan. Cory herself said that when she saw the publicity she thought, “How sad,” not realising it was her. But she is. She really is. Dying.

Death is staring her in the face and she’s had the courage to stare right back and write about it. Because, as she says, “I’m a writer. What else was I going to do?” And that is why I love her and why this book is filled with grace and greatness.

The launch was one of the stranger events of my life, half-launch half-living wake, with Cory skyped in from her lounge room, joking that she was speaking to us from the afterlife and that the technology wasn’t so crash hot up there. It’s this sense of humour that infuses a book that could be full of a dark weight, and makes it a joy. A gift to us all. I haven’t even finished it yet and already I’ve marked several passages I want to write out and stick on my wall. Yes, that’s how good it is!

I knew Cory was a wonderful prose stylist before this (and that is my highest praise of any writer), having read her first novel, the Commonwealth Prize winning, Me and Mr Booker. I somehow missed out on her second My Beautiful Enemy which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, but it’s just shoved all the other books off my to read pile.

So there was Cory grinning at us from her lounge room, looking very much like she was dying, but happy – and the crowd of us at Avid Reader, torn between tears and laughter. Brave presenters included her publishers at Text who have already sold the book overseas, Krissy Kneen who called Cory her literary idol and struggled to hold back tears, as did Benjamin Law whose eyes glistened all through his speech about his old friend, thanking her for the gift of this beautiful book that lets us know we are not alone. Kris Olsson spoke about how angry she felt knowing that Cory was dying, so young, only just sixty. How she was angry at the birds, the trees, the sky, the air. But how grateful she was too, for Cory’s writing and her courage in creating this book.

Then the wonderful Fiona Stager of Avid Reader said a few words from her heart, that, had you not already been weeping, would have unstoppered the toughest old cork. We laughed and we cried and celebrated Cory’s writing. A woman in the audience spoke about grief, about not wanting to do stiff upper lip anymore, that we should have all been freer with our tears. And I agree with her, mostly.

Except Cory’s not dead yet. She’s alive and vibrant and fiercely intelligent and funny and last night was a celebration of her life’s work as a writer. I wasn’t going to weep about that. Not then. Only this morning, when I realised her voice is going to be lost to the world.

Don’t be afraid of this book, it’s as funny as it is sad, and is filled with wisdom and love and beautiful, beautiful writing like this.

When you’re dying, even your unhappiest memories can induce a sort of fondness, as if delight is not confined to the good times, but is woven through your days like a skein of gold thread.

I couldn’t recommend a book any more highly. Buy a copy for everyone you know.

QUEENSLAND LITERARY AWARDS

Queensland Literary Awards: Queensland Book of the Year winner Simon Cleary, Fiction Book Award winner Frank Moorhouse and Non-Fiction Book Award winner Robin De Crespigny. Picture: Liam Kidston

Queensland Literary Awards: Queensland Book of the Year winner Simon Cleary, Fiction Book Award winner Frank Moorhouse and Non-Fiction Book Award winner Robin De Crespigny. Picture: Liam Kidston

 

Last night I had the great pleasure of attending the inaugural Queensland Literary Awards. And what a wonderful night it was. After the heinous axing of the Premier’s awards by the new conservative government, the power of the people and the hard work of a few like Krissy Kneen, Claire Booth and Matthew Condon, made these awards the “most noble”of the literary calendar this year as Fiction Book winner Frank Moorhouse noted in his acceptance speech.

Not a politician in sight, which meant the speeches were entertaining and the room was filled with laughter and feel-good vibes. Richard Fidler, host of Conversations on ABC radio, hosted the event and set the tone for the evening by saying that by sacrificing our literary prize money we writers had saved Queensland from certain Apocalypse.

With fifteen awards in all, there are too many to list here. The event made the front page of The COurier Mail however so click here for  a complete list.

Highlights for me were the emerging writer prize, won by Catherine Titasey for her manuscript, “Islands of the Unexpected”. She’d flown all the way from Thursday Island where she lives, and the book is set, to accept the award and accompanying bottle of coins collected by literary buskers. She had never met another writer.

Winner of the David Unaipon Award, SivParker, moved the audience when she told of how her mother had taught herself to read using Anne of Green Gables! Without the efforts of volunteers and donors, there would have been no award this year for her to win.

I’d entered Thrill Seekers in the Young Adult section but was up against some fierce competiton. I was happy to cheer for Neil Grant’s book about a young refugee from Afghanistan and an Australian boy, The Ink Bridge.

When the award for best Non-Fiction book was announced and the winner stood up, I got a shiver down my spine, because from the back she looked so much like my best writing buddy Helena Pastor who I imagined one day also winning the award. Robin De Crespigny won with The People Smuggler, humanising the face that many demonise.

The party after the event was a hoot. Spirits were high and the drinks were free. It felt like we’d all achieved something quite grand, together. We’d stood up for the importance of writing and reading. The strength of the winners was that they all, in their different ways, showed how the power of story helps change the way we think.

Congratulations to all the winners and most especially to those who worked so hard to ensure that Queensland’s vibrant literary scene retained its awards.