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 2013!

QLA Award winners 2013

QLA Award winners 2013

I was lucky enough to attend the 2nd annual Queensland Literary Awards last night – The People’s Literary Awards after the Newman government, as one of its first acts, cut funding and dismantled the previous Premier’s awards.
Well poo to you Can Do Campbell. It’s better this way. Just don’t send along one of your lackey’s next time and try to muscle in on the action. Handing out a few $15 000 fellowships doesn’t make you a friend of the literary community, I’m afraid.
The minister for just about everything else including the arts, made a quick speech, explaining that he had to rush off to the (not said, but surely felt) much more important Rugby League Awards. I wonder how much money Rugby League received from the state coffers? And hey, aren’t football players PAID? Thousands of dollars every year? Excuse me while I just pop another bottle of Moet and polish the Porsche with it.
Anyway, enough moaning. At least he was forced to read two short stories as part of the process, so we’ve increased his literacy.

Once he left, the mood lightened and we celebrated some truly wonderful writing and the hard work of the organising committee, especially the magnificent Claire Booth who has worked for a whole year as manager, unpaid. Cheers were loudest for the locals and two favourites took out the big prizes, Kris Olsson for the wonderful Boy Lost and Melssia Lucashenko for Mullumbimby. I’m not sure but Melissa could be the first indigenous woman to take out a major fiction prize in Australia. Well done to them both – tireless, inspiring writers.
Cate Kennedy took out the Steele Rudd Short story prize, the only award for short story collections in the country, with her Like A House on Fire.

This year mentorships were given to the shortlistees of the emerging writer categories, both for indigenous and mainstream. A wonderful idea. Mentorships are worth their weight in gold anytime, but especially when you’re just starting out. Well done QLA Committee.
The O’Hara family sponsored the emerging writer prize in memory of their late mother. Three of her daughters took to the stage and honoured the “fight in the dog” of every writer, acknowledging the sheer guts it takes just to finish writing a manuscript let alone getting it published.

My favourite speech of the night was by the winner of the Young Adult Book Award, Jaclyn Moriarty,(A Corner of White) who told us about growing up in a house where pocket money was only paid if you’d filled an exercise book with stories. $1.50. Her wily father then used to win their earnings back with a toy roulette wheel. But what moved me was when she talked about receiving letters from her teenage readers. One thirteen year old wrote, “when I’m feeling bad, I hold one of your books and I feel better.” Jaclyn went on to talk about how important books are because they provide this comfort. That it is through literature that we, perhaps for the first time, or the only time, feel that we are not isolated. And, she went on, this is why literary awards and the prize money they provide, are important too. Because they give writers the time and space they need to create the books that provide this comfort and connection.
She further endeared herself by forgetting to take her prize and then stumbling as she left the podium. She probably thought she’d made a mess of things, but for me, she’d touched the very heart of why we write and read. To find and give that comfort.