Twilight School regular Suzette Worden talks about her passion for our conversation evenings and her experience with guest speakers James Button and Arnold Zable.

Twilight School

When we moved to Sunbury, our friend Alice told us about a new venture just getting off the ground locally. She thought we might be interested in the talks at the Twilight School. That has certainly been so, and, with gardening and photography in the mix I have enjoyed being a regular Twilight attender. In reflecting on this, I find that it is not just the novelty of hearing about something new or getting a new twist on the familiar that has been the events’ mainstay: it is also the way that the events trigger follow-up reading and refocus ideas that have been hovering in the back of my mind. It’s great to attend such welcoming and inclusive events and enjoy the moment, but lingering questions still keep me thinking at unexpected times.

So, almost four years on, I can mention plenty of challenging questions, chance comments and suggestions for a great read. Learning more about the local Melbourne culture through listening to writers like Alice Pung, Helen Garner, Hannie Rayson, James Button, Arnold Zable and Tony Birch has been a wonderful experience. On reflection, I have appreciated the creative mix of Bruno’s questions that goes deep into themes and issues but also focus on asking not only why but also how do you write?

I remember the conversation between Bruno and James Button about James’s book, Speechless, a Year in My Father’s Business. I recall the discussion when James talked about how he confronted strong emotional issues through writing about his relationship with his father and, if I remember correctly, how he found ways of expressing this by working it out through the writing process itself. Getting to read the book a while later, I realised these aspects were a strong force in the narrative, but the way in which the workings of government are described and discussed is a strength of the book I really appreciate.

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Image credit: Amanda Piper

James reflects on the reason for writing the book as much as telling the story about being a speechwriter, which he described as “a job poised somewhere between dreams and delivery”. Ironically, he didn’t get to see the delivery of many of the speeches he wrote for Kevin Rudd, but throughout the book he provided many insights into the backroom of politics and “how it all worked”. Ethics, the media, the calibre of politicians, the nature of a speech, what it is to be a public servant and the insider-outsider divide in politics are considered in depth in his book. While contextualised in a discussion of the Rudd government, they are still relevant today.

While I remind myself of the wealth of detail in these discussions in James’s book, I am struck by how much I have enjoyed the comparative economy in the style of Arnold Zable’s writing. In his visits to the Twilight School, Arnold explained his commitment to the role of the storyteller. Reading his book, The Fighter, I was entranced by the way the evocative, yet concise text created a picture of the individuals he respected and that fascinated him. At the same time, he conjured up their surroundings. The places and people are then combined, and through this the story seems so real. The storyteller has me captivated.

The individuality of the writers and the variety of the talks stays with me. I can also mention the humorous moments. But what stays with me most are the “introductions”. Isn’t this what a conversation is for?

Suzette Worden

Suzette Worden is another passionate Twilight School regular who has gifted us with her thoughts on the Twilight School experience.