Writing a Life Less Ordinary – Monica Dux in conversation with Rayya Elias and Ursula Martinez

Writing a Life Less Ordinary – Monica Dux in conversation with Rayya Elias and Ursula Martinez

Another day of Writers Week, another gorgeous combination of interesting people and fascinating ideas.

The second session I attended todalife_less_ordinaryy was Writing a Life Less Ordinary, featuring three women whose work is based in autobiography: Monica Dux (who chaired the event, right), Rayya Elias and Ursula Martinez. Dux is an Australian columnist, Elias is a Syrian-American musician (and former hairdresser to fellow Writers Week guest Elizabeth Gilbert), and Martinez is a British “cult cabaret diva”.

Although initially appearing to have little in common, the three women soon relaxed in each other’s company and conversation flowed freely. They spoke candidly about using difficult and painful aspects of their lives to fuel their work: Dux has written an explicit book about her pregnancy, Things I Didn’t Expect (When I Was Expecting); Elias has penned her autobiography, Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair and Post-Punk from the Middle East to the Lower East Side, which tells of her battle with drug addiction; and Martinez has created a one-woman show My Stories Your Emails based on the frightening attention she received after unauthorised recordings of her strip-tease/magic show Hanky Panky went viral online.

App_rayya_eliass with other women in Writers Week sessions I have attended, Dux, Elias (left) and Martinez were very concerned with the nature of autobiography, the act of turning one’s own personal history into art, and balancing the urge towards truth with the urge towards story. Dux said that, to be interesting, autobiography has to be about something bigger than just the self; which reminded me of Terry Castle, in Reviewing the Reviewer, calling biography a “lifeline”, a guide for how to be human.

As a publisher, it’s always gratifying to hear authors speak about how helpful the process of being edited can be. I loved hearing Elias – whose autobiography is her first book – saying that “working with an editor is like getting a PhD in writing”. Speaking about publishing online, Elias’s remarks reminded me of Robyn Kenealy’s in Comicsville; how digital feedback can give you a rush, like performance, and how you have to be careful not to become addicted to it. What a contrast to Martinez’s negative experience of having her work uploaded to the internet and then being hounded.pp_ursula-martinez

Overall, another excellent and stimulating session. I particularly liked Martinez’s parting advice: “keep everything that inspires you”. More words to live by.

Ursula Martinez is performing My Stories Your Emails nightly at the Hannah Playhouse until Saturday 15 March

by Elizabeth Heritage, on behalf of Booksellers NZ

Babies and bodily fluids with Monica Dux, Tuesday 11 March

Bursting the Baby Bubble, with Monica Dux, chaired by Pip Adam

This was the event I most looked forward to coming to, and it pp_monica_duxdidn’t disappoint. Pip Adam was an incredibly good chair, and Dux an engaging and warm presence. After Pip’s introduction, which concluded with a quote that formed the crux of the book What I Didn’t Expect When I Was Expecting, ‘It’s not all good, it’s not all bad. It is what it is,’ Dux opened our eyes with a hilarious reading from the beginning of the chapter called ‘Down There’…all about our vaginas and what happens to them during childbirth. I figure she was clearing the room of anybody who wasn’t up for what she had them in for…

cv_things_i_didn't_expectHer book, according to chair, Pip Adam, (which I now own to give to an expectant friend after a quick read) is a perfectly-pitched combination of anecdotal and research-based findings. She uses mums and experts, and some who are both, with equal confidence, to make her points. When asked about her methods, Dux mentioned chat groups online as a source, but attributed the willingness of women to talk to her personally about their experiences as a reason her book succeeded in its aim – to appraise women of the actuality of childbirth, and bust open the myth that if you do everything by the book, your child will emerge as perfect as you deserve. Your body doesn’t read the books, so it doesn’t know these rules.

Dux wrote the book (her second, after The Great Feminist Denial) because she was angry – about the way she was treated during pregnancy, about the platitutes she was fed by apparent experts, and by the way she was seen after birth – as constantly lacking somewhere. I can identify fully with this as a mum of two small children, like her I had such a disappointing experience with my first child that I was keen to try a different way the second time. Dux said that there is a sense with all the things women go through, of ‘trying to push ourselves back in, and be quiet about it.’

Problems with what is the norm for breastfeeding and post-partum recovery, and even the history of miscarriage were discussed. One thing I found fascinating was the division of mother from foetus that has happened thanks to the advances of technology. This has put the mother in conflict with the foetus in some important ways – all the rules to do with pregnancy being a symptom of this. These rules, Dux says, about drinking and eating good foods, are being hammered home to the wrong cultural group – middle-class white women, rather than those who may need it, or more importantly, need help to do it.

Motherhood in politics is less popular than feminism in politics, says Dux. While blogs on motherhood are often light and funny, they don’t often touch on things like the political rights of mothers. Meanwhile, feminists don’t tend to foray into the area of mother’s rights because they often come to their beliefs prior to having children. Meanwhile, mums are too busy to care.

One last thing that rang true for me – mothers don’t fit as equals into a working world. They also have a tendency to try and hide their kids away, to appear on a more equal footing. This is sad and needs to be addressed by both private and public organisations. I am lucky within my workplace, but I know a lot of women who are unhappy and unable to do anything about it for fear of losing their livelihood. Here is hoping change is on its way.

by Sarah Forster, Web Editor , Booksellers NZ

Words of the Day: Tuesday 4 March


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The Secret of Magic is a book that will move you.’ A look into post-WW2 southern USA bigotry.

Here is the March book review schedule for Radio NZ @ninetonoon

Book Review: Charlotte and the Golden Promise, by Sandy McKay

Elizabeth Knox and Kate De Goldi will be at the new Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival.

If Rime of the Ancient Mariner is on your @NZFestival shortlist, you better hurry – tickets are selling fast!

A 24-hour giveaway to a fab event: Writing a Life Less Ordinary next Tuesday at 3.15pm. Includes books!  

Monica Dux is coming! And she’s doing an event or two for Writer’s Week! Win tickets and books!

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If you are a writer-event-enjoyer, but a bit skint, here is your solution: free events!

We are now calling for registrations for National Poetry Day 2014. Plan ahead!

@thebookseller reviews the state of New Zealand publishing

Random House NZ have a brand new community for crime and thriller fans! Head over to http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/crime and check it out.

Booksellers NZ’s Preview of Reviews, Monday 3 March

Congratulations to those who have received funding through the NZSA/Auckland Museum research grants
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VUP newsletter online now for those who don’t subscribe. Includes Lamplighter and Horse with Hat giveaways.

Thanks everybody – enjoy your evenings.

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