The Wheeler Centre 176 Little Lonsdale St Melbourne Hot or Not review

Did you know that Melbourne is the world’s second UNESCO City of Literature, part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network?

So it’s fitting that the city has created a space such as The Wheeler Centre (named after Tony and Maureen Wheeler, the founders of Lonely Planet), a centre for books, writing and ideas which launched just a few weeks ago.

What’s particularly fabulous about The Wheeler Centre is the series of reading and book related events in its public program – and it’s almost all free! As a result, lots of events book out quickly so you need to keep an eye on the diary to make sure you don’t miss out.

One of the first events to sell out was Jennifer Byrne, host of the popular ABC program The Book Show, in conversation with one of my favourite Australian authors Helen Garner. I love Jennifer – she’s so warm and personable in her interviews that it feels like a fireside chat, but she’s a consummate professional so that the discussion is steered with a steady, focused hand (unlike the audience Q&A sessions – sorry, but 5 minutes later, what’s your actual question??).

I first encountered Helen Garner’s work via Joe Cinque’s Consolation, her non-fiction work about the murder case against young law student Anu Singh. I was drawn to her writing by her ability to delve into the dark areas of people’s psyche and her spare yet vivid and powerful writing style. She also strikes me as someone who calls a spade a spade and is tough and straightforward in her everyday life – apparently she’s often described as ‘unflinching’.

Over the course of the hour, Jennifer and Helen discussed the writing process, the ‘personal emergency’ and urgency that drives Helen to put pen to paper and how often her characters come barging into her head, fully present. Helen said that every one of her books is a continuation of the last book, so that all her works are just one great big long book which describe what she makes of the world and her life as she’s lived it. Helen also writes every day in her diary, partly as a record of her daily events and feelings but also to practice the discipline of articulating fleeting things.

They also discussed Helen’s particular fascination with the courts and how the judicial system provides a disciplined and organised framework to present the worst that people can do to each other. Helen’s next book will be a non-fiction work about Robert Farquharson, a 40 year old man who drove his three children into a dam on Father’s Day 2005, so they spent some time talking about why Helen chooses to delve into the blackest, maddest corners of humanity, and why she finds it particularly interesting to write stories exploring how people’s capacity to reason can threaten to give way to the first steps towards horror. You can watch the interview here.

If you like reading, I’d highly recommend checking out the program at The Wheeler Centre – it’s like having a writers festival in the city all year round.