For one magic hour this weekend, a silver airstream trailer became my portal to another world. Inside were the staff from Dumbo Feather, three strangers, and debut novelist Jennifer Down with a copy of her book, Our Magic Hour; brought together by Melbourne Writer’s Festival. Jennifer was a lovely surprise – when you book into Caravan Conversations, there are no advance clues as to who is going to walk in (duck through) the door.
Nathan, Dumbo Feather editor and very slick event host, served me a white wine – which felt incredibly decadent at 2pm when almost everyone else was on tea and water – and his colleague hosted a mini interview around the dining table. Jennifer’s debut novel follows a group of friends in their mid-20s after the suicide of one of their group. It’s an exploration of the ripple effect of grief and although entirely fictitious, I love that she has lifted conversations from friends and family over the years and reworked them into the character’s dialogue. She is impressively only 25 herself, and wanted to write about that age when you’re supposed to be getting it all together but still don’t know who you are. It’s cute now, after the event, seeing her tweets that she was trying to be grown up at MWF – I am still pretending even as I approach 40 … I think we all are, at any age … but you nailed it, Jennifer 🙂 !
The confines of the caravan created an intimacy between our small group, and we had the chance to discover a little of Jennifer’s personal inspiration for the book’s themes, which she hadn’t shared with her big audience earlier in the day at her official MWF16 event. She answered all our questions – how long did it take you to write?; do you tell people you might use their words in your stories?; did you always want to be a writer? – and was incredibly thoughtful and eloquent. Even as our little caravan was surrounded by rowdy protestors (Flinders Street Station is the meeting point for political marches on all manner of things), she didn’t miss a beat and held our attention.
I think we felt pretty special being so close to a real writer – even though some of us in the airstream are writing ourselves and know plenty of others who are – it’s another thing to have a personal audience with a newly published writer who clearly has big things ahead of her!
In Melbourne, it’s so easy to fill your week with film and book and art events, but it’s these unexpected, joyous, personal moments that will linger. Another girl in our group had booked into every single MWF/Dumbo Feather Caravan Conversations, and after experiencing my first one I can see why. The personal attention, the relaxed caravan vibe, and the chance to have your questions answered could get addictive.
Dumbo Feather: I hope you made sense of my post-event feedback form, which gave you 10 out of 10 for everything and three rather pedestrian words which were all variations on the theme of ‘awesome’ – because that white wine on an empty stomach in a warm caravan went to my head pretty quickly!
Jennifer: I hope I didn’t gush too much about your awesome publisher (Text!) and your fantastic achievement in getting this book out and having a collection of short stories in the works. I can’t wait to read everything you write!