There aren’t many writers’ festival events that claim to offer you the meaning of life. But Defining Moments was about this and about those individuals who search for fulfilment and their compromised dreams. It also featured four excellent female writers: Claire Messud, Georgia Blain and Cate Kennedy in conversation with Monica Dux.

The session commenced with the three authors reading excerpts from their books. Kennedy was reading from her collection of short stories, Like A House On Fire. It boasted a funny scene about a woman who has just given birth and realised her partner is a no-hopper. When she asked him to bring some baby clothes for his newborn child he decided to bring a mini motorcycle jacket.

Blain’s reading was also from her new short story collection, The Secret Lives Of Men. This series questions why men are often a mystery to women. Messud’s book, The Woman Upstairs was a rather different one and like a scene fromThe Stepford Wives. In her novel the women appear happy in their comfortable, tidy and presentable homes but they also battle a flurry of disappointments on the inside.

All three of the women write in a way that is poignant, sensitive and soul-searching. Kennedy described how she searches for universal truths and relatable experiences, like the divide between what we had imagined we wanted, the compromises we make and the things we do come to accept. The work of the writer is often to provide a mirror to the soul or a frame to these specific moments, as the reader can absorb themselves by witnessing how others often negotiate and grapple with certain struggles.

Ultimately, all of the authors wanted their readers to connect with their stories, possibly even experience a visceral reaction and feel the same sort of tension and release as their characters. Blain said we often enjoy witnessing people who undergo a turning point and how they negotiate with the inertia that stems from struggling with the best and worst of versions of themselves.

The three women write books that are emotional and evocative. They write about the human condition and generally do so from the female perspective. Kennedy says she started writing after she experienced a feeling of exhilaration and gratitude after reading something special. She also decided that she wanted to add her own voice to this chorus. Blain didn’t have her own sudden epiphany; writing was always something she wanted to do. And Messud had a similar experience to Blain- once she realised writing was something you could do, she wanted to get on board.

Defining Moments was ultimately a rather thinking and feeling discussion from a clever group of women. It all felt very real, even if Messud conceded that she often spends more time explaining her fiction then actually penning it. In short, it was a lot like life in general, in that the conversation flowed, bubbled and fizzed with the important and more interesting elements; and at other times it was less exciting and more forgettable. But like life, you will be happy to know that the good often outweighed the bad.

Originally published on 29 May 2013 at the following website:

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