27 October 2016, Readings Kids, Carlton, Melbourne, Australia
Sofie Laguna is an award winning author for children and adults. She won the 2016 Miles Franklin Award for 'The Eye of the Sheep'.
First of all, Kim I want to say how beautiful the book looks and feels. Lovely sepia tones and like the story it takes me back to another time. I love the lyrebird in the centre, as you must, as the books central image – a keeper of the past, a symbol from the natural world, an enchanting, elusive and clever bird.
Like somebody else I know.
That was cheeky. I promised myself I would focus entirely on Kim’s book and not tell stories of how I first met Kim and things like that because its not a wedding it’s a launch. I do want to say that when I first met Kim it was through Tony Wilson and it was all about books and writing and it was another launch and Kim was wearing long striped socks – and I was impressed. With heels mind you! That was years ago and I have been impressed many times since then, and not more than I am impressed by this latest addition to her ever-growing body of work for children.
Kim this book, ‘When the Lyrebird Calls’, is wonderful.
I think a book is a kind of transaction between writer and reader. The writer plays her part in the transaction first; she travels with her character, establishing a world, developing relationships, suffering the pain of change alongside her characters. It is the writer who does the imagining first, she must pioneer the territory, chart the waters. Then it’s the reader’s turn, to imagine and travel and experience change and if the writer does her job well, imagines fully enough, goes to the places that the story requires with authenticity, with heart, and with skill, then the transaction is enriching and meaningful and the reader is expanded by it. That’s what happened to me when I read When the Lyrebird Calls; I travelled with the novel’s gutsy heroine, Madeleine, back through time, and I experienced what life was like in a very vivid and sensual way. And I felt expanded by it. This happened to me, because of Kim’s writing.
Kim describes pale yellow dresses as hayseed light, fish swim in a braid of silver, their scales shiny as coins and a lake is as muddy as caramel. Kim draws my attention to these ordinary things – dresses and fish and lakes – so that I consider them in unexpected ways. I see the world through a new lens. She draws my attention to them with elegance, and originality. The strength is in the detail, and Kim’s details are beautiful and they give life to the writing and the story. And they seem effortless, they are cleanly drawn, without a line out of place. Kim uses language, relishes language, its musicality and its playfulness and its possibilities, and that’s what I responded to in ‘When the Lyrebird Calls’.
But it wasn’t only the language, nor was it the playful and compelling young voice of its narrator. Kim’s book made me think. It’s good when a book does that, isn’t it? We take it for granted, but the artist suffers for her story, works the words to within an inch of their lives (and her own!) and because of this work, all this powerful imagining, the reader is given a new awareness. The reader thinks, and asks questions.
I think I have gotten away with taking a great deal for granted, so many years caught up in imaginary worlds, with made up characters – I had the right to vote so what did the past mean to me? When the Lyrebird calls didn’t let me get away with it. It made me think about being a girl, about education, about girls in sport, the media, and body image. It made me ask why is it like this? How has it changed? Why must it take so long? What is it like to be a girl now? What made it happen this way in the first place, why this inequality? This unfair representation? And it made me ask is there some way I can hurry up the change? How can I contribute to something more positive? It’s good when a book can do all this, don’t you think? It’s magic.
All this sounds serious, and it’s true that the questions are serious, but Kim’ writing is funny. Warm and funny. Madeleine’s grandmother watches renovating programs on telly and rushes out to stock up on tools, and Madeleine can’t stay at her best friend, Nandi’s house, because Nandi Mum just had a make-up baby with Nandi’s dad so the timing isn‘t right. And she couldn’t stay with her dad because he is on a cycling trip and nothing ever gets between dad and a bike except his bike pants. Humour, clever comical moments are everywhere in the story and I appreciated every one of them.
Humour brings the story to life, endears me to its characters and their struggles. When there is humour, there is life. It helps me to tackle the story’s more serious questions, it gives the story its humanity. Because life, and human beings attempting to live it, is funny.
Kim, your book, just as you describe the Lyrebird itself, is a keeper of history. Congratulations to you, I am thrilled for you, and I can’t wait for the world to read it.
It is now my great pleasure to declare this book launched.
To purchase 'When the Lyrebird Calls' click here
Kristen Hilton's launch speech