It’s so cliched to like Tim Winton. He’s the only Australian novelist most people have heard of. As soon as I tell people I’m a novelist, they ask if I’m going to be the next Tim Winton. I’m never sure quite how to answer that.
Well, I used to answer it by being anti-trendy – disliking Tim Winton’s work and anything else that was trendy, anything that was read comfortably in suburban bookclubs, anything that the general population liked. I enjoyed being the only person in the world who didn’t like Tim Winton’s work.
But this was based on reading The Riders when I was fourteen and Lockie Leonard when I was eighteen.
Then in 2002 I begrudgingly read Cloudstreet, and had to admit it was excellent. (I read it again two years later.) I then went on and read Dirt Music and The Turning. When I read the Turning, I had to repent completely and admit to admiring Winton immensely. It is a brilliant book, with a clean lyricism that his other work doesn’t have. (The thing I like least about Winton is what most people like most – the vernacular, slangy writing.)
I also had to change my mind a lot when I discovered that he was deeply influenced by my favourite theologian – John Howard Yoder, the Anabaptist. I’ve written two simplified versions of Yoder’s work and was amazed that another Western Australian writer admired him.
So, I’d actually really like to have a conversation with Tim. And my opportunity came when a couple swapped tickets with Nicole and I at the Australian String Quartet because the wife had a cough and wanted to be at the back. I was promoted to the second row. A couple came in just before it started and were confused by the numbering. I said to the man, ‘You’ve got the right seat.’ He said, ‘Thanks, mate.’
And then I realised it was Tim Winton.
I spent the performance rehearsing what to say to him. I didn’t want to sound like one more wanna be writer who wants to talk to Tim Winton (ie “I’m a writer too”). But neither did I want to sound conceited (ie “I’m a prize winning novelist too – not the Booker, mind.”). And I didn’t want to talk to him because he was famous – I wanted to talk to him because he was interested in Yoder and wrote good books.
I thought of how he was such a private person and seemed to hate all the publicity. I thought of all the idiots that try to introduce themselves to him. And with my heart thumping away at the end of the performance, I kept silent and watched him walk away.