Sydney Writers' Festival returns to St George

Author talk: Troy Bramston will discuss his experiences interviewing Paul Keating during a talk at Hurstville next week. Picture: Supplied
Author talk: Troy Bramston will discuss his experiences interviewing Paul Keating during a talk at Hurstville next week. Picture: Supplied

The Sydney Writers’ Festival will come to St George this month with two media personalities taking to the stage to speak on their latest books.

Troy Bramston will present his book Paul Keating: The Big-Picture Leader on May 25 at Hurstville Library while Tracey Spicer will speak on her novel The Good Girl Stripped Bare on May 22 at Kogarah Library.

Troy Bramston is a senior writer at the Australian and has authored and co-authored books on the Rudd and Gillard era, the Hawke Government and the Wran era amongst others.

For his latest book he had almost unprecedented access to Paul Keating and his inner circle.

‘’Keating has not cooperated with a biographer for 20 years. He's unlikely to write a memoir,’’ he said.

‘’But I thought it was essential that I interview him for the book. Although I had interviewed him many times in the past, for The Australian and other books, he refused to be involved.

‘’So I started researching and writing the book anyway. Eventually he agreed - I think because he realised the scale of research was bigger than any other previous biography about him. Having his voice in the book was really important - and I asked him things he had never been asked before.

‘’There are other biographies and books about Keating, so I set a high bar for myself to come up with new material to offer a fresh account.

‘’Not only did I interview Keating at length, but I also spoke to more than 100 other people and discovered many new archival documents here and abroad.’’

He said it was an experience of a lifetime interviewing the former Prime Minister.

‘’This was the opportunity of a lifetime; a real privilege and an honour,’’ he said,

‘’We did the interviews in his office. He would sometimes sit, stand or pace the room. He was sometimes very funny but also got cranky when I pushed him on an issue or challenged him.

‘’But we had a respect for each other and so it was frank and fruitful.’’

He said the most interesting aspect of the research was examining Keating's early life.

‘’His mum, dad and grandmother gave him confidence and encouragement. The Catholic nuns and brothers taught Keating what was in his soul but it was the nonagenarian former premier Jack Lang who instructed him in his politics,’’ he said.

‘’I chronicle his stormy time in Young Labor and his controversial preselection for the seat of Blaxland in 1968. And his early jobs at the Sydney County Council, as a wedding photographer, a salesman at David Jones, working for a Hong Kong trading company, a trade union and managing a rock and blues band called The Ramrods.’’

He said his impression of Keating only grew after finishing the book.

‘’I had a lot of respect for him and I found him to be a compelling figure, but having written the book this was even more so,’’ he said.

‘’I learnt a lot about him and I hope readers will too. Keating told me that he learned a few things too, such as what other people around him thought or were doing.

’’At the launch of the book, Keating said it was the best book written about him even if he didn't agree with some of what I wrote. I'm happy with that.’’

The 20th Sydney Writers’ Festival runs from May 22 to May 28 with over 400 events and 450 writers across Sydney.

Bookings: www.eventbrite.com.au.