There was a very casual feel to the conversation between John Birmingham and Chad Taylor at the Festival Club during the Sydney Writer's Festival. The audience was rewarded with an informal chat between two blokes in armchairs, quaffing Glenffidich whiskey and talking about fireworks, literature and, inevitably, drugs.
Birmingham is probably best known for He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, a gonzo memoir of share house living in Australia. A successful freelance journalist, Birmingham has just completed Dopeland, an investigation of marijuana culture in Australia.
A follower of the New Journalism school that has the writer become part of the narrative, Birmingham "pulled cones with the people you'd expect, students and feral Nimbin types," as well as with a brace of lawyers, police, teachers and the deputy mayor of "a relatively important city".
And no, he isn't saying who.
Taylor is a New Zealand author whose latest book, Electric, revolves around a drug-riddled triangle of a data entry worker and two mathematicians, set during Auckland's Summer of Blackouts in 1998.
"The blackout was great - very organic. We're working towards another one," Taylor said. "It was a natural setting for a novel, very surreal, very metaphorical. Dangerous and strange."
While the common link between the two seems obvious - Birmingham suggested that it was because they were both stereotyped as drug writers - they also share opinions on the state of literature in the region.
"Big L" literature, as they describe it, no longer connects to the real world. It's left to "small L" literature writers, the journalists, crime writers and drug scribes, to get their fingers dirty and get the meaty stories out there."
"I really love literature, you need it like you need vegetables," said Taylor. "But it's become this timid thing".
Birmingham is slightly more diplomatic.
"That's really harsh," he said. "I agree with you, but it's a dangerous thing to say around here."
But with the bottle of whiskey rapidly running low - shared between the writers and a couple of punters in the front row - and the night growing old, honesty is somehow appropriate. And the crowd didn't mind at all.
– Ben Douglas, Dosagemag.com June 6th 2003
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