Yvonne Fein author of "April Fool".
Yvonne Fein Talk
On Sunday May 20th, we gathered at the Holocaust Centre to hear Yvonne Fein, a talented local writer talked about her debut novel April Fool. Yvonne has also edited several Melbourne publications: Generation Journal and Melbourne Chronicle, as well as writing plays and poetry since the age of nine.
Leah Justin introduced Yvonne, telling us she met her at Melton, when Yvonne was taking a class on Contemporary Jewish Life and Short Fiction. Leah has read April Fool, describing the heroine April Taub as a "feisty Jewish babe", and said she couldn't put it down.
With that warm introduction, making those of us who haven't read it eager to get our own copy, Yvonne began to tell us about the life of a writer. She discussed why she has written a thriller, a crime novel about a tough woman who eats, drinks, swears and loves far too much and not wisely. April works for an agency that hunts Nazi war criminals.
Yvonne went on to describe what it is about crime that fascinated her and why a nice Jewish girl wanted to write crime. She had read heaps of crime novels from the classic male writers to the more recent wave of female crime writers. She has found in all of them a common thread of lonely, loner heroes with a strange morality. The issue of all of the heroes is not that they want our approval, but that they are looking for a moral centre. They are all going after what is right.
Yvonne then linked this observation to being the child of survivors. We heard our parents' stories, if indeed they spoke to us about their experiences. A select few of us were told the whole story; most of us heard bits and pieces, filtered by our parents' need to spare us their pain. We may have heard how they met, briefly how they survived by strange quirks of fate. We heard their stories through the layers of their pain.
Yvonne read all of Agatha Christie's novels and found them scary. She didn't like scary things, but found she had to read more. Then she read Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and all of the American writers. All of these books had heroes who knew where the moral centre was, the moral universe. As a child of holocaust survivors, Yvonne knew the centre does not hold; none of this counted. The victims of the holocaust were in a maelstrom of evil. Yvonne read to escape to another world, where she found everything she needed. The writing was lean and mean. It was tough; she loved the dialogue. Fiction has a centre, which can be held; it has a moral universe, which can't be shaken, unlike the real world.
Yvonne has run workshops for various groups of people and always talks about how writing makes us special. In writing we become vulnerable, we are taking risks, we can deal with pain through writing. It can be incredibly cathartic. You are in control in your writing; you make the rules.
The vulnerability of a writer is evident in the reviews. Yvonne has had some good reviews and some confronting ones. There is no right of reply to a review. The book is out there and this is part of the risk and vulnerability of a writer.
Yvonne then went on to discuss April Taub, the heroine of April Fool and of future books Yvonne intends to write. Half way through the book April has a transformation, in order to survive the situation in which she finds herself. She is transformed from an overweight, addictive personality into a lean, mean, fighting machine. The first half of the book is funny and after April's transformation, when she goes under cover, the book becomes deadly serious. At this point the comic distance stops. The book is no longer a Get Smart send-up. It gets real, becomes a nightmare journey and we don't know if April can make it. She has to enter the darkness and there is no more comic distance.
Moving away from the book, Yvonne talked about being a writer in Australia. People have said it is hard to write Jewish and sell it in Australia. But Yvonne pointed out that how could she not write Jewish and stay true to herself? She also wanted to write Australian. Australians have a self-deprecating sense of humour, so she thought she could write Jewish and Aussie. This made her question how you can be Jewish, laugh at yourself and still respect yourself, without being self-hating.
Is April Taub Yvonne's alter ego? Readers will draw their own conclusions. She needed to write fiction for the distance. She didn't want to write her parents' story; it is theirs not hers. And she didn't want to do autobiographical holocaust stuff.
The next generation of writers will be sufficiently removed to write the fiction that will receive the real awards. They will have grown up with English speaking parents and will be second generation tertiary-educated. If we think about American Jewish writers such as Bernard Malamud and Saul Bellow, they are the third generation of immigrants and they have the settled ness our generation does not have. Yvonne described how it hurts knowing there is only so far she can go. It is the road she has to travel.
The book took five years to write. It took several more years to rewrite and sell. There were ten drafts. This says something about her inexperience, but it says more about her determination. The book came out in March and was launched on April Fool's Day, the first of April.
Following Yvonne's talk there were questions from the audience. A warm involving discussion ensued, which opened up feelings and thoughts from the audience about issues that Yvonne raised.
It was a wonderful evening. We would like to thank Yvonne for her time and Leah for chairing the following discussion.