Tim Winton – ‘Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes’

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I was lucky enough to hear Tim Winton speak about his new novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, at the Perth Festival writers week on Saturday night at UWA. It was the world premiere of Winton talking about his new book, to be released on March 12th 2018. We were given a  handout from Winton titled ‘Tender Hearts, Sons of Brutes. Tim Winton on lost boys and toxic masculinity’, and the following passage is from the inside page.

” ‘For the first time in me life I know what I want and have what it takes to get me there. If you never experienced that I feel sorry for you. But it wasn’t always like this. I been through fire to get here. So be happy for me. And for fucksake don’t get in my way.’

Jaxie Clackton is on a journey to adulthood. But he’s doing it all without a map. And in more ways than one. Like many young men, he’s over-armed and desperately underprepared. And the reason for that is no mystery.

Everything Jaxie’s learnt about being a man is corrupt. Not just defective, not simply incomplete or inadequate, but dangerously, poisonously wrong. Because the men in his life, the only people upon whom he’s been able to model himself, are brutes. They trade in force. They arm themselves against imagination and empathy and contemplation. Every man in Jaxie’s life up to this point has been a fortress. For these men, relationships are equations. Problems requiring mastery. In this airless universe there are no conversations, only declarations and fraught silences. Then men in Jaxie’s life are emotional infants.

I think we forget or simply don’t notice the ways in which men, too, are shackled by misogyny. It narrows their lives. Distorts them. And that sort of damage radiates; it travels, just as trauma is embedded and travels through families. Misogyny, like racism, is one of the great engines of intergenerational trauma.

                                                                                                 – Tim Winton”

The session was thought provoking, blunt, poignant, and full of swear words (for which Winton apologised to his mother in the audience – he told her Jaxie made him say it!)  The Shepherd’s Hut will be a challenging and confronting read, least due to Jaxie’s limited vocab, and Winton says that he expects some readers to dis-engage and not follow Jaxie’s journey through to the end as it is…very confronting. Brutal. Personally, I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Winton said he didn’t set out to write about masculinity or misogyny, he was just following the voice of a teenage boy in his head throughout the first draft (who swore a lot.)  It was when he had finished, and he had some perspective on what he had written, that he hoped it would spark awareness and further important conversations about boys and young men, and their relationship with themselves and with society. And what we, as a society, can do to help.

It was amazing to be a mere few metres away from this legendary writer for over an hour, his voice interspersed with music and pictures of boys and young men and the Western Australian landscape. He said he is just a bloke who loves a good surf, and being a husband, father, and grandfather. A son, brother, neighbour and a mate.

That night I walked away with the upmost respect and admiration for Tim Winton.  If the desire of the writer is to connect with readers, this writer connected with a whole theatre full of people through not only his literary prowess, but through his own, and his passion for, humanity.

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