The event room at Randwick Library came alive this week with the magical words and invocations of author Arnold Zable. A storyteller and raconteur of immense skill, Arnold held court; his Yiddish ghosts alive and well in his gestures, his accent and most of all, the richness of his descriptive prose.
The room was filled with around 100 people yet there was hardly a shuffle throughout. His ideas and stories burst forth in rapid succession, almost too many ideas for the mind to juggle at once. He spent most of the hour reading extracts from his books, as well as telling anecdotes from his travels around the world.
He began by sharing some of his ideas about the craft of writing. Writing a book, he said, “was an exploration; when a story begins to tell itself then you know the story is really working.” He went on to say “the art of storytelling is letting go, the story will then take you to places you never expected to go.”
He read from his recent book, Scraps Of Heaven, based in part on his own childhood in working class Melbourne in the 1950s, set among the backstreet Victorian cottages of the city. The immigrant experience of yearning for home and the families left in far-off places is clearly deeply engrained in his early life experiences.
A beautiful extract from the book describes the very early morning sounds of the horse-drawn milk cart – the clink of the bottles, the click-clack of the horses on cobbled stones, his father racing out to pick up the fresh horse dung and hauling it, still steaming, through the house out into the garden to be placed on the vegetable garden in the morning sun. He raised his head afterwards and asked us “Could you see it, could you hear and smell it?” and we could.
He read brief extracts from two more of his books, Ancient Mariner and The Dust Of Life, and the session finished with a few questions from the floor. Before we left, the library manager thanked him and presented him with a book about the history of Randwick Library. She told the crowd he had been the most engaging guest author the library had hosted and the audience agreed with generous applause.