Robert Dessaix, Alice Walker, Marylou Gilbert and John Bell at the Literary Festival launch.

Queenscliffe Literary Festival Keynote Speakers – John Bell & Robert Dessaix

What a piece of work is a man!
The modern interpretation of this quote from William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ could relate to Shakespeare. ‘What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding!’

John Bell, Australian actor, theatre director and theatre manager says Shakespeare’s ability to insert himself into the minds of men, women, kings and clowns to write 38 plays, sonnets and love poems have as much power today as they did when written over 400 years ago.

John has been a major influence on the development of Australian theatre in the late 20th and early 21st centuries with over 2.5 million people attending his plays.

John attended the University of Sydney with Clive James and Germaine Greer, and a contemporary of film director Bruce Beresford.

Aged 22 John joined the Old Tote Theatre Company in Sydney and later co-founded the Nimrod Theatre Company. He produced David Williamson’s Travelling North, The Club and The Removalists.

At age 23 he says he had ‘peaked’ after playing Hamlet then won a scholarship and spent five years with the Royal Shakespeare Company in Great Britain. In 1990 he founded the theatre company Bell Shake-speare and has produced Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and more.

Shakespeare’s curiosity about people and his ability to capture love and sexuality, a girl in love, the unpopularity of blacks and Jews allowed him to write with a sharp eye. He had knowledge of man’s place in nature, an understanding of the science and technology of the times to create magic on stage, used music as a spiritual force and the exploration of the new world that today would be similar to us going to Mars.

Shakespeare had a profound influence on the English language creating 1700 new words. We are quoting him when we use phrases like ‘refusing to budge an inch, green-eyed jealousy, cold comfort, without rhyme or reason and too much of a good thing’. The rapturous crowd listening to John Bell at the town hall would agree with the last phrase, ‘You can never have too much of a good thing’.

A writer walking through the world
“But what you are really doing is going home,” says author Robert Dessaix whose first five books were set in Cairo, Venice, Corfu, Russia and Africa. “And then I go home.”

Dessaix’s latest book ‘The Pleasures of Leisure’ shows how taking leisure seriously gives us back the freedom to enjoy life and leisure and deepen our sense of who we are.

Robert encouraged his audience to keep three words in mind. ‘The good life’ or as the French put it ‘La belle vie’ meaning they don’t really want to be good but want to enjoy beauty. “Books are to be happy in,” he said. “I haven’t always been happy so I turned to bliss – it covers all bases and can be a moment in the sun enjoying good coffee or a solitary pleasure like walking on the beach. Others might prefer to watch cricket but I think that’s uncannily like being dead.”

After recovering from serious illness two years ago Robert said he writes his books in days now, not weeks as they’re too long. “It’s not how long you live but how deeply you live and I try to live in the day now.”

He chooses to live a life of leisure and intense pleasure and gave his listeners advice on how to prepare for leisure and happiness.

– Befriend yourself or you won’t be befriended as one can live without most things except intimacy. Develop an inner life. Be creative, the heart over the head and seeing things differently. Become a conn-oisseur – make something big out of some-thing small no matter what it is. Observe your dog, he has perfected leisure.

– Nesting at home, cooking, gardening. Be idle, stay in bed as an act of rebellion. Music. Open ended walking. Conversations, a dying art. Have a siesta from the hiatus of city living. Drink tea, it’s a polite amusement as coffee exists to make you work harder.

– Play is the most wonderful form of leisure. Its purest form is illicit sex but you’ll have to buy the book for that!

Robert says he’s good at three things, learning languages, friendships and travel, it’s what makes you extraordinary when you aren’t. You spend money that you pretend you don’t have to earn and tell lies about yourself. It’s where you become more interesting. Then hurry home to tea!