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I'm Waleed Aly. Hi and welcome to Big Ideas, In this edition of Short Cuts -

cosmic injustice, manhood and a failed Spanish coup d'etat. First up, Juan Gabriel Vasquez, called The Informers who has written a brilliant book in Colombian society about the secrets and obsessions during World War II. He's talking here with Jenny Niven, the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. Associate Director of the process of writing He's very open and lucid about he first put on himself and the limitations with regards to subject matter. only write about what he knew - In his first novels he felt he could or knew about it in detail, if he hadn't experienced it he couldn't write it. It's only in later works of the psyche that he pushed into the darker places and his own country of Colombia. The Informers for us? Maybe you can set up a little bit Jewish-German immigrants in Colombia It looks at a group of a group of people that hitherto is not really in fiction with. that we've spent much time Right. Is that right?

to write the book. And this is one of the best reasons as I was saying yesterday Yeah, the book, a conversation I had with this lady was born through or from of a friend of mine. who has since become something who got there in 1938. A German-Jewish immigrant to Colombia in this conversation we had And the things she told me casually

in the middle of a relaxed dinner in Colombia about her life as an immigrant

during the time of the war had been almost thrown - and how her father a Jewish escapee - this confinement camp had almost been thrown into because at one point during the war, persecuting everything German. the Colombian government began

considered suspicious. Everything German was this sort of cosmic injustice, right, So, this idea that... the Nazi regime that somebody had fled a German passport and was persecuted because he had when he got to his destination, that beg to be treated in a novel just seemed to be one of those areas

morally, it's a grey area. because it's... because politically, Nazi propagandists, At the time it was right to persecute Nazi sympathisers in Colombia, philosophical reasons not only because of, so to speak, right next door to the Panama Canal. but because Colombia is in the efforts of the war. And the Panama Canal was essential the Panama Canal Nazis were trying to get hold of and if they were able to do that probably. they would go on and win the war, It was a strategic point, a very important point. that seems perfectly justified. So, politically, good intentions are not enough But as often happens with history, and things went wrong really quickly human frailty, let's say. through the intervention of

controlling enemy citizens Because the... this attempt at had a very particular method, the history of the human race a method which has been often used in and never with good consequences - which is black lists. define who was the enemy, Blacklists were dressed to try to who were the enemy citizens. to draw those blacklists And of course, people had to gather information and those who gave the information the truth were not necessarily telling in time of war there's paranoia, but they were believed because there are difficult feelings. there's... distrust,

So, for instance, of this Italian citizen there was a case in Colombia an old friend in mourning clothes, who went to the funeral of dressed in black. this confinement camp And he was thrown in of Mussolini's fascists. accused of wearing the black shirts who had emigrated to Colombia There was this Japanese citizen at the beginning of the century growing potatoes, I think. and he earned a living to the Spanish Embassy And he sold some potatoes the confinement camp. and he was almost thrown into relationships with the Franco regime. Because he was having commercial difficult to deal with So these things were you don't have a clear idea and those areas in which of what is going on, of what morally, politically, of what is right and what is wrong, for a novelist. those are great places is that nobody had... And the thing I discovered

..I hadn't heard about this that nobody else had. but I discovered cultivated than I am, I talked to people who are much more than I do who know much more Colombian history had happened in our country. and nobody knew that these things for writing novels. So this is a great reason the cosmic injustice of that? And is it a sense - you've mentioned by writing a novel Do you have the sense that or telling the right story to making amends for that? you can go some way that one of the reasons I write I've always thought

and irritated by the chaos is that I am deeply saddened out there in the world. And I've found, as a reader, that chaos... disappears that in good fiction or seems to have a purpose. gathering meaning about chaos. A good novel is the way of right? But you need the chaos to start, the chaos. Yes, yes. And you have to respect to mend things, That is that novels are not written I don't think so. the chaos and the disorder. They are written to understand is quite a feat. And I think that understanding anything else in fiction. I don't think you should look for change the world. Fiction's not there to of a certain situation It changes our understanding whatever we want, and and you can do with that in the real world. Um, but I have never... I don't know, ..I have never thought that,

for the better, 'Anna Karenina' changes the world but it makes us understand, we have in our world, and that... improves the position our fellow human beings, the understanding we have of and that's quite enough, I think.

and the right to tell a story The question of authorship The Informers. Yes. is really important in Can you talk a bit about stories that are stolen, and perhaps about how your experience of writing the book parallels a little bit some of the experiences of the characters in the novel? Yes, well the character is a journalist who... investigates... carries out this very personal investigation about the life of a family friend. And so he finds things out in the course of the book. I've always believed there are two main ways of approaching the writing of a book. One is to... um... ..take the position of somebody who knows everything, who knows everything that will happen in the book, and then you sit down like this demigod and you write the thing. The alternative way is to confess your ignorance, your partial ignorance about this material you're dealing with. And so the writing of the book becomes a way of understanding, a way of knowing. I have often been asked why didn't I write about Colombia when I first started writing? This is in reference to the number of novels I have published.

Right. You said four... ..I say three, but very bad people out there say five. Can you unravel that a little bit? Yes. Now that we're in this 'petit comite' here, there are two novels I published when I was 23 and 25, and as soon as I published the second one of those novels, I felt that they were really, really, really bad. Hmm. And in a sense, I disinherited those novels... You don't get to do that! (Laughs) if they were naughty children. Yes! Yes I do. That's my right. You're not allowed to look them up! OK. OK? I wish I has now, for this session. They're not translated, luckily. Um, so, these are part of my off-the-record story.

My official story begins with The Informers, but I have those two novels that I hate just lurking in the background. And what I was saying is that when I began writing The Informers, I had almost gotten used to the question, 'Why don't you write about Colombia?' And my answer was 'because I don't understand Colombia'. And I had left when I was 23, feeling I didn't understand the country, and so I felt since I had grown up in this kind of Hemingway ethics of writing only about what you know, right, this sort of commandment Hemingway illustrates very well.

If you want to write about the war, then you go to war, and then write about it. And if you want to write about fishing, then you go fishing, and you write about it. And so 'write about what you know' is one of those little pieces of advice that are given to younger writers. I grew up believing this, and since I didn't understand Colombia, I felt I wasn't morally entitled to write about my country. And it was only... it was around 2002, I think,

through some readings and also through my growing up, my maturing as a person and as a novelist, that I felt that it was precisely the fact of not understanding that was the best reason to write about Colombia. The fact that Colombia felt to me as this dark place, this area of darkness, to borrow one of Naipaul's titles. That was the best reason to write about my country. So I started behaving towards the history of my country and my personal history, as if I was investigating some hidden truth, some secret, and that turned into a method, into a writing method, and the book is written in that way. The narrator finds things out as he goes and you will find that the book is divided in five parts and every part, in a way, questions the findings and the discoveries of the last part that you read, because the narrator is, um... ..discovering his material as he narrates it, as he tells it.

Which mimics the way I felt. I also felt that I was finding things out as I told them, that this mysterious moment in Colombian history was... I was slowly shedding some light on it through the writing. Wasn't there a tremendous feeling of risk for you there, because you're putting yourself right out there on the page in a position of not knowing, which lots of novelists - I don't know if they do that. Yes, yes of course. Well, we do come from the Tolstoy tradition, which is also 'I know everything and I'm going to indoctrinate you'. Right? 'I will tell you what the world is like, what it is about.' This is the War and Peace method.

Copyright it. It's a great title. (Both laugh) But, um... but the writers - I love Tolstoy, don't get me wrong - but the writers I admire most, one of them is Joseph Conrad. They deal with reality as if it was this unexplored, mysterious dark area about which we know nothing. And the task of the novel is to go there, to these dark places, whether they're dark places geographically - as Congo was to Conrad, for instance - or they're dark places of the soul. Dark places psychologically. You go there and you try to come back with the news and you try come back and tell people what you found there. So it's a big risk in many senses, not least because that you don't know if you have a book until you finish it, right? You can reach - and I have reached many times page 150 and discovered that there is nothing there. Really? That's happened? And I have to go back and then underline in each one of those 150 pages, underline a nice sentence, a nice idea,

which put together make up about five pages and those are the first five pages of the new novel. So, yeah, it's a horrible trade. (Laughs)

Essential focus of The Informers and having read The Secret History of Costaguana - I suspect it runs through a lot of your work - is this fundamentally unreliable, untrustworthy nature of history and that comes up again and again. What as a novelist is attractive about that and what are some of the challenges it poses?

Well, I always try to make this distinction between my true novels -

the Informers, I don't think of as a novel about history. I think about it as a novel about memory, which is not necessarily the same thing. It's a novel written by somebody who from the present tries to come to terms with the past, tries to face the difficult task of remembering which always puts you in a situation of conflict. Memory is a very difficult thing.

Um... But The Secret History of Costaguana, which we will talk a little bit... discuss a little bit more later, is a novel which deals with history.

It's a novel which is set in the 19th Century, in Colombia, and other places but mainly in Colombia,

and a little province of Colombia at the time, which is Panama. I don't know if all of you knew this but Panama was province of Colombia until 1903, the year in which it seceded from the rest of the country with the military aide of the United States, in order to control, let's say, their particular richness.

Which was to be the territory in which an inter-oceanic canal could be built. That novel is obsessed with the idea that history is a tale.

History is something they tell us. It's not an objective reality that came out of nowhere. History is something someone has told us and if we accept that premise we have to accept that somebody was doing the telling.

And so there is a narrator who has prejudices, who has a political agenda maybe, who is not to be trusted. And this idea that our version of history,

the version we know of our history, of the history of the world, is someone's tale and in that sense, it's to be confronted all the time, something to be questioned.

We shouldn't take it for granted. We shouldn't believe in it as if it was a sacred word.

That was Juan Gabriel Vasquez during Adelaide Writers' Week. Next up, the problems of masculinity. Maybe it's not problematic

but this is a conversation between two writers about manhood. We've got Malcolm Knox and Deborah Robertson talking about the central characters in their most recent books, both of whom are male. And both here have drawn intimate portraits of ageing and washed-up men and their struggles and yearnings in their lives and relationships. They're compassionate portraits but they're hard-eyed at the same time. This conversation took place at the Adelaide Writers' Week. I feel honoured to introduce Deborah to you because I'm kind of here as a fan

as much as a colleague. Deborah, you probably know already as the author of the short story collection Proudflesh

and the fantastic novel from a few years ago - Careless. Her new novel, Sweet Old World, for those of you who haven't read Deborah, you're really in for a privilege and for those of you who have read her before and are coming back to her, you'll see in this book she's gone to a new level altogether. She's a fantastically skilled expert novelist. The book, to summarise, is told through the eyes of a man, David, who's a burnt-out journalist in his middle years who's gone to the Aran Islands off Ireland where his sister is running a guesthouse with varying levels of competence. He's writing a book but essentially he's trying to grab at a last chance and in some ways question what's gone wrong with his life but he's still, in a large part of himself, a young man who has an intimation of a future. He meets a young woman, an Australian woman, who's travelling, called Ettie and has quite a significant encounter with her but she has an accident which brings into his life her mother, Tania, and this is the essence of the love story that is Sweet Old World. Tania - there's a beautiful phrase Deborah uses which is how Tania 'gentles' everything for David and it's not just that she gentles the present, but she gentles his past as well

and he begins to read his past differently due to her influence. He is a man who is willing himself to redeem - for redemption, for personal redemption, and to almost backfill his life emotionally, to go through and find his emotional failings and do something about them now and do something about them for his future. But of course he's also struggling against his own nature

which gets in his own way. And struggling to a degree with Tania's nature as a woman. That tells you a little bit about why Deborah's here talking about manhood but really this is a fantastic novel and to talk about manhood is to slice a little bit off a novel that is an absolute complete reading experience, an experience that will leave you feeling that you have, in those pages, lived another life told by a wonderful storyteller.

Please welcome Deborah Robertson. (Applause) Thank you, Malcolm. That was such a generous way to be introduced. Sweet Old World came out yesterday so it's still a very raw and new experience

speaking about this, for me.

But I want to introduce Malcolm's book, The Life. The Life is Malcolm's fourth novel and it too, I think, is about a man struggling to account for his past and really to put together some sort of plans and hopes for a future. The man that we spend time with in the pages of The Life is Dennis Keith, who's a 58-year-old ex pro champion mythic hero surfer

and of the kind that only, perhaps, surfing culture can throw up. But he's now washed up, he's overweight, he's suffering from some mental distress, he's got a very, very bad diet, he's living at home with his mum who's living in a retirement village in Coolangatta,

which is where most of the novel is set. And... ..Dennis is a man who, for me, anyway, is struggling with the loss of physicality in his life. This is a novel that practically breaks apart with the energy of its character's voice and physical momentum. The passages about boyhood and the physicality of boyhood,

I've never read anything quite like it. And that physicality is extended into Dennis Keith's championship surfing years. But then when those surfing years are over, we have a man who - in a sense, his manhood has been utterly invested in his body and the competition with his body and with other male bodies and he's suddenly stranded almost as a child within a maturing man's body

and the novel's, for me, at some levels, but certainly not at all levels, is about that, so I suppose the Adelaide Festival

has brought Malcolm and me here today because I guess our novels seem to be in agreement that there is such a thing as the 'man question', just as several decades ago there was such a thing as 'the woman question'. And I suppose the implication in that is, is there something we can do to solve the problem of masculinity and I guess my first question would be to Malcolm is that a reasonable question to ask, is it reasonable to pose masculinity as a problem, Malcolm? It's never been a problem for me. (Laughter) Or me, I have to say! Um, yeah, well, I'm not quite conscious of writing as a man, you know, until the book meets a reader and you've just done it for me again. Readers always bring the meaning of your work to you. You're often just writing as yourself and to a degree for yourself. I sort of feel - because I come from a kind of manly background -

I was one of two boys, we went to an all-boys school,

all of our relatives seemed to be boys, my mum is really into boys sports, into sports in general. Her father, my grandfather, was a great influence on her life, he was a terrific guy. It was a big problem emerging at the age of 18, 19 from school and never having met a girl. That was my problem of masculinity. I didn't know how to talk to a girl. But is there a question? I don't know. I hope there is a question for some people. I remember a work colleague of mine, a woman, I showed her a copy of a book by David Foster Wallace, who I know you read, he gets a mention in Sweet Old World. And the book was titled Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. And I flashed it at her and I said, 'This is great.' And she looked at it and said, 'I've had enough of hideous men'..

(Laughter) ..and walked off. And, you know, I guess there are readers who have had enough of hideous men and had enough of men in general and who've closed the door on men but I also think there are - both among male readers and female readers - that there is a question and there is a sense of change happening and things that we say now about men are not things that we could've said 20 or 30 years ago

and for that alone, yes, there is a question that's alive. But, you know, because I've never really called myself a man before but I suppose I am - I always feel that I'm bring the news, I'm bringing the news to a largely female readership and my first readers are all women and they're all women who are not interested in the things like surfing, in this book, that interest me so I've got to carry the news across a kind of raging river and get it to the other side and translate something of my experience which happens, through these characters, to be a male experience. Um, it's not often something that's often thought about

when we talk about Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch but in the introduction to that novel she states so clearly that no-one will be free until men are free and I think we've had so many decades of the freedom project for women and yet the range of expression for men

is still, I think, very narrow and I think that that's so obvious in both Malcolm and my books that that's something that we're really pushing against and frustrated by - well, our characters are, anyway. I did tell this little story yesterday at my book launch so I hope I won't sound too repetitive but I do want to say this.

While I was writing Sweet Old World I came across a series of really remarkable photographs that go so much to the heart of what we're talking about today. They're photographs by a young American photographer called Suzanne Upton and she was asked to take a series of portraits of US soldiers on leave from Iraq so these men were - they'd been in the theatre of war, they'd seen things they would perhaps never forget, they were tired, and she wanted to somehow get into their masculinity in a way that showed something new. As simple as that. So what she decided to do, she was just asked to take head and shoulder photographs -

she did something so simple and so clever. Instead of taking photos of the men sitting or standing, she asked them to lie on their side and they're sideways views of these men, so they would be the views that you would have if you were lying next to these men on a pillow or perhaps if you were looking at a sleeping child, and all of the social uniform, almost the way that the body is - I mean, both for women and for men - when we stand up we present a kind of gendered body but when we're lying down

we're sort of closer to our animal selves I think. And these photographs allow a vulnerability and a relaxation into the view of these men that you wouldn't have got from taking another view. And I think this is what we try to do as novelists, whether they're men or women - we just try to take an angle of dive that gets beyond the rigid constraints of social ways of seeing. Well, there's a passage in Sweet Old World, in Deborah's novel, that I think, you know, grabs this and, as fine writing does, puts it in a nutshell. And it comes through a visit to the island by some Elvis impersonators. David, our protagonist, has a moment of insight through meeting the Elvises wandering around and it's beautifully put. The passage says, 'Like Elvis, he's been confused about what the world wants from him, puzzled by his strengths as much as his weaknesses. He, too, has abused love, misunderstood reality. He's been gnawed at by hungers, distracted himself with trinkets, gone missing in his own flesh.' And, to me, it was just, yes, that's it and that's really the answer to your question of - is there a question about manhood? Where was it that men did start to go missing in their own flesh? Yeah, yeah. I don't know that I can come up with an answer but I think men do go missing in their own flesh. And I think women do too. But I don't know, I can't answer that question. Deborah and I started corresponding via email about our session today a couple of weeks ago and in the subject line of Deborah's first email to me, the subject line was 'manhood'. And in her email she said, 'Well, I bet you don't get that in the subject lines of emails very often.' In fact, to the contrary, if you have a male name,

your spam folder is full of emails inciting you to enlarge your manhood. And, you know, it's obviously - for myself, I don't need to think about these matters but is this a kind of metaphor for male anxiety that their manhood, or their idea of themselves, which used to be certain, apparently, is now uncertain and it's suffering shrinkage. You know, you wouldn't even think it needed enlarging unless you are being told all the time that it's shrinking and it needs enlarging. I'm wondering, as a woman, because you don't suffer from this email incursion, are you at an advantage somehow looking into the male condition? Ah... Oh, my goodness. I've never felt advantaged around men in any respect whatsoever. Um... ..I'm glad I'm not a man. I don't know if that's an advantage. Again, I'm at a bit of a loss. I was just thinking of something that I wanted to say though, in terms of this idea of anxiety around the male body. I think it is very, very interesting to look at what's happening

in the culture of young men at the moment with the bodybuilding phenomenon and what seems to be an almost epidemic use of steroids,

increased rates of anorexia and bulimia in young men,

cases even of men dying quite young from excessive training and steroid use. And this is a control of the male body

that sounds - is much, much closer to my experience of living in a female body which has, you know, been controlled since I was an adolescent, really. And I wonder whether

there's a sort of lack of ritual for masculinity in culture anymore. We have sport but sport is perhaps not enough for some men. There seems to be almost the need for the expression of a certain kind of extremity which gets expressed in very masculine theatres like war that is being taken up by the cult of bodybuilding. Well, physical culture - Physical culture has been so transformed in Australia in the last even ten years, a really short period of time, from a club and community culture into a granulated individual physical culture. If you look at the stats on Australians with sport and physical activity, participation is going up but it's going up in things like gym, bodybuilding,

surfing, extreme sports, skateboarding and it's really dropping in team sports. And that's not only an interesting revelation about the way girls and boys are seeing themselves

but the club background of team sports, certainly when I was young and when people older than me were young, it was about the community and the group as much as about the individual getting fit and, you know, burning off calories and, you know, getting a better body - it was about the elders of the club and the ritual, as you say, and the sense of learning from other people who were going to give you a kick up the bum if you did the wrong thing. That's not what happens if you're going out and skateboarding or going out to the gym. And sport is also so much of a spectacle

so it's an appreciation of this kind of visual moment,

this gladiatorial moment, that is, in a sense, quite isolated

and doesn't have all of that connective tissue. In some ways it's actually a result of a very good thing, which is a female impact on family life where, you know - I'd be interested to see if members of the audience have a view on this - one of the reasons club sport has declined - things like cricket participation is struggling - is that men going into their - probably from their 20s into their 30s, are no longer spending every Saturday in summer for eight hours out on a cricket field and then for a couple more hours drinking with their team.

They're actually spending the day with their families and much more involved with their children. And so men are flooding out of team sports when they're having children and even before that, when they're getting married or in serious relationships and you can't help thinking that's a good thing that men are spending more time alone or, you know, doing things with their kids and with their partners rather than just in their male groups. But it's swings and roundabouts, isn't it? Yeah. What's good for the family may, you know, also diminish a community. That was Malcolm Knox and Deborah Robertson in conversation at Adelaide Writers' Week. Last in the line-up of Short Cuts today is wonderful Spanish writer Javier Cercas. You will have seen him before on a Big Ideas panel with Kate Grenville, American writer Ron Rash and David Marr. He's speaking here about his most recent non-fiction work, Anatomy of a Moment, about the failed 1981 Spanish coup d'etat. For the first time, I'm not going to apologise for my awful English. Not because in this wonderful week in Adelaide and, well, Australia, it has improved but because I have here Javier, my new Spanish friend, who's going to help me with it. I'm going to read from this - (Inaudible) I hope so. I'm going to read from my last published book which is Anatomy of a Moment. It's a book that revolves around an image - a real image, TV image, in fact - of the last coup d'etat in Spain. Which was in 1981. You know, you may think that national sport in Spain is football but it's not - for the last 20 - for the last two centuries national sport has been civil war. Or, if not possible, coup d'etat. So that was the last one, '81. And it has become something like a national obsession, like a collective neurosis or something like that. It is the exact point where all the devils of our national past converge. In this sense, I can only compare it with Kennedy's assassination. That would be - not only for a number of reasons, maybe we'll talk later about that. You remember, of course - some of you remember the images because they were around the world.

That was in 1981, 23 February 1981, so six years after Franco's death. You know Franco, this guy, this bastard who ruled the country for 40 years after bloody civil wars, '36 - '39, and then he died in '75. So this happened in '81, six years after Franco's death, when the country seemed to - after a difficult transition from dictatorship to democracy - seemed to be a democratic country. So that day, 23 February, they were electing in the parliament - in the Cortes, it's called, the parliament in Spain - we were electing the new - the second president of the new Spanish democracy. The first one Adolfo Suarez, which is in fact the main character in this book. They were electing the second president,

and the cameras were there, everybody was there, full of people, and at that moment a band of civil guards

entered the parliament firing and asking people to go to the ground, to dive for cover. You remember the images, of course, they are the most famous images in the 20th Century in Spain and in my opinion, one of the most important documents of the 20th Century. It's the only coup d'etat on TV, you know. You remember, of course, this guy, the guy who was in command of the civil guards was called Lieutenant-Colonel Antonio... Tejero, Antonio Tejero, which was this guy with this big black hat and this big black moustache, like a guy coming from - like main character in a poem of Garcia Lorca or something like that. I remember now that day when they sent these images to... the Swedish television, the Swedish people in TV asked to the Spanish people in TV, 'What the hell is this? What is this bullfighter doing in the parliament?' (Audience laughter) Because of the hat... you remember that. Anyway, um...

It has become something, as I say, as a social - as a national obsession, a national neurosis. I'm going to read from the beginning of the book, from the part where I explain a bit how I came to write this book on this subject. This is something that I do in a lot of my books, or some of my books at least, I explain, I tell a story - I think of them of something like adventure novels about the adventure of writing a novel. So at the same time that I tell a story, and if possible an adventure story, I tell how - why I tell this story. So I don't want to spare the reader the thrilling and the adventure of writing a book, of writing a novel.

Um... and, well, I know this is not the best moment to read and to hear the reading, but, anyway, I'm going to do it. (Clears throat) 'How...' sorry. 'How could I ever dream of writing a fiction about the 23rd of February coup? How could I dream of writing a novel about our neuroses, about our paranoia, about our collective novel? There is no novelist who hasn't felt at least once

the presumptuous feeling that reality's demanding a novel of him, that he's not the one looking for a novel, but that a novel is looking for him. I had that feeling on the 23rd of February... 2006. Shortly before this date, an Italian newspaper had asked me to write an article of my memories of the coup d'etat. I agreed. I wrote an article in which I said three things - the first was that I had been a hero. The second was that I hadn't been a hero.

The third was that no-one had been a hero.

I had been a hero because that evening, after hearing from my mother that a group of gun-toting civil guards had burst into the Cortes during the investiture vote for the new prime minister, I'd rushed off to the university with my 18-year-old imagination seething with revolutionary scenes

of a city up in arms, riotous demonstrators opposing the coup and erecting barricades on every corner. I hadn't been a hero

because the truth is I hadn't rushed to the university

with intrepid determination to join the defence of democracy against the rebellious military but with libidinous determination to find a classmate I had a huge crush on and perhaps take advantage of those romantic hours - or hours that seemed romantic to me - to win her over. No-one had been a hero because, when I arrived at university that evening I didn't find anyone except the girl I was looking for and two other students, as meek as they were disoriented. No-one at the university where I studied, not at mine or any other university, made the slightest gesture of opposing the coup. No-one in the city where I lived, nor mine, or any other city, took to the streets to confront the rebellious army officers. Except for a handful of people who showed themselves ready to risk their necks to defend democracy, the whole country stayed at home and waited for the coup to fail. Or to triumph. That's a synopsis of what I said in my article and undoubtedly because writing it reactivated forgotten memories,

that 23rd February I followed with more interest than usual the articles, reports and interviews with which the media commemorated the 25th anniversary of the coup. I was left perplexed. I had described the 21st of February coup as a total failure of democracy but the majority of those articles, reports and interviews described it as a total triumph of democracy. And not just them. The same day - that same day - the Cortes approved declarations which reads as follows - quote, "The lack of the slightest hint of social endorsement, the exemplary attitude of the citizenry, the responsible behaviour of the political parties, and the trade unions, as well as the media, and in particular the democratic institutions sufficed to frustrate the coup d'etat." End of quote. It would be difficult to accumulate more falsehoods in fewer words or so I thought when I read that paragraph. My impression was that the coup had not lacked social endorsement, that the citizenry's attitude was not exemplary, the political parties' and unions' behaviour was irresponsible and with fewer exception - and with very few exceptions, the media and democratic institutions had done nothing to frustrate the coup. But it wasn't the spectacular discrepancy between my personal memory of 23 February and the aberrant collective memory that most struck me and produced the presumptuous hunch that reality was demanding I write a novel but something much less shocking or more elemental, although probably linked to that discrepancy.

It was an obligatory image on every television report about the coup.

The image of Adolfo Suarez, prime minister, turned to stone in his seat while, seconds after, Lieutenant-Colonel Tejero entered the Cortes, civil guards' bullets whizzed through the air around him and all the rest of the parliamentarians present there, all except two - General Gutierrez Mellado and Santiago Carrillo hit the floor, seeking shelter from the gunfire. Of course, I had seen that image dozens of times but for some reason, that day I saw it as if I were seeing it for the first time - the shouts, the shots, the terrorised silence of the chamber, and that man leaning back against the blue leather of his prime ministerial bench. Solitary, statuesque, and spectral in the desert of empty benches. It suddenly struck me as a mesmerising and radiant image meticulously complex, rich with meaning, perhaps because the truly enigmatic is not what no-one has seen but what we've all seen many times and which nevertheless refuses to divulge its significance. It suddenly struck me as an enigmatic image. That's what set off the alarm. Borges says that 'every destiny, however long and complicated, essentially boils down to a single moment - the moment a man knows once and for all, who he is.' Seeing Adolfo Suarez on that 23 February, sitting still while the bullets whizzed around him in the deserted chamber, I wondered whether, in that moment, Suarez had known once and for all who he was and what significance that remote image held - supposing it did hold some meaning. This double question did not leave me in the days that followed and to try to answer it, or rather to try to express it precisely, I decided to write a novel.' Thank you very much. That was Javier Cercas at Adelaide Writers' Week. You'll find extended versions of all these talks on our website. That's all for this edition of Short Cuts. Remember you can find us on Facebook, you can also follow us on Twitter. I'm Waleed Aly, see you next time.

Closed Captions by CSI

THEME MUSIC Ron Blaskett, ladies and gentlemen, and his friends. Ron and his doll Gerry G. have been entertaining audiences for over 72 years. DOLL: Can I help you? Yeah... (LAUGHS) Nice link, Gerry. Thanks a lot. Oh, any time. Do you like working with Ron, Jerry? This guy? Yeah. I've gotten used to it. Have you got a favourite memory from working with Ron? Ah...yes, when I finish. (CHORTLES) Ron was a slip of a lad when he was first inspired to try ventriloquism. My first figure, my grandmother put up five pounds, because I wanted one after I read about it. What year was that? 1936. Five pounds then was lot of money. Oh, it was a huge amount of money. But Grandma, from a meagre pension and savings, said "If Ron wants a doll, he shall have it." I never borrowed my sister's clothes,

and she had no idea what a ventriloquist doll was.

It must have caused a little worry in the back of her mind, but being gay and hardy was a little different in those days. DOLL: I can talk like Ron Blaskett. And I can talk like Ron Blaskett.

I can talk like Ron Blaskett. Well, of course, I am Ron Blaskett. But can you talk like Gerry G? I can talk like Gerry G. It's easy for me to talk And I can talk like Gerry G. What is "throwing your voice"? It's a misnomer, really, "throwing your voice". The human ear is very inaccurate at detecting the source of sound. For instance, sitting in this room as we are now,

if a brass band was playing in either one right, or left, of the front rooms, without a visual reference, you couldn't tell where that sound was coming from. Blaskett, I don't think this is adding anything to the act at all. Why shouldn't Adolphus be on TV? After all, he's only trying to get... ahead. Yep, trying to get a head. Well he could certainly do with one, couldn't he? LAUGHTER

You must be able to talk without moving your lips, which sounds easy. But you go through the alphabet repeating each letter in a different voice and when you get to the Bs the Ps you're using the soft palate and the tongue behind the teeth, you can get an exact reproduction of the sound. A bottle of beer, a bottle of beer, a bottle of beer, a bottle of beer, a bottle of beer... Well done, Blaskett, your mouth didn't move at all. AUDIENCE LAUGHS

The main thing with ventriloquism, is not to keep the figure turning in to you. He's got to develop that separate movement, so he's looking to the audience on the right, and on the left, and over there. You're looking here and he's talking to somebody there. You see them out of the corner of your eye and you use that. # Nottingham # My shadow

# A-a-a-nd mine. # Closed Captions by CSI

This Program is

Captioned Live.

The Government sets a course

for Nauru and the Opposition

gets on board. My understanding

is that the legislation is

going to allow Nauru, that's

good policy. Container returns,

will the Government support a

deposit scheme. It's good sense

and the people want it. Why did

the butler do it? The leaking

of confidential Vatican papers

goes to court. And will the

bride make off with a record

price? A rarely seen Arthur

Boyd up for grabs in

Melbourne. They are very

tightly held and rarely come on

to the market.