Notes from the Sydney Writers Festival – The Big Deal with Kirsten Tranter

Posted on June 6, 2010 by


 I saw Kirsten a lot at the writers festival and the first thing to say about her (in order to create some context) is that she comes from Australian literary royalty. Her mother is the über famous agent Lyn Tranter (ALM) and her father is the famous and illustrious poet John Tranter. Kirsten first novel The Legacy was sold through an auction and received a larger than average advance.

Kirsten was never particularly grilled over her parentage, but it did come up in every conversation with her,  giving any audience member a peculiar feeling of being required to fall on either side of the Tranter fence.  It’s like the elephant in the room with her, and you can see her carry the weight of it on her intelligent delicate persona. The unasked question is, who is Kirsten Tranter without her parents and the answer is there would be no Kirsten Tranter without her parents, so lets stop talking about it shall we?

However, for the writer trying to ‘make it’ the question is an essential one. I am a writer busy sending out my work. Ok, I represent a very small portion of the population, but the readership could be thrust into the same dilemma, and that increases the weight of our voice. There is a distinct thread in bright, noticed intelligent writes these days that involves literary heritage – if not in one’s blood line, then in one’s academic thread. For example, each of the young writers recently chosen by The New Yorker has illustrious academic backgrounds.

No one asked Kirsten Tranter if she received her grant from the Australia Council to write The Legacy and subsequent advance because of her lineage and academic history. And while I completely understand this, I felt the burden of the un-asked question in every line delivered by Kirsten.

There is the issue of the answer of course. What can Kirsten say to that question? No I did not receive such a stunning debut because of my parents, or Yes, I received such a stunning debut because of my parents.

I happen to think the question isn’t asked because she is such an intelligent presence and we all want to give her a chance to stand on her own. For gods sake, the woman has an enormous amount of academic credential that she achieved all by herself – nothing to do with her parents – so she deserves to not be hampered by the question. But surely not asking the question is the flip side of this generosity and I worry that the question will become very important in the future – particularly if Ms Tranter continues to be a great success.

For myself,  I was so impressed with her (particularly the way she navigated Colm Toibin  who monopolised their conversation on Henry James  the way only an old man can) that I purchased the book and will post a review here as soon as I’ve completed it. Despite the fact that I am a writer determined to make it, without any ‘parents giving birth to me’ (academic or otherwise) Kirsten’s intelligence won me over and I have great faith in her book.

I would like to say for Kirsten at the end of the day that is all that matters, but I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be.

Lisa Thatcher

For more information on Kirsten Tranter please go to