My friend Kristy and I are big fans of Annabel Crabb, the political commentator, writer and host of Kitchen Cabinet. A few weeks ago Kristy went along to an event for Annabel's first cookbook in Perth and baked her something that made her Twitter-famous - Helen Garner gingerbread, or Helen Garnerbread.
First things first, how did you meet Annabel Crabb?
I met Annabel at a literary lunch in Perth. There were two events that day, a talk at a fancy private school and the lunch in town. I thought the lunch would be nicer. Annabel arrived just after me and I think I was staring (contemplating handing over my present to her) because a woman asked me if I needed help. Maybe I had a whiff of stalker about me.
Annabel visited each table for a chat while we ate our meal (roast chicken with quinoa and roasted beetroot). I got very excited when she came to our table and waved her over. Well, I waved a cellophane wrapped Garnerbread frantically until I caught her eye.
I normally bake bread for people but wasn't sure about her feelings on bread. Then late at night while I was lying in bed I thought - why don't I make her a gingerbread that looks like Helen Garner, knowing that she is a huge fan of her work. I have quite a few crazy ideas in the middle of the night. Sometimes they don't stand up to the light of day but the next morning I thought, why not?
I used a normal gingerbread man cutter but then reshaped the dough slightly because Helen is slim and gingerbread men are not. I didn't sketch it out, just Googled ‘Helen Garner images’ and winged it. I saw a great pic where she was wearing an artfully draped scarf and decided to make one of those. Adding The First Stone popped into my head as I was rolling grey fondant for Helen's hair.
What was Annabel's reaction to Helen Garnerbread? I saw it was all over Twitter the next day :)
But @jetlagmama, who gave me Helen Garnerbreads (holding fondant First Stone), officially wins. @leighsales pic.twitter.com/J9lk26C4SN— Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) November 18, 2015
I read The First Stone for the first time only recently and kind of knew that I was reading it in a very different time, where our attitudes towards sexual harassment have evolved. You attended the book launch in Sydney in the mid-nineties, do you remember what the reaction to the book was like then?
I find it interesting that you think our attitudes have evolved since then. Sometimes I wonder if they have. I was at university when it came out and there was a real buzz about the book. At that time authors were doing talks at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sunday mornings. For Helen's talk it was moved from the smaller space that they usually used into a large ballroom area and it was packed. The atmosphere was highly charged and Helen was impressive with her calm demeanour as people like Eva Cox yelled questions at her. Thinking about this I would really like to re-read the book to see how I feel about it now.
Finally, what is your favourite Helen Garner book?
I kind of like that there's always quite a lot of Helen in each book. I would have to say I prefer her non-fiction. Saying that my favourite book of hers is The Spare Room. Even though it is supposed to be fiction, to me it reads like non-fiction. I liked that it was so honest, devastating and compelling.