We waited, with expectation and chatter energizing the halls. There were other emotions in the air as well, pride, maybe a communal understanding, as if we were a tribe coming together for a special celebration.

We were being given a chance to share time and space with a person we felt we knew and greatly admired, loved even, although not in the typical fan way. This was different. As we were let into The Edge Auditorium at the State Library of Queensland, Bryan Brown sat relaxed on the stage. Seated next to him was journalist Frances Whiting, ready to pepper him with questions and guide the discussion at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival (BWF) event recently. Bryan Brown was there to discuss his new crime novel, The Drowning, published by Allen & Unwin.

We weren’t there just to hear about the book. We were there for Bryan who is everything Australian men want to be and Australian women desire. He’s funny, a larrikin, having perfected self-effacing humor while also being able to take the piss out of just about anyone or anything, all delivered with a smile and impish gleam in his eye.

He also slips into serious mode when necessary, tackling topics that require gravity and contemplation. He cares deeply and his years of experience inform a world view that resonates with people and there is no denying his very natural charm. He’s relatable, grounded, clever, and seems approachable … essentially great mate material and people feel an affinity with him. He has been part of their lives for decades having been in more than  80 film and TV productions over his 76 years. Most recently he starred as Slim Halliday in the Netflix series Boy Swallows Universe, based on the novel by Trent Dalton.

I met Bryan more than 30 years ago at the 21 Club in Manhattan, when Dodi Fayed hosted a dinner there to celebrate plans to film F/X2, the sequel to F/X, two movies he produced after the Oscar winning Chariots of Fire. Both starred Bryan and his lovely wife Rachel Ward. The elegant private room held about 14 of us and Dodi put me in the middle of the table, with him on my right and Bryan on my left. (I dated Dodi briefly in the late 1980’s, this was one of the dates.) During the dinner Bryan regaled everyone with stories and jokes, and if he wasn’t leading the table in discussion, he was spinning some yarn in my ear, causing me to howl with glee. He was and still is a joy-maker, as the afternoon session at BWF demonstrated. 

“So, you’ve got a few female characters in your book, with interesting names. There’s a Sheila … Wanda … Noelene,” Frances Whiting let each name linger as chuckles rippled through the crowd. Bryan smiled. Caught red-handed.

The Drowning, is brimming with Australian characters and culture.  From coffee shop antics, to surf and beach life, Aboriginal ways, and hidden hinterland crims, The Drowning is as Aussie as they come. The book opens with a crime, described in just the right amount of detail and, as the story progresses, the suspense and mystery build as the reader is taken back and forth through time. One becomes easily invested in the characters, curious about their fates, hoping for a resolution while not wanting the book to end. Enough surprises are delivered to keep the pages turning.

The narrator effortlessly slips into each character’s head while still maintaining their own voice. Brown’s write-as-you-talk style heavily sprinkled with Strine may not garner international literary awards but will certainly connect with his audience. Bryan is a natural storyteller.

He credits his extensive and acclaimed acting career with his love of stories, although he admits writing is, in some ways, better than acting. “I like that I control everything, all aspects of the narrative,” he says in response to an audience member’s question.

When asked about the strong women characters in The Drowning, he says he has always been surrounded by strong women, starting with his mother, who raised him and his siblings on her own. Talking about his childhood stirs something in Bryan, a fleeting reference to a wallop or two also gets a laugh and quite a few nods. Yup, that’s something people of a certain age understand.  

Trent Dalton has called Bryan’s  book “a work of rattling and serpentine suspense… gripping and sinuous and so, so good.”

I enjoyed it thoroughly. After the  BWF session I reminded him of our dinner. “My goodness, I have only been to the 21 Club twice in my life. I remember that.”

 I beamed.

“You know, when the car accident happened everyone was talking about Diana, but all I could think about was Dodi,” he said

“Me too, it was an odd time. Surreal.”

We chatted a bit more before his publisher pulled him away to sign books. I waited in line to have another chat. Why not?  When I got to the table, he looked at me incredulous again.

“How long ago was that dinner?”

“It was around ‘89, so that makes it… 35 years.” 

“Geez,” he said. “Crazy.”

 We made more small talk but there were still people waiting with books in hand for their chance to say hello. As I started walking away he said, “You haven’t changed a bit.”

I smiled. “Neither have you.”

Laurie Marsden is a writer, psychotherapist and activist. A former top model in the 80’s and 90’s, Laurie’s upcoming memoir MEN and me too reflects on power, integrity, love, lust and relationships in that era. A New Yorker with a passion for art, Laurie currently enjoys living in Brisbane with its thriving cultural scene. Follow her @Laurie.Marsden


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