For those who feel the loneliness of the desk …

A guest post by Debra Eckerling Most writers would agree: it’s a lonely profession. If you’re lucky, you get to spend lots of time behind the computer writing articles, prose, books, screenplays, etc. The drawback: you spend lots of time behind the computer. It’s essential for writers to connect with others for various reasons. Building…

via How to Develop Relationships with Other Writers — Aerogramme Writers’ Studio

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And life gets in the way

With all good intentions, I committed to writing a weekly round up of the ‘Writing across borders’ course I was teaching last semester – but life got in the way.

I find blogging a curious practice. I’m still unsure as to whether it adds or subtracts from my writing – time, ideas, ability and confidence. Often I find the conversational mode not suited to the writing I want to post. Sometimes, the blog is the only writing I do for weeks but then I spend time polishing the posts and never wind up posting. Yes, it has been a long year already – health, work, home issues abound. Its been a marathon.

So, that’s part of the excuse of the hiatus in my posts about the course. The other part of the excuse is that I take quite seriously the notion that any form of ‘publishing’ – a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post – are all considered and part of my engagement with words. If I publish something then it is ‘published’, final in that form, and even if I then (as I often do) use these same topics, ideas or responses to inform other writing, the iteration needs to be substantially different. This meant that when I decided to write an academic paper about my teaching of the course, I stopped thinking and posting blog updates on the course.

I decided to write the paper, in part because of the reaction of some students – their resistance to the subject grew from week to week – so that I could think through my experience of teaching the material. I wrote it and the paper was accepted for the Australasian Association of Writing Programs  conference in November this year. Fun huh!?

The writing of the paper took centre stage and the blog moved to the side.


Dingo crossing the road, Uluru, June 2014

I also finalised an essay ‘Australia Twice Traversed‘ on my experience of visiting Uluru. It was published this month in Mascara Literary Review, along with a book review I wrote of Natalie Harkin’s superb book of poetry, Dirty Words.

I do believe that finding the right form for your story is crucial to telling it – perhaps blog posts weren’t the right form for my story of the course? I’m not sure. I will, though, be picking up some of the threads from the course over the coming months on this blog.

Stay tuned.



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Week 2: Who can speak?

With the second week we began the block of the course that focused on ‘Narrator: Self, Other and Character’. This section drew from the first part of Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance (p. 7-63).

In the lecture I walked students through the trajectory of Indigenous writing in Australia, going back to David Unaipon’s Legendary Tales of the Aborigines in 1930, Jack Patten’s speech for the Aborigines Protection Association on the first national Day of Mourning, 26 January 1938, and the Yolgnu Bark Petitions in 1963. Of course, Aboriginal people were engaging with the English language from the early days of the colony and as Scott makes the point, the old Noongar man who danced with Flinders’ men on the WA beach in 1801 is one form of cultural engagement and cross-fertilization.

But as I explained to my students, Aboriginal writing in English really started with memoir in various modes of genre, Jack Davis plays and poems, Ella Simon’s memoir Through my Eyes, Kevin Gilbert’s interviews and plays, all of which date from about the 1960s through to the late 1970s.

I used Ruby Langford Ginibi’s great statement about her desire to write memoir rather than fiction:

‘I’m not interested in fiction. Don’t need to be, because I’m too busy writing the truth about my people. . . . This is from our side of the fence. . . . Although the history of the whole of white Australia is one of the biggest fictions, aye?’ (Ginibi, 1994)

to highlight how a creative choice can be (and to my mind, always is) political.

Kim Scott, who published his first novel in 1993 just a few years after Ginibi’s first memoir, argued this in ‘Covered up with Sand’:

‘I’d like to think that writing fiction is sometimes a way to explore, to rethink and possibly to retrieve or create something from between and behind the lines on the page. As such it can help the revitalisation and regeneration of an Indigenous heritage, in so far as it involves ‘shaking up’ and making space within the most readily available language—that of the coloniser—for other ways of thinking.’ (Scott 2007, p123)

I suggested to students that what Scott offers to me, a white person, here is the opportunity to think about the stories I make space for on the page. It makes me realise the power I have to subvert, pay attention to, ignore subjects, characters, modes, all the while using English to the best of my ability. I also think it opens up my thinking to Scott’s ‘ambivalences’, to write with uncertainty and experimentation and to understand that there is no singular answer, just our attempts to tell more interesting, relevant, stories of our times.

When we open That Deadman Dance, we find the prologue. We meet Wabalanginy for the first time. ‘Kaya’ (hello, yes) he writes on slate. We see Wabalanginy delighted with his new skill of written communication with the Europeans who are now staying in his country and we begin to sense what an exceptional cross-cultural communicator he is going to be:

‘Moving between languages, Bobby wrote on stone.’ (Scott, 2010 p. 1)

Wabalanginy is a sophisticated, curious young man at this point of the story. He is adept at operating in both languages and cultures and is keen to share the one with the other and back again: Wabalanginy wants to communicate across cultures.

As I was (re)reading the book in preparation for this class, I got to wondering how I might write like this.

In the first lecture I brought up the idea of ‘whiteness’, basically, the study of white privilege. But the big challenge with the study of whiteness is that we can very easily turn it into the centre of our focus. As a result, we fixate on what whiteness is and how it affects whiteys like me rather than what whiteness does, how it operates in the world outside our privilege; ie. how we create the world because of our privilege. In doing this, we run the very real risk of re-centering our study on ourselves and making us ‘the most important’ – cultural navel gazing.

Academic Alison Ravenscroft, in writing about a number of non-Inidgenous writers writing colonial histories, both fiction and nonfiction, states that:

‘… despite non-Indigenous writers’ best efforts to revise the colonial story, they nevertheless risk revitalizing it instead …’ (Ravenscroft, 2013)

In our attempts to rewrite, reimagine the early days of colonisation, we often in fact, claim significance for ourselves, and privilege our versions of the stories. In this article, ‘The Strangeness of the Dance’, Ravenscroft is also investigating why Scott’s writing is different and why it is able to do ‘different work’. She states that her endeavour is to:

‘… insist on the importance of aesthetic form: on the way a story is pushed into shape, on the form of its telling rather than only its narrative content… [and] that relying on our capacity to uncover new historical facts, new archival records or even new memories will not be enough to tell a different story. It is to argue that an emphasis on facts … but equally an emphasis on white imaginative powers risks repeating the same old story, with all the reiterations of colonial impulses that this implies.’ (Ravenscroft, 2013)

What Ravenscroft demands of us when she challenges us in this way is to confront and interrogate our own biases and look at the characters we create, the decisions we make around plot, genre, who gets to speak, and what they get to say. This interrogation is imperative whenever we are writing any character or world that is ‘other’ to us, woman or man, age, sexuality, class, place or culture. When it comes to asking ‘Who can speak?’ we need to first ask the question who is asking and why.

Now, I want to draw your attention to Scott’s writing, his syntax and his thematic interests, and how he has combined these on the page in That Deadman Dance. The first section: 1833-1835 is a flash forward of sorts – not that we realise this when we read it initially because it isn’t until we get to the second part that we go back in time. This allows Scott to foreshadow some of the drama and outcomes of the novel – we can reflect from one part to the next on what has occurred and what might still occur. This overarching structural device makes the novel as a whole dynamic, each part dependent on the other.

‘Menak’s campfire would have been invisible from the ship, yet his view took in the inner harbor, the great bay, the islands and the ship coming around the headland…. But of course a ship’s canvas wings hold the wind, and keep that wave tumbling and frothing at its sharp breast as it slices and pushes the sea aside. Such power and grace, and there is that milky scar as the sea closes again, healing.’ (Scott 2010, p12)

This opening paragraph is about Menak, the Noongar elder. We see him by himself in the landscape, a specific place, and we hear him wondering about the white people (the ‘horizon people’) who come and go, and their effect on the Noongar and the environment. Just from this one paragraph we know that Menak sees everything, that he can remain invisible in the landscape, that he imagines the ‘after’ of when the white people will have gone away, the ‘healing’, and that bodies or body parts are ever-present – ‘sharp breast as it slices’, ‘scar’, ‘healing’ – in his thinking. We know he is connected to the land and sea in different ways to the Europeans.

This section is also when we hear at length from non-Noongar people – Chaine, Skelly, Killam and Cross, in particular.

‘Geordie Chaine gripped a timber rail caked with salt, his nerves as tight as any rigging, and speared his attention to the immense grey-green land beyond the shore. Empty, he thought. Trackless. Waiting for him.’ (Scott 2010, p15)

I think it is useful for me as a writer to look at what Scott has done here. This is Chaine’s introduction but in fact, we have already met Chaine in the prologue and know that he develops a relationship with Wabalanginy. Here Scott is setting up the tension between the Noongar and the Europeans: we know the land is not empty but, because he appears in the prologue, Chaine has already been established as a significant player in the story and so his attitude carries weight. The idea of terra nullius is made personal from the very start of the novel. Place, a locale, is also made crucial to this particular story.

‘Chaine held the kangaroo skin Wooral had offered him awkwardly, fingering the small piece of bone used as a clasp when it was worn across the shoulders. Well-worn, oiled, softened, the animal skin seemed too intimate an item of apparel.’ (Scott, p45)

Both Chaine and Killam reject this ‘intimate’ gift, a piece of clothing or possibly protection. It’s a telling moment for the reader: What do we feel about the failure of this exchange? How has Scott positioned the Noongar-European relationship?

The tension of misunderstandings and differing priorities continues through the book. I could keep pulling out paragraphs, and it occurs in almost all of them, where Scott has set up a relationship and then challenged or undercut it. There is an offering or an exchange from one character to another and it never quite works. Scott does this through controlled focus on his themes – of dislocation and cross-cultural exchange – but also through the choice of words the character uses. Whether it is Chaine claiming territory even before he has set foot on land or Menak seeing the sea as a potential place of healing, we understand the complexity of the lack of cultural recognition that is occurring in the narrative. It isn’t that Scott is writing a straightforward oppositional story either – ‘you did this’, ‘you did that’ – he is creating slights and judgments and miscommunications and desire and disregard in almost every scene. Scott’s attention to place, nuance and to detail is exceptional.

It is moments like this one that we all need to be trying to get into our writing. Scott has created a text where we, the reader, are always hoping for better outcomes from the relationships in the book and those situations resonate with our contemporary Australian society.

Scott finishes his essay ‘Covered up with Sand’ with this:

‘It seems to me that any ‘global discourse’ has strong homogenising tendencies, and therefore we need to strengthen regional voices so they remain true to their own imperatives at the same time as being empowered to enter into exchange and dialogue. That means being willing to change, but also to cause change, and that seems our best hope for a transformation that increases, rather than reduces, the possibilities available to us—particularly for expressing who we are and what we might be.’ (Scott, 2007 p124)

In these times when life moves so fast and we might be more interested in the American election than in anything remotely connected to Wollongong or to our streets, or the people we see on the bus, I think it is a reassuring thing to remember, that our place has power and that the stories we tell from place have power.


Ginibi Ruby L., 1994 ( )

Ravenscroft, Alison 2013, “The Strangeness of the Dance: Kate Grenville, Rohan Wilson, Inga Clendinnen and Kim Scott’, Meanjin, Vol. 72, No. 4

Scott, Kim 2007, ‘Covered up with Sand’, Meanjin Vol. 6, No. 2 p.120-124

Scott, Kim 2010, That Deadman Dance, Picador Sydney

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It is a curious exercise preparing material that will make creative writing students question their own biases and knowledges without paralysing them in terms of their own writing at the same time. A subject like ‘Writing across Borders’ could still any imaginative leaps inexperienced (or experienced, now I think about it) writers may make about writing characters who are ‘other’, whether that be race, gender, age, disability and so on.

I have four students out of 36 who identify as having mixed heritage – all the others are Anglo white. It is to be expected in a creative writing university course in this country, and in the Illawarra, where a large segment of the university population studying arts come from white or Anglo-European heritage. I am fourth generation English and Scottish, just for the record.

The students appear interested in the subject and they have found Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance, an engrossing read but when it comes to their own writing, some students have resisted the idea that they need to (or even could) consider stories through a postcolonial lens, one suggested that she didn’t need to think about Aboriginal issues because Aboriginal people have made it quite clear they don’t want non-Aboriginal people to appropriate or tell stories for them.

In the first tutorial I asked them to read a poem from Natalie Harkin’s collection Dirty Words. Harkin’s work is angry and visceral as well as historical and intimate and the collection is a significant publication within Australian literature. The students could appreciate what Harkin was attempting and were quietened by her ability to confound their expectations of poetry.

We then discussed the idea of ‘reply’ (drawing literally on Anne Brewster) and I asked them to write a reply to Harkin, to respond in writing. They did with some fascinating results. As an extension of this, I asked them to then write as though they couldn’t respond, as though they were devoid of an ‘answer’ of any sort. They found this much more difficult and we discussed Ahmed’s argument that sometimes paying attention, listening, might be enough – or at least a start.

And so, the course began.

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Week 1: What is the border?

In week 1 of the class we began discussing what borders are, but specifically what borders we might cross in our writing: race, gender, class, age, disability, sexuality, ethnicity – ‘all the things’, as one of my students put it.

The border is a liminal space, oppositional but also dependent, inclusive as much as it is exclusive. By using Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance as the spine of this course, we can assess how one writer has approached the task of writing into history, writing cross-culturally, and writing with a particular aim as we experiment with various modes of address, of place, time, and writing difference.

Scott’s writing is ‘writing that is doing something rather than simply saying something’ (to paraphrase something I heard the Waanyi author Alexis Wright say at a conference), but as Scott says, fiction isn’t polemic and in his nuanced detailing of the relationships between Noongar and Noongar, Noongar and European and Noongar and story, time and language we find what he refers to as the ‘ambivalences’ of his story, the uncertainties.

This first week was an introduction to the novel, to my, a white Australian, approach to reading Indigenous writing (and why we should) and to a number of texts that discuss Scott’s work and that we will be reading later in the course. I also introduced the idea of ‘whiteness’ and the rigour we need when attempting to decentre white culture and privilege so as not to refocus our writing onto ‘what whiteness is, rather than what whiteness does’. [This is a line of Sara Ahmed’s but I’m not – this minute – sure where it is from.]

Anne Brewster, a writer and academic at UNSW who has done a lot of work around Scott’s writing, has argued that:

‘The personal address of whiteness writing seems to me in part predicated rhetorically upon the ethical imperative to reply’. (Brewster, 2005)

And I began the discussion of how our writing might fit into a dialogue across borders, a call and response of sorts.

I also asked my students, there are 36 of them but only a few are of mixed heritage and none are Aboriginal, these questions:

Who feels overwhelmed or uninterested or indifferent when a story about Aboriginal people comes on the television? Who thinks it doesn’t affect them or have any bearing on their lives? And if you think that, can you understand that that position is a position of privilege?

I told the students that a friend of mine refers to this feeling as ‘Aboriginal Fatigue’, but I continued, by saying ‘I decide if I care or not’, we are making a statement of choice, of privilege. Brewster would say that we, non-Aboriginal Australians, have an ‘ethical imperative to reply’ to these stories – and a reply might not mean we say anything, it might just constitute attention. It might just mean we listen. Sara Ahmed argues that:

‘You can attend to what you don’t know, you can offer an ethics of attention’ (Ahmed 2013 p.121)

Scott talks about the ‘means of production’ in his interview with Anne Brewster (2012), when he is talking about finding the right form for resistance, collaboration and ethical relationship between Noongar and wadjila:

He [Bobby] takes on the military dance that becomes the Dead Man Dance. He’s an expert at that and he fancies that his whole dancing quality is all about rhythm, for example, the dancing on the ship. I think it’s really important, that idea of rhythm. However in some of that he may have erred. He’s not quite the dancer he thought he was; or perhaps the dance as a form is not necessarily the form that’s going to powerfully speak to this mob—the ones that get up at the end of the novel, dismissively; he hasn’t got them. But, just possibly, writing is [the form]… (Scott, 2012 p.233)

Scott believes there is true value in writing – for the writer, for the reader, for the story, for our culture.

And bell hooks, African-American academic and writer would agree. She argues, in her book Feminism is for Everybody, that,

“To critique sexist images without offering alternatives is an incomplete intervention. Critique in and of itself does not lead to change.”

And so, the world needs writers – even if we don’t think we can change the world with our writing, even if what we think we are writing is foolish. If we are trying to offer alternatives, or insights, or opportunities, then even at our most flawed and foolish we have succeeded.

I concluded the lecture by saying that in this course, we are going to waver between knowing, and not knowing, replying and sitting with the inability to reply. It is quite fine to not know, to not understand but, I would argue, it is unethical for us not to be conscious of our privilege, to dismiss the border we are crossing in our writing, and to be open to the complexities of writing across that border.

I will blog about the tutorials separately very soon – and there are more weeks of discussion to post too. Stay tuned.

Ahmed S, 2013. [Have to dig this full reference up to!]
Brewster A., 2005. ‘Writing whiteness: The personal turn’, Australian Humanities Review, Issue 35
Brewster A., & Scott K., 2012. ‘Can You Anchor a Shimmering Nation State via Regional Indigenous Roots? Kim Scott talks to Anne Brewster about That Deadman Dance’. Cultural Studies Review, Vol. 18, No. 1
Scott K., 2010. That Deadman Dance. Sydney: PanMacmillan
Watkins G/hooks b., 2000. Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics. Cambridge MA: South End Press
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And now teaching

This semester I am teaching a creative writing course at the University of Wollongong (UOW) that I am really excited about. I’ve taught a number of other courses at UOW over the last few years and many that I have been genuinely enthusiastic to teach – I like teaching and I particularly enjoy teaching writing. There is something about engaging students in new ways of reading and thinking about writing and then writing that I find really rewarding.

This course, called ‘Writing Across Borders’, though, is an adaptation of a course that sits within the core subjects of the Creative Writing degree. It has been taught for a number of years by the award winning writer and academic Merlinda Bobis who has now retired from academia (but not writing – who retires from writing?). I was asked to re-vision the subject for my interests in postcolonial writing, whiteness and writing as a form of reply or dialogue. How cool is that? (Yes, I am a casual academic and we could have a discussion about the potential professional issues of this ask but you know what? Let’s not. Other people do that better than me, like here.)

My version of ‘Writing Across Borders’ focuses on Noongar writer Kim Scott’s novel That Deadman Dance that was published in 2010. It is a wonderfully told re-imagining of the colonisation of the Noongar people around Albany on the south west coast of Western Australia in the 1800s. The novel is inspired by true events of this frontier and is a sophisticated, engaging and moving evocation of the Noongar and European experience of colonisation.

Language, in all its connotations, is one of the primary themes of the novel. What is a language? How to communicate without language? What is lost when language is lost? Place and time is also primary to the novel – the specificity of experience, response, relationship – which is often overlooked in the broader discussions about the past and ongoing colonisation of Australia by non-Aboriginal people.

But significantly, the novel is about writing, it’s about how we tell our stories, what stories we tell and how we might be able to tell them differently. Investigating Scott’s writing with my writing students over 13 weeks is an extraordinary privilege, I reckon.

Because I am, in my writing and my life, overtly and continually interested in relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in this country, I am keen to keep track of the course as it progresses and so I have decided to blog our progress. I won’t be naming names or detailing responses from students in any way but I will be meditating on the material, posting links and asking questions – questions I have, questions my students have, questions that That Deadman Dance asks. I have also set weekly reading of other texts in a compare and contrast exercise and I will post those titles here as well. I hope you come along with me for the ride. To get started, here’s a link to a short taster of Kim Scott talking about That Deadman Dance.



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It’s been many months since I posted a blog. I could say ‘I’ve been so busy’ but I really hate it when people say ‘I’ve been so busy’ because ultimately, we are all busy all the time. The competition over who has been busiest is never ending and hmmm…pathetic? Often being busy is an excuse for not contacting people, not wanting to divert time away from what we consider important to those more difficult, emotional or perhaps demanding relationships that we don’t feel certain of, or can’t control or may lead to even more commitments or demands. It’s the same when I hear ‘I’m knackered’ or ‘I’m tired’. We all are. Some of us just don’t think it is a worthwhile topic of conversation.

I only have one friend who can get away with saying ‘I’m too busy’ and ‘I’m tired’ – yes, both – because she is working umpteen jobs all the time to keep the mortgage paid on her house. It’s just her. She has no one else to rely on or lean on or be supported by. She is hoping to be able to lie down and not to get up for awhile in the last two weeks of January. She doesn’t complain though, so she very rarely says ‘I’m so busy’ or ‘I’m tired’.

But, back to me! I have been busy but I can only recognise this in hindsight. I have been juggling writing with teaching and research and traveling for work and research. This week is the first week in a very long time that I don’t have to go anywhere at all and I think the travel is the element that tips me over from ‘busy’ to ‘too busy’. It is draining to be constantly working out leaving and arrival times, to be considering what I need and what I don’t need to take some place. To really think about how many books I will read in the few days I am away. The continual negotiation in my head makes me wonder how others travel as part of their job. I don’t think I could manage it. Today feels as though I have exhaled a long held breathe.

This is also the week where I have realised (again) how lucky I am. I am lucky to be able to write my doctorate full time – time being the luxury. I’m lucky to be able to plan ahead for the next project due to a grant from the Australia Council which means for the first time in a very long time, I am not anxious about where the next pay check is coming from. University teaching has finished for the year and the down hill run to Christmas has begun. The jacarandas are in full, dazzling, purple bloom.

All this makes me feel extremely lucky to be living in this time and space.

Lately, I’ve been lucky.

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Re-Writing and July Publications

Diving back into a manuscript that hasn’t felt the sun for over a year is an unnerving and surprising endeavour. I had written and re-written a manuscript of my experiences in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008. It was much liked but needed work and so it went back into the proverbial drawer (in my case, a taped up cardboard box) while I focused on other projects.

This year, though, I pulled it out and decided to work on a few chapters to get them into ‘stand alone’ state. I set myself deadlines for competitions and submissions and after working through a few of the stories, I decided to send out to two. Both are going to be published this month.

The first one ‘In the Kabul Bubble’ appears in Kill Your Darlings, a journal of contemporary writing in Australia and the second, ‘Then and Now’ in the 2013 Fish Anthology, published in Ireland. The Kill Your Darlings issue is online and in the shops from tomorrow and the Fish Anthology is launched on July 10 at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in Ireland and will be available to buy online after that.

The process of re-reading and re-thinking and then re-working has taught me much about tone, time and structure. The shifting of gears from approaching the manuscript as a ‘book’ to looking for indicative stories, excerpts or amalgamations that convey a similar feel but reveal different aspects of my time in Kabul, has been intriguing and a genuine freeing of my ideas about writing in general.

It has also been rewarding for both pieces to have found homes on their first outing. The Fish Memoir Competition is highly contested and my piece was judged to be in the top 10 from 810 entries from around the world. That is a great boost to the confidence. Kill Your Darlings is also a highly sought after publication by writers and the journals are always well-reviewed across the nation. Another confidence surge.

I don’t often talk about what I am doing or working away at – I don’t know why and I’m sure it hasn’t helped my ‘career’ over the years. This year I have decided to do things differently. I send work out. I say I have sent it out. I talk about what happens to that work. I am trying to make it obvious that I am ‘writing’. This is, of course, easier today because there is publication involved – an obvious marker of success. But I haven’t received two grants I have applied for this year. I did receive half another grant – ie. half the money – I asked for and because of my tight financial situation I had to turn it down. The project would have cost me more than double what I ‘didn’t get’ from the funding agency and I couldn’t justify that kind of debt. Such is the life of a writer and a student on a scholarship.

This process though, of opening up my world of writing to the outside, is a good and productive one. It has brought comment and discussion and support. Things I am often short on, or at least feel I am. It has also made me more critical of my work, more able to see the patterns, the repetitions, the glossed over sections of pain, than I have been before. It is also significantly about defeating the fear of rejection, of not being good enough. I now know, quite deeply, that sometimes what I write will be good enough, perhaps even really good and sometimes it won’t be. This month happens to be a ‘good’ month. Enjoy if you can afford the cost of the journals.

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Humbling: Newcastle Writers Festival, 2013

There are many aspects of writing that I find humbling. Firstly, that someone would publish my book. Secondly, that it sells at all. Thirdly, that people enjoy it so much they want to talk to me about it. The inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival ran from 5-7 April and I was asked to speak on a memoir panel. (This photo was taken by Festival staff).


The other two writers on the panel, both wonderful, were the much awarded Marion Halligan (who you can just see on the left of the photo) and Michael Sala, who, while only having published one book, has published many short stories in a range of publications. I found Michael’s book, The Last Thread, to be compelling and so engaging that I can still recall certain scenes months after reading it, so it was a real buzz to be on a panel with him. The Last thread has also just been shortlisted for the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for New Writing and the Commonwealth Book Prize. Marion’s most recent piece of memoir appears in the anthology of Canberra titled, The Invisible Thread: One Hundred Years of Words and with the title, ‘Luminous Moments’, I think she captures everything we were trying to communicate on the panel. Memoir is all about revealing the luminous moments, or making moments luminous, or seeing the ‘luminousness’ in the every day. There were some great questions from the floor and, as the panel was held in the old exercise yard of the old Newcastle jail, the ‘floor’ was a particularly evocative one!

Afterwards I met a young woman, also called Phillipa, who spelt her name in exactly the same way as I do – a rare thing. Phillipa is in her last year of high school and was almost moved to tears to meet me – a very flattering thing to happen. She said that both she and her mum read and re-read my book. That’s the fourth humbling thing on my list. We both got teary in the sandstone alcove of the lock up. Bryan also came up to speak to me. He asked me about writing and how I remember as much as I do. Simply put, I find that once I start down the road of ‘remembering’ other memories quickly rush up ahead of me. I hope Bryan writes his memories down as he has had a fascinating and thoughtful life. He told me about his early life in the seminary and one particularly vivid memory of young men dressed in black leaping out of train windows to avoid returning for the rest of their training. It was instantly engaging and I wanted to know more. Bryan left the priesthood and married and continued on with his life but has always had questions around his desire to be a priest. I really hope he starts writing. I would love to read his book. 

I also hosted a great panel on travel writing with three marvellous women: Nancy Knudsen, Hilary Linstead and Monica Trapaga. What fun! Their books, Shooting Stars and Flying Fish, Growing Old Outrageously and A Bite of the Big Apple respectively, are inspiring for all sorts of different reasons but the women had a few things in common: ‘chutzpah’, curiosity and all kinds of bravery. They were such lovely women with fabulous books.

Newcastle was nothing like I remembered from my childhood. It felt warm and relaxed as well as being old and grand. I think the point, Nobby’s Beach and the waterfront on the harbour is one of the most beautiful areas on the coast. The festival was also terrific – many thanks and congratulations to Rosemarie Milsom the director and chief organiser, and her many supporters. I am already looking forward to next year’s.  


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An Update

Posterous is closing on April 30 so I have moved all my previous blog posts into this WordPress blog. It feels fresh and new, all clean and straight lines…I wonder how long until the toast crumbs begin to gather?

You shall now find me here: yes, my very own virtual home. I feel a bit flash and grown up about that. I have also changed the name of the blog and am aiming to add all sorts of things – not just thoughts on writing and reading – because these days I can classify (justify?) anything as ‘research’.

I also wanted to tell you a story I have told twice in the last few weeks. It happened last year just before I left Shearer’s Bookshop and became a really full, full time student. A small, light haired woman, on the upward edge of middle age, came in and asked for a copy of Luke Davies’ Interferon Psalms. As blog readers (and all my friends) know this slim book of poetry was a life-changing read for me. I blogged about it here. As I walked my customer to the poetry section and pulled out a copy of the book, I began raving about how wonderful it was and how pleased I was that he had won the inaugural Prime Minister’s Award for it.

‘Yes, it is wonderful,’ the woman said. ‘I’m his mother and I’m buying this copy for a friend.’ I practically burst into tears. His Mother!

‘You should be very proud of him,’ I said, appreciating the difficulties that Davies’ life choices must have caused her, ‘the book is a real affirmation of life’. I knew I had tears in my eyes but she didn’t mind.

‘Yes. It is isn’t it. He had to borrow money to come to Australia just on the off-chance he won. He couldn’t afford the flight,’ she said. We pause. In that small silence there is pain and heartbreak but also wonder.

‘Please tell him that his book touched me, a complete stranger, just a reader, an ordinary person. I keep it by my bed now, just in case’, I said.

In the last two weeks I have had cause to recount this story, once to a man who asked if I had read the book and the second time to one of my sisters who I think became embarrassed at my emotional response to words on a page. Not just any words on a page though.

And so now, this telling makes three. Luke Davies’ mum is ace. So is Interferon Psalms.


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