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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Melbourne Writers Festival - Part 1

The Melbourne Writers Festival is nearing the end and this year I was fortunate enough to attend a few events.

My old university had programmed a writer’s talk for alumni, so I thought I’d go and see what it was like. I had only heard of one of the authors and had not read any of their books, but that didn’t deter me. I must admit, driving there I thought I should have been a bit better prepared, maybe googled them at least, but I hadn’t.

I had been an off campus student, so it took me more than a few minutes to navigate myself to a parking spot. The teeny tiny map they had emailed was not a huge help. Likewise I had to ask the way to the Library where the event was being held. But I found it and was pleasantly surprised to see a table full of drinks and nibbles on offer. I had thought I wouldn’t be eating until I got home, so this was definitely a bonus.

While trying to work out the logistics of holding a glass of wine, a serviette and a nibbly bit that I was trying to eat, the lady standing next to me said “hi” and we struck up a conversation. She was very nice and at the end of the event we exchanged business cards, so you never know, I might have found a friend!

It was soon time to take our seats and my new friend and I daringly sat in the middle of the front row. The authors who were talking were Ananda Braxton-Smith, Frank Moorhouse and Jon Watts. Their brief was to talk about their writing process. I had heard of Frank Moorhouse before, but knew nothing of the two others.

Ananda spoke first. She writes novels for 10-14 year olds, set in medieval times. Her way of talking, her stance, the way she flicked her hair, all reminded me of an old school friend and I wondered what she was up to nowadays. Ananda’s process was all enveloping. She would draft her story, then write up storyboards, similar to cinematic processes, and put them out on her floor, shifting them around until she had the right sequence. She would also write poetry about characters in the novel, make collages, invent songs and pretty much become immersed in the work in progress. More about her novels here:

Frank Moorhouse spoke next. He fascinated me from the start. He had been writing for over 40 years and was part of the “Sydney Push”, a left wing, intellectual group which operated from the 1940s to the early 70s and were notorious for rejecting conventional morality and authority. What particularly captivated my interest was just how honest his writing was. He was promoting his memoir and his writing held nothing back; the sexual, the political, the good the bad and the ugly. Some of his essays can be found here: He admitted he’d often had death threats; journalists camped outside his house and had also lost friendships over his writing. I’ve always wanted to be more honest and open about my writing, but have been scared of the consequences, so his daring intrigued me. When I discovered he was giving a lecture on privacy issues the next night, I made up my mind to attend.

The last speaker was Jon Watts who had written a book on environmental issues entitled “When a Billion Chinese Jump”. He was the most amusing of all the speakers and, if he hadn’t written such an enormous book, I might be tempted to read it! You can find a taste of his writing here: His process had centred on procrastination and the determination not to shave until the book was written – and he hates beards! He is an environmental journalist based in Asia and the stories he had to tell were very poignant. He too has received hate mail from environmental sceptics but the evidence he has that we are killing our planet seemed to be pretty overwhelming.

All in all I had a super evening. My brain was stimulated, I found renewed motivation to write and I might have made a friend!

Part two – the next two events I attended – the Moorhouse oration on privacy and the powerful oration given by Noel Pearson, a prominent Australian Aboriginal activist and leader.


  1. I've never attended such an event but I am sure it is very interesting hearing how authors work. All do so in very different ways. At the advice of some fellow bloggers I bought Stephen King's book titled On Writing. He advocates not working with a plot but rather letting the story tell itself and the characters develop as they will. Very different to Ananda and her complex way of working. I think different ways of writing work for different people. Looking forward to Part Two of your post.

  2. I'm so glad you had a fabulous time! It sounded very interesting from beginning to end!

  3. That is wonderful that you were able to attend some of it. Sounds great.

  4. Mommy - it was interesting, especially as they were three very different authors! I've read Stephen King's book and must buy it one day.

    Kazzy - it was!

    Carol - I'm so glad I made the effort to go.

    Robyn - It was great!

  5. I think you've hit your spot. I can just picture you sitting there both tired from the events and just bubbling with the excitement of it when you typed this.

    I'm glad you decided to do this.

  6. Domestic - I guess I was bubbling a bit! lol