Saturday, April 25, 2015


I've been so busy I have not had a chance to write much up. This is mostly due to revamping my study, catching up on writing about Newcastle Writers Festival, and then the storms.

But March started beautifully with a fabulous afternoon at Bowery Boys in honour of our lovely friend C. A whole bunch of us ate, drank, and chattered and it was divine. Must plan the next one!

I finally got to the optometrist and yes I need reading glasses, I was not at all surprised. I am particular about such things, I told the receptionist helping me choose frames this, she sort of looked at me like, yep that's what everyone says, but after 30mins think she conceded I was, lol! I had a style in my mind, not one I had seen, but one I had made up, and some came close but not quite. She pulled out an amazing purple tortoiseshell pair, and I loved them, if only they were in blue...and they were and she ordered me a pair. When I went in to see them I nearly cried, they were EXACTLY what I had imagined, so I got the purple AND the blue, cause a girl has to have options!

March began the great study revamp and declutter, this is something I have had on my to do list for a few years. I got rid of the large old dining table I was using as a desk. It was simply too big, but had belonged to my grandparents, so I was sad to see it go, but hopefully The Salvation Army gave it to a needy family. I had already gotten rid of a smaller unit holding most of my CDs, culled and rearranged in drawers that fitted them perfectly in the wardrobe in that room.

I could now head out and buy a big bookcase, new desk, and a found a skinny tallboy that I could use as extra storage. Furniture ordered and desk sitting in flat pack in the garage I could now start to rearrange my books in readiness. I also had to remove blu-tac from my wall...this was far more difficult than I realised, but with the aid of a couple of tins of WD-40, all was resolved, I felt a bit like Banksy up a ladder with a spray can, lol, and I do think I was a bit out of it for a few days from the fumes!

I have a lot of books, so it was a huge job going through them and re-arranging them...but hey, I am a Librarian this is my job!

Alas, when my furniture was delivered the huge bookcase wouldn't fit in the house...long story, but they were lovely and they ordered a custom built piece, but with a long wait, thus the job was more on that next month!!

S and I had a great evening at Cardiff Library listening to Lisa Heidke talk about writing, life, love and everything in between. We then took her out for supper at Coco Mondo, what fun we had!

Earlier in the month my fabulous group of gal pals, A, J & L, met at Carrington Bowling Club with our Ukuleles for a 2 hour lesson. We were freaking awesome if I may say so. Rocking out all sorts of tunes including Rhiannon. Problem is we have been so busy we have yet to have a follow up practice. This we must fix stat!

I also caught Absinthe in The Spiegeltent with C after a fab meal at The Clarendon. Absinthe was remarkable, a little bit naughty, and definitely death defying. Lots of laughs and loads of gasps!!!

A few days later M and I saw a local production of Equus. I had not seen the play before, only knew of it's reputation, but it is so much more than that. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, we have some great local theatre here in Newcastle.

Halfway through the month a bunch of us trekked up to Nobby's Lighthouse for Go Elsewhere, a concert with Paul Dempsey, Steve Smyth, Melody Pool, and some other local acts. It was a warm afternoon but up there the breeze off the ocean cooled things beautifully. The local bands were laid back and the perfect backdrop as the sun started to drop. We indulged in the best Nachos I have EVER had from the Casa de Loco truck, drank beer, and chatted. Melody Pool was lovely, a little bit country, a little bit folk. 

We were looking forward to Steve Smyth, I had seen him a few times before having 'discovering' him on Rockwiz, and think he is an astonishing musician and performer. As the sun set he came on and performed the most haunting version of Summertime. I nearly passed out, my love of Gershwin knows no bounds, but this was sublime. He played his usual blues, rock, ballad music including a heart wrenching version of The Air That I Breathe. Paul Dempsey was also outstanding, and a perfect finish to a perfect time.

A & I hit Merewether Surf House for a scrumptious lunch one sunny Monday, the views there are fabulous, if you have not gone, you simply must. And if you park over the other side of the road, you get to walk through the fabulous aquarium tunnel that takes you to Merewether Beach and the Surf House.

Work was pretty busy during March, with coming and goings of staff, and me doing a lot of recruiting. I also had another session of my baby reading group, this time including our ex-trainee who brought her gorgeous little daughter with her, so exciting. I also got back into my Taking it to The Streets program, where we go out into the community to talk about the library and visit our area. This time my colleague and I headed to Gwandalon and Nords Wharf. We visited preschools, schools, community halls, and just soaked in that beautiful part of our community.

The month ended with a group of us heading to Toukley, via Italian at Summerland Point, to The Beachcomber Hotel to see Mental As Anything for M's birthday. I've not been there before and let me say there was spectacular people watching at The Beachcomber!!! It was your typical RSL type club, but had the most magnificent 'shed' out the back for bands. It was a large hall type shed, wood surround, and tin roof, open to the side for views of the lake. The acoustics were great and plenty of room for dancing. So the Mentals are just Greedy Smith, Martin Plaza and a backup band. But they were tight and sounded great, they just lacked the eccentricity of the O'Doherty Brothers.

I had been lucky enough to see them live in their prime in the early 90s and it was great. But you know, this was equally as good. They just know...old. Martin looked like he could possibly die on stage, but sounded fab. Greedy wore a long, grey ponytail ,but again sounded great and full of energy. I did realise for every fabulous song, they had two ordinary ones, but that was ok. The fabulous ones made up for it tenfold: Spirt Got Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Berserk Warriors, Too many times, Egypt. They also covered some Elvis and other 50s pieces too. When they finished Greedy unplugged his plastic jug and shook it in the air to us - Rock N Roll!!!! So that really was tea he was drinking through the concert, lol!!!

As usual markets, walks, plenty of reviews, and photography.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


What I've been watching
Concert for Bangladesh - for whatever reason, I had never seen this and what a remarkable documentary/concert it is. With extras and interviews about the concert, I was mesmerised. Featuring George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Leon Russell. These boys were all of 30 years old, give or take, at the time of filming and it is a thing to behold. Supported by Ravi Shankar and Bangladesh musicians, the music is sublime. The first all star concert to raise money for a cause.
Night Train to Lisbon - this is a wonderful film starring Jeremy Irons. Jeremy comes across a woman attempting to jump off a bridge and stops her, he takes her back to his University, but she disappears, leaving her coat behind. In the coat was a small rare book and he becomes obsessed with the woman and the book. He boards a train to Lisbon, where he thinks she has returned and to find out more about the writer of the book. He meets a whole range of people and hidden stories begin to unravel, from the past and the now. This was superb, with stunning cinematography in Lisbon (a city that I would very much like to visit), and a great cast including Charlotte Rampling, Lena Olin, Jack Huston, Melanie Laurent, and Bruno Ganz.
Monuments Men - what a disappointing film this was. Excellent cast and a cracking story. Yet it just didn't come across that way. It felt like Oceans 11 finding stolen art, and it shouldn't have. All the actors, most of whom are great character actors, came across as themselves, the very few serious bits - and remember, this IS a war film - came across anything but serious, it was trying too hard to be a comedy against a serious backdrop. I read a lot about stolen art, and whilst I have not read this book, I have read a lot about this story, so I had high expectations. This is not to say it's a bad film, it's just a dumbed down version of what should be an amazing film.
Salinger - this is a documentary about the great writer. Like most great artists, Salinger was flawed. I felt this was not exactly the most balanced film about his life, it tended towards the negatives and sensationalistic aspects of his life. I didn't really learn anything new, except for that Oona O'Neil left him for Charlie Chaplin while he was at war. Although, how I did not know that is strange! Of course, I love hearing about his bunker of colour coded stories, supposedly to be released in 2015...guess we won't hold our breath!
Welcome to New York - This is a very provocative film starring Gerard Depardieu about a French Politian, who is a bit of a rogue with the ladies. Married to Jacqueline Bisset and living off her money, she manages to keep his discrepancies hidden until he sexually assaults a maid in a New York Hotel. He is arrested at the airport and is held until a court hearing. This was difficult to watch, yet I couldn't turn away either. Depardieu was hypnotic, yet I suspect (sadly) this character may be very much like the man himself in real life. Bisset was outstanding. Unsure if this is a much watch though.
Sin City 2 - whilst this was not as good as the first film, it was still pretty amazing to watch. Great cast, noir feel, especially to the story of course, and highly stylised visuals. If you loved the first one, you will still love this, but just be a little disappointed it was not as good at the first.
Tracks - this is my pick of the month, and close to a perfect film. Based on a true story about Robyn Davidson (played beautifully by Mia Wasikowska) who treks the Australian outback with camels and her dog. To fund the trip, she sells her story to National Geographic and allows Rick Smolan (played by Adam Driver, who looks astonishingly like the real life person) to join her during parts of the trek. The acting is superb, she gives her all and then some. The story fascinating and very moving, and the cinematography appears like perfect photographs, which, of course, works perfectly for the story. This is a must see!!
A Long Way Down - this is the disappointing film of the disappointing Nick Hornby book. I adore Hornby, but he had a dull period which began with this title. Basically an ex television anchor decides to commit suicide on NYE by jumping off a building, and runs into 3 others trying to do the same thing. A black comedy with some poignant bits, it didn't work on paper and much the same on film.
Nymphomaniac, parts 1 and 2 - this is a stunning two parter from Lars von Trier, and possibly his masterpiece. To start with his films are not for every one and this long tale about the life of Joe (played brilliantly by Charlotte Gainsbourg) a nymphomaniac makes it even tougher watching. It is graphic, and confronting, and disturbing, and very full on. Yet it is beautifully filmed. Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds a beaten woman (Gainsbourg) barely breathing on the footpath near his home. He takes her in and she tells him her story, which is shown over both films from her life as a small child. The acting is remarkable and features a large cast, but it is Gainsbourg's film. I really recommend this, but realise it is not for everybody.
New Girl 3 - this is fun in small does, binging on a full season, makes me less impressed with it. I do love Zoey Deschanel but her twee-ness does need space!. This is the Prince episode season, and that it totally worth the 'price of admission', totally bizarre given he asked to be on the show. But very funny and surreal.
Once Upon a Time 3 - I do love this clever family show. It's underrated in my opinion. Fairy tale characters are living in their own town in the real world, due to a crazy spell. The story toggles back and forth between both worlds, every fairy tale character you can think of shows up, people not normally intertwined are. The cast are fab and fun, especially Robert Carlyle as Rumpilstiltskein/Mr Gold and Lana Parilla as the Evil Queen/Regina. It's not top notch acting or cinematography, but clever storytelling with a nod and wink.
Snowpiercer - this is my movie of the month, from director Bong Joon (The Host, which I also loved). Snowpiercer is a train on a continual loop around the world - a post apocalyptic world totally snow bound with no life surviving there. The train is long and full of sections, from rich to poor. The poor, led by Chris Evans with Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and John Hurt try to make their way forward and drama ensues. Stunningly shot, I really wish I had seen this on the big screen. Tilda Swinton and Ed Harris also feature. The set design, from carriages of the train to views from the train to the snowbound world are just outstanding. Great acting too, humour, pathos, drama, Snowpiercer has it all and is is a must see.
What I've been listening to
Belle and Sebastian - their latest offering is their best in a long time. I love Belle and Sebastian so much, they write bouncy pop tunes with serious lyrics about life, books, history, art, and everything in between. All their albums are great, but this is just better than anything they have done in a while. If you've never heard them, this would be a great introduction to their style.
Bob Seger - I love all the Bobs, - Dylan, Marley, and Seger. I don't like Old Time ROck and Roll - radio played it way too many times when I was younger, but the rest are my go too when I need a little cheering up. Although We've Got Tonight kinda kills me. And young Bob is hot, reminds me of Dave Grohl.
Sleater-Kinney - new album after a long break, kick arse and punky-pop, just as you would expect, possibly better than you would expect.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Hypnotic eye, a solid turn from The Heartbreakers, I really enjoyed this
Seth McFarlane - this is an album of standards, McFarlane is the Family Guy dude and a great classic singer, you'll mistake him for Gene Kelly. This is a sweet album, and swings in parts.
Here's the thing Alec Baldwin - I have been devouring these podcasts like there is no tomorrow. I started with a stunning one with Julie Andrews, went through and listened to all the ones that interested me and now working my way through every piece starting at the beginning. Alec is a consummate interviewer, his gravely yet smooth voice, is perfect for radio, and his love of politics, theatre, classic movies, music, and, New York shine through. This knowledge makes for great conversations and the unexpected are often the best. My favourites so far are: Julie Andrews, Ira Glass, Jerry Seinfeld, Debbie Reynolds, Thom Yorke, Lena Dunham, David Letterman, Billy Joel, and Danny Bennett (son of Tony).
What I've been reading
I haven't been reading much due to needing glass, so was thrilled when I finally got some towards the end of the month, I can see and read again!!!!!
Gerard Durrell - Been continuing to listen to these fabulous stories in the car, some are a little dated, but most work just fine. Funny, and interesting. If you love animals - as I do - and a laugh - who doesn't - these are worth exploring. Start with his stories from Corfu, where he spent his childhood, and take it from there. The most recent I read, was about his traineeship at a zoo in his early 20s, what a bunch of characters - the animals and the people. Durrell has a way with words, and a twist of the tale that brings humour and wit to most situations he finds himself in.
New York by Janelle McCulloch - a sort of travel guide, but with lovely photos, quotes and hidden places to see. Luscious and homesick inducing.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay - I started this towards the end of the month and it is one of the best essay style books I have read. I love her dry wit and honest style. One essay about Scrabble tournaments had me in tears laughing, so clever and so funny. Due to Roxane's appearance on QandA loads of people wanted to read it, so I sent it back to the library and ordered my own copy - more next month!
Cupid Stunts: the life and radio times of Kenny Everett by David and Caroline Stafford -  I loved The Kenny Everett Video Show as a kid, I am unsure I was 'allowed' to watch it, but watch it I did. I guess a lot of the humour went over my young head, but I did know he was a naughty boy. I loved this book, he spends most of the time with his radio legacy, which I knew of, but not quite how much. He started on the pirate radio stations off shore, and was quite a trail blazer. There are personal tales and of course his life on tele. It seems a lovely even handed biography, and sad in parts of course. Worth checking out if you are a fan.
What a croc - NT examiner headlines - this is pure silly, but funny all the same, crazy newspaper headlines and the stories behind them.


Sunday, April 19, 2015


The Library was lucky to host a talk and demonstration, in late March, by Peter Lewis, cartoonist for our local paper, The Newcastle Herald.

Peter gave an interesting and informative talk to the large audience.

He started with a caricature of Bob Hawke; swiftly and simply produced, Hawkie, now hangs in my office. 

He spoke about the politicians he loved to use and why. Hawke and Keating were in power when he started and they became his best friends. He joked he can do a lot with Abbott’s ears. But he loved drawing Julia Gillard the most. He met her about three years ago and when she found out he was a cartoonist she joked about her nose and he told her she was his favourite.

He showed a picture of the meeting with him and Julia and the Newcastle Herald staff, he sadly pointed out that many of them no longer work there due to cuts. And it looked like more were to come.

Peter then had a great slideshow of various cartoons published, and not published, from the past few years. He explained nuances of each cartoon, some had more depth than others. He said sometimes cartoons are pulled at the last moment, as they are deemed too political or risk litigation. He said Orica was the gift that kept on giving, and also the fig trees.

 Peter had really sound political knowledge and was sensitive about difficult issues. He felt a cartoon was important as it could say things easier and better than words. But it is something that is consumed in seconds but takes a good 1.5 hours to draw. He further explained that the smart politicians know the cartoons can actually help them, but mostly he felt politicians were like seagulls fighting over a hot chip.

He also spoke about his dog at great length who is often featured in the cartoons as a witness or a counter point as if he were you in the cartoon. The dog was based on his own dog as a puppy, Romeo, who has since passed. People come up to him about the dog all the time, they love him and get upset if he is not in the cartoon. Sometimes, it is not right to include the dog in a piece though.

Peter finished the talk by drawing the portrait of an audience member, and it was outstanding. As he drew he encouraged questions and talk as he loves to talk while he is drawing people.

Peter was trained in fine arts and explained that cartooning, especially caricatures, goes against the grain for a classically trained artist, but it is fun. He likes that he gets to reinvent himself daily, but that needs flexibility and a sense of humour, which he definitely had. He likes to interest and amuse people and he hopes that comes out in his cartoons. 

Everybody takes humour for granted, but it is much more difficult than it look. He is interested in how humour works and how do you make it funny for everyone. He prefers to use brush and ink rather than pens. Peter has done this all his life, but given more restructuring was happening at the Herald, may not be around for much longer. We all hoped this wasn’t the case.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


It has taken me a few weeks to digest all I saw and heard at the 2015 Newcastle Writers Festival.

I feel 2015 was the best year yet with a very full weekend and I saw as much as I could.

There was no way I could condense all this amazing into one simple blog post. So I decided to do a post for each session and link them together on one post. From here you can click on the links below to the 10 sessions over 1 night and 2 days.

Friday night was opening night, this year in City Hall which was to be our home for the next two days. We were thrilled to be in the presence of Helen Garner, Jessica Rudd, and Michael Robotham, all talking to Caroline Baum about The Book That Changed Me - an inspiring start by any means.

Saturday began at Newcastle Library with the book launch for Don't Think About Purple Elephants as part of their children's program. This launch was very special as the author, Susan Whelan, is a good friend of mine. The launch was exciting for all involved and the Lovett Gallery was packed with eager readers awaiting a special reading from Susan. 

From there I headed to City Hall for the remainder of the day and a session on The Treatment of Asylum Seekers. This was an extraordinary session, with a passionate and articulate panel including two refugees. They told us their story, and had us in tears, and are now great forces in our community, helping others and assisting fellow refugees.  

My friend, Linda Drummond, hosted an informative session on Self Publishing. I went along to support my friend, but was enlightened with the panel's wisdom and positive stories about Self Publishing.

We followed that session with a talk by author, Marion Halligan. Marion is an ex-Novocastrian, and a great writer of real life, grief and sex. Listening to her talk is always delightful, and this was no different.

My favourite non Helen Garner session was Outward Bound, with Bob Brown, Favel Parrett, and Clarie Dunn talking about connecting with wild places. Their passion, sensitivity, and exquisite storytelling shone through in this exemplary session.

The final session for Saturday was Helen Garner in conversation with Caroline Baum, and what a great conversation it was. What struck me the most was her explanation of writing the type of book she does in the way she does. But you'll have to read my piece to find out more.

Whilst tired after a long and full day, it was lovely to have some dinner at Coco Mondo with my lovely friend B and debrief on the festival and our busy lives. 

Sunday began a little later than expected with the sad withdrawal of Les Murray. So instead of starting my day with him reading his poems, I started by hearing an eclectic group of writers reading their 500 words autobiographical story. As always this was an exciting and varied session.

Next up was This Writing Life, another fabulous panel featuring Don Watson, P.M. Newton, and Brooke Davis. They spoke to Rosemarie Milsom about writing, their inspirations, deadlines, the muse, and everything else in between.

The final session for the day was Radical Lives featuring the formidable Vera Deacon and others, and the launch of the Radical Newcastle book. This was a fitting end to the festival with the feisty Vera stealing the show and enlightening the huge audience about her Radical life.

What a wonderful weekend I had.

I saw and heard so much brilliance I was overwhelmed and my soul overfed. I caught up with many friends, planned and unexpectedly. And I bought more books for later from the fabulous pop-up MacLeans Bookshop.

I brought many thoughts and ideas away from the festival, have many more books to read, authors to share, and I also bow down to the mother of the festival, the incomparable Rosemarie Milsom.

But the main feeling I came away with was how wonderful some people are in terms of their love of our country and the people that live within it. Many of the sessions I attended spoke of overcoming hardship, fighting for our lives or space, being kind to others, working out how to live our best life, and just being good model citizens.

Whether it was Bob Brown fighting for The Franklin, Don Watson leading the way with exemplary writing, and Helen Garner dissecting the underbelly in the most humane and beautiful way. Marion Halligan writing about the elderly and grief, and Vera Deacon raising hell where it was needed. Or glorious survivors like Aran Mylvaganam and Munjed Al Muderis seeking asylum in our country to help others in the most remarkable way, there was a story of passion, altruism, and activism to be told.

These are the stories that shape our nation, and guide us to a better place. And in an ever growing unstable society, we need this more than ever. I was struck and reminded of this the entire weekend. But for every amazing person listed above it feels like there are 2-3 people who just don't get it, and that saddens me. I kept thinking if there were more heroes like those I heard over the weekend, real heroes, surely our world would be a better place. And if everyone heard these stories, and were educated in a more kind-hearted way about them, surely we could turn this country around. And those of us who really do care could stop being embarrassed.

We must connect with each other, our indigenous cultures, welcome refugees, look after our environment, and educate, enlighten and life those that are not so sure to do the same. That is what I took away from the weekend, so I will continue to share these stories with anyone who will listen, and I urge you all to do the same and I hope that a kinder, wiser community will evolve and peace will be at hand.

The written word is a powerful thing, as shown by this array of astounding authors over this wonderful weekend. I am looking forward to next years festival on the weekend of 1-3 April, 2016.


Radical Lives was the final session of Newcastle Writers Festival and what a glorious tone to finish on.

Hosted by Nancy Cushing, and featuring Vera Deacon, Daniela Heil, and John Maynard. The session celebrated the launch of the book, Radical Newcastle, which features stories from Newcastle's amazing radical past from a range of Novocastrians.

I was completely and utterly hypnotised by this session, and whilst both Daniela and John had interesting words to pass on about their own radical stories, the session was a love-fest for the remarkable and incomparable Vera Deacon.

Now, it is with great shame that I say this was my first exposure to Vera. But I am a Vera convert now and am thrilled to have heard her speak.

I think I worked out Vera was 89 or thereabouts, and what a feisty, joyous soul she was. A soul that has obviously lived the most full and remarkable life.

She rose to her feet and uttered some self deprecating words and then barely paused until her time was up. She spoke about her family background, and her passion and fighting spirit shone through. She had the audience cheering, clapping, and on their feet. I felt equal parts small and insignificant (for my pale life in comparison), and strong and proud (for being a woman and being in her mighty presence).

I wanted to write all about her and what she spoke about, but found my words did her no justice. I typed and deleted, typed and deleted but did not want to be defeated, because Vera would never let herself be defeated. Then I realised the only way Vera should be represented is by her self.

So I shall present you with Vera as she spoke on the day.

How wonderful is The Internet, thanks to Gionnai DiGravio for having the forethought to record this important event for everyone to see.

It is worth every second, so please watch, you will see not only a passionate and loud woman, but a proud and kind soul, with a lot of love to give and much reason to keep fighting the good fight.

I came away from this session feeling proud to be a Novocastrian and proud to be female, I had a new hero and was a little bit in love.

If we all were half as amazing as Vera, imagine what a world we could live in...a far far better one that we already do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


This Writing life was a great panel talk with Brooke Davis, P.M. Newton, and Don Watson about inspiration, motivation, and writing practice, and hosted by Rosemarie Milsom.
This was a generous and interesting session, with loads of funny, mostly contributed by the dry wit of Don Watson - the reason I choose the session.
Don started with his background writing for Max Gilles, then Keating, which is impressive no matter your political leanings. He said he drifted into writing without knowing, started as an academic and then became an 'uncomfortable writer.' As the session progressed you could see he still was uncomfortable with the term writer and indeed his ability. He said 'these things creep up on you' and 'are no practical use to society' - we disagree!
Brooke was a bit of a Lisa Simpson as a child, and was told writing was a hobby not a career. So initially she felt like a fraud with much self doubt. She genuinely didn't believe she would be published
P.M. didn't write when she was young but she made up many stories in her head - this was me too, I have only dabbled on and off in writing until recent years and I do need to clear some of those old made up stories out of my head! As a former policewoman, P.M. said it beat any creativity out of writing. After leaving the police force she wrote liner notes for African albums, and taking photos - some of which became album covers. She then thought to herself I could be a writer.
She was living in India and there was a triple murder of Indian Monks near to where she was living. She dealt with this and all the police work by starting to write creatively about it, and 15 years later she published her first book. She still expects to be politely tapped on the shoulder and asked to leave being told she has been found out.
The three authors discussed Fiction Vs Non Fiction next with Don saying he writes NF out of chaos. He has written fiction for films, TV, and satire, but knew he would make money out of NF. He does say he has a whole novel in his head, so let's hope he gets that down on paper.
Brooke wrote her debut novel as her Phd, it's about grief and taken from her life. But she needed distance to get the job done. Working it as a fictional novel worked best for her.
For P.M. it was the visceral shock of the triple murders, and she needed to remove and distance herself from the event and write fiction. She has written short pieces for The Drum, one about the student who was tasered and killed, and also about the heaviness of carrying a weapon. She prefers to write fiction, although she has been approached to write NF but cannot knock on doors and ask people to open up about tragedies and such.
Next up was a discussion on time-frames and how they write. Don said habits suggest regularity, but this was not the case. He also spoke of the standard of political debate and how it has declined, language has been given up. Politicians simply communicate now and do not use concrete language, it's too abstract and they bore us to tears. He went gloriously off topic many times, he also said he loved Anna Karenina and 100 Years of Solitude for their writing and how malleable the truth is.
Brooke is a more regimented writer, but feels moments of not writing are important to writing, eg to take breaks, or do some exercise. She admits she is not good with deadlines.
P.M. is messy and uncoordinated, different books need different space, she writes by hand, thinks deadlines are essential, but really hard.
The conversation morphed into the ever present (or not?) muse. Don admitted his muse comes at gunpoint. Brooke said caring for her Nan, who had had a stroke, made her realise she wanted to write about caring for the elderly and that they are worthwhile. P.M. had interest in the Royal Wood Commission and crime in the 90s including high court decisions for Cambodian refugees and MABO.
Don's advice to would be writers was to care for language. He spoke about grammar stating that if people wrote grammatically correct grammartarians would be miserable with nothing to whine about. Brooke quoted Hemingway, 'the first draft of everything is always shit.' This reminded me of a similar Gaiman quote that said something like 10% of what you write is gold, the rest is just practice. P.M. says that every published author has one thing in common, they finished a beginning, a middle and an end. And let it be shit filled with cliches in the first draft.
Don summed it up with a quote, the source I am not sure of: I will write as well as I can on each occasion. 

And I guess that is all we can do.


Sunday began a little later than expected with the sad withdrawal of Les Murray. So instead of starting my day with him reading his poems, I started by hearing an eclectic group of writers reading their 500 words autobiographical story.

This time last year I was one of the nervous contributors, waiting to read my own short story, about canoeing with Hippos in Zimbabwe, so I could understand what these people, mostly first time writers, were going through.

I took no notes for this, as the stories were so engaging I simply forgot to write things down, so relying on memory here!

First up was the guy known as Mr Ukulele. Having had an epic ukulele lesson from him only a few weeks earlier, it was lovely to hear the story of meeting his wife and wooing her, all to the backdrop of an Ani DiFranco song, he even played the song on his guitar! It was funny and romantic, and made our hearts swell.

There were stories of much frivolity and laughter: about a young boy breaking the hills hoist from swinging on it too much, another about a young couple jumping on a bed so much the print that hung above it fell off and broke, and one of lady being scared of spiders and the lengths she went to to avoid walking past one in her house.

A man told a heart wrenching story about almost losing everything in his life after an accident at work, and his brief homelessness and subsequent depression. Tears came to my eyes as he gently told his story and it's uplifting ending of hope. I knew this man. And let's face it, there for the grace of god we all walk.

A heavily accented lady told a great and hilarious cultural difference story behind the phrase, 'bring a plate' to a BBQ.

Another uplifting story was about making a change in one's life and going for your dreams, in this man's case, a photographer, and getting there, more quickly and professionally than he even imagined.

All the stories had heart, great depth and range, these people showcased their lives and the world they live/d in, with grace, humility, humour, and generosity. 

The 500 Words project, by ABC Open, and looked after beautifully in The Hunter, by Anthony Scully is a great project. You submit autobiographical stories of 500 words each month on a specified topic. It can test you with memory, sharpness, being spare, and entertaining. I have been involved, at work and personally, with the project for some time now and cannot recommend it enough.

NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL 2015: Helen Garner in conversation with Caroline Baum

This was the session we had all been waiting for...ok, I had been waiting for.
Helen Garner in conversation with Caroline Baum, talking about her latest book and hopefully other topics.
And it was all this and more.
I am relying on my memory and a few notes here, as I was so engrossed I did not write a lot down.
Caroline started by asking Helen to read page one of her latest book, This House of Grief.  Caroline said it reads like a twisted fairy tale, especially with the use of 'Once' within that section. Helen agreed that that had been her intention. She also says she writes her first page last and thought of the story as a bad country and western song, in fact she wished she could have turned it into a song.
They spoke about how terribly difficult this book was to write and how she struggled with it, especially as it went to a second trial, she did not know if she had it in her to finish it. Her sister told her to free herself. She did put it aside for a while with the intent of not coming back to it, but it lured her back.
Caroline and Helen then went over some of the topics from Friday night's opening night, including sentimentality within endings. Helen spoke about her love of the film, 12 Angry Men - another favourite of mine, and that it had a happy ending which some would call sentimental, she doesn't agree. Sometimes endings are happy or sentimental, it can be irritating, but also true. This is interesting as I have never really been a fan of the happy ending, my experience in life has just not been that, so I can find them false and irritating. Yet, there are some, which really ring true and they make me smile, a gift of hopefulness I guess.
Caroline told Helen that David Marr had called her our greatest writer of Non-Fiction. Helen was taken aback by this strong praise.
They then went on to talk about the bit of trouble Helen found herself in by making a comment about the trial at The Wheeler Centre, while the trial was still on. She commented that "only one person knows what happened that night and he's not talking." meaning that Farquharson was behind the wheel but couldn't remember anything that happened. The talk went up on Youtube and she was called on contempt of court and asked to get the video down asap, which she did. She believes now, she was bluffed!
She spoke about Fiction versus Non-Fiction, explaining that when you are writing Fiction and you get into a jam, you just make up stuff, but not so with Non Fiction, there is a duty to the facts.
Helen also spoke about her relationships with people she shared the courtroom with, including the police, she believes a good cop is a really fabulous person. I agree with her wholeheartedly.
Helen then went on to talk about the thing that struck me about her and the book the most, her portrait of Farquharson himself. She was struck by his sadness, and only described what she witnessed and was taken to task on it by many people. She was told she was making excuses for him and she was rocked by it. She felt she had been fair to all involved and she realised people want wanted to hear he was a monster. And this is what I love about Helen the person and Helen the writer - for they are the same - she said she writes these books so we can get an insight into that person. Not to feel sorry or to feel hatred, but so we might be able to see that person coming and prevent such things happening again.

Powerful stuff huh?
She explained the events leading up to what happened and how you can see he was effected, this means no blame to his wife, it is what it is. She was saddened by people's reactions to her descriptions, saying it was crude and simplistic to be so black and white about human behaviour, it was like trying to find an algebraic equation that did not exist.
I could feel her helplessness as she described all of this, her kindness and her disappointment in the more judgmental, simplistic views of people. I understood where she is coming from, I whispered to my friend B, "she just gets people". 

And this is what makes her writing superb. She is matter of a fact, and to the point, spare of words, and deep in humanity. The subject matter of her Non Fiction is not what I would normally read, but I immerse myself in it, because she is not only our best writer of Non Fiction, but our best writer full stop.


Outward Bound was a fabulous panel hosted by Rosemarie Milsom about the significance of connecting with wild places, near and far. The panel was Bob Brown, Clarie Dunn, and Favel Parrett.
This was a most outstanding lesion, mostly due to the absolute passion for the environment of all three panelists, each with a wondrous story to tell.
Bob Brown, such a beautiful, softly spoken man, was full of wisdom and amazing kindness. I have always adored him, but to be in his presence was pretty spectacular. He asked the question when queried of his love of the wilderness, "why do we give each other flowers and not chainsaws." 

Oh, did I mention, he was funny too!! 

He spoke a lot of his love of the outdoors and we are meant to spend time there. He explained the curl of our ears are to hear things on the forest floor!
Favel Parrett grew up in Tasmania, and as part of her primary schooling, the kids were dropped off in the wilderness at night, and had to set up camp and survive. She said Tassies are shaped by their environment. Favel is a respected author, mostly for her new book, When the night comes, about Antarctica. Favel spoke about the chills coming off Antarctica through to Tasmania, and the Aurora Australis. This challenged her to head to Casey Station to research for a book.
Bob also spoke about Tasmania, in particular last August, when he thought they were being robbed after hearing horrendous banging outside. When they got up to check out the noise, they realised it was a whale giving birth outside their house in the water. They watched and followed it until it disappeared from view. What a marvelous experience. Of course, being Bob Brown, he rang National Parks the next morning to report it and baby and mother were doing fine!
Claire Dunn worked for The Wilderness Society until she felt overwhelmed by it all, and took to the bush for a year surviving only on what was out there. She started by talking about how she got into altruism, she spoke about tree felling in Chicheste,r and how she protested about this and from there she found herself working for The Wilderness Society.
For Bob, it was his first trip down The Franklin River, and the subsequent work on it that led to his activism. Listening to Bob describe that first trip, back in 1975, was the most magical and beautiful thing I have heard. His passion and love came through and he had me in tears, what a a gentle, beautiful soul. He describes being in nature as 'the greatest elixir for anxiety.'

Favel then described her first experience in Antarctica, she spoke softly of shades of blues and whites, with a little pink in the sky. It sounded wondrous. She also spoke about going to the toilet in the middle of the night, full sun with penguins waddling nearby. Her exquisite storytelling had the audience in the palm of her hand,
When Claire Dunn disappeared into the wild for a year and built her own hut she was having a breakdown of sorts. She was worn out from activism and her work, and felt she was talking about it all but not really living it.
Bob spoke about materialism versus spiritualism, both have a place and the thing is to get the balance right. It's ok to buy things you need, it's not ok to overdo it. And the worst thing we can do is to turn off from the problems. He says the best thing you can do is to take your children on a picnic. The bush is where we all come from.
What struck me most about Bob on this panel was the look of appreciation and kindness he had on his face when both Claire and Favel spoke. Generous and supportive, pleased to see the younger generation feeling the same way as him I guess.
Favel says you don't even have to go bush to appreciate the wild, she takes her nephew bird watching in city parks.
All three spoke passionately about the wilderness, their experiences and their writing. All were eloquent and passionate and strong, yet softly spoken, kind and gentle about their causes.

it was a truly amazing experience, I was in awe of their ability to spend long periods in the wild (I love nature, but being out and about in it I find very challenging).
I cannot wait to read all their books, and I highly recommend listening to any of them, but especially Bob Brown, speak if you ever get the chance.

Oh and I haven't mentioned Rosemarie, tireless, amazing Rosemarie, who asked fabulous questions and was a lively presence keeping things you would expect!


Goodbye Sweetheart is the name of the latest book by Marion Halligan, but we heard Marion in all her glory talking about all sort of things relating to her life as an author.
I first heard Marion speak at the first NWF about memoir and she fascinated me then, and she still does now. I haven't read any of her full books, but a few of her short stories. I want to read some of her stories, but I have so many other books to read, I know I don't have time for her at the moment, but I know I will soon. I am a Librarian, not being able to read everything is an occupational hazard!
Despite all this I just love hearing Marion speak, she looks like someone's posh granny, in fact she reminds me of my own grandmother. She is a little bit posh, very well spoken and presented. However, she has this sassy and spicey side to her which belies her appearance...I love that! She'll be talking about something and Bam, a swear word or a sexy tidbit, I love people like that!
The talk started referencing the fact that the Australian Women's Weekly refused to publish one of Marion's short stories some years ago. She was told there was "too much unease" for AWW readers within her story. You have no idea how much this amused me! She had already been published in literary journals and knew that Sylvia Plath has tried to publish in similar magazines and did not have success either. Marion had given up on AWW and was ok with it she smirked. Of course she is, my heart just melted a little there and then.
Although she did say she didn't like the title of Literary Fiction, but she is aware she doesn't really do happy endings.
She likes to explore grief and said she loved Joan Didion's Year of magical did I! In fact I adore Joan's writing.
Marion changed publishers when she was told her book, The Fog Garden, had too much sex in it. It was a fictional take on her husbnad dying, but she had made a lot of it up. She was refused a Miles Franklin nomination because of this, people suggested it was not fiction. Marion had spoken about this, the fine line between memoir as fiction, in the first NWF.
She then referenced her actual memoir, A Taste of Memory, about food, travels and so forth, it is a memoir in essays.
She likes to write about grief as it is a part of life. The worst thing you can say to a grieving person is, 'don't worry, you'll get over it, it will pass." She said she didn't want that when her husband died, she earned her grief and she wanted that. Death is a fact in our lives.
Death is a catalyst in her new book. She likes her characters, even those that might not be that nice. She feels that 'novels are ways of asking people to think about their lives.'
There was a small digression here about naming characters, and she admitted to judging people on the names they give their children...I do the same!
Marion also spoke about sense of place within novels and find those that work best are based on some sort of reality, that is concrete details of something real, you get the essence of that in the work, and you believe it. 

Marion doesn't do much research, just uses what is in her head...and what a remarkable head it is.


Going it Alone was a panel on self publishing hosted by my good friend, Linda Drummond, and featuring self published authors, Greg Field, Nim Gholkar, and Francesca Suters.
I went along to support my friend, who I might add was a quite wonderful host and interviewer, and came away with some interesting little gems and stories.
Here is some of what I learned:
Timeframes and deadlines are still important, and design is in your hands when you self publish.
It is really hard but don't be discouraged.
It is important to create a buzz well in advance - online presence and social media can assist with that. Some have shared small chapters on line as tidbits, and use comments to help edit them. They are not left up forever though. Also great to show covers when you have them designed.
There are so many ways and places to market online, you need to look at all the options and work out what fits best with you.
Some use blogging to practice writing, this can develop an audience. Also to review other books on the blog, can lead to return reviews. The beauty of self publishing is you can pick and choose what works for you.
Nim calls herself an authorpreneur, and Francesca says that self publishing gives you complete control over your story.
Greg spoke about editing, he has a group of 'beta testers' he trusts and a cousin who is an editor. You do need an editor who understands what you are doing, and a good editor can allow you to assess your work critically and objectively.
The group were asked if they could make a living Self Publishing. Francesca says she does if for love, not money, and still keeps a job. Greg says it is a platform to express his artistry. Nim says don't give up your day job.
Greg also said to be careful of sharks, but there are good people out there that won't take all your money.
Francesca says she started by searching Self Publishing online and narrowed it down by eliminating those with grammatical errors.
Nim says to understand your target audience. 

I found this whole panel fascinating, and tenacious in terms of getting their work out there. So don't be discouraged, there is hope if you want to be a published author.

NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL: The Treatment of Asylum Seekers

The Treatment of Asylum Seekers: Australia's Heart of Darkness? was a panel discussion hosted by Felicity Biggins.

The panel consisted of Georgina Ramsey, an anthropologist; David Manne, a human rights lawyer; Rosie Scott, author; and Munjed Al Muderis and Aran Mylvaganam - both actual refugees.

This was a very intense session and I will admit to being in tears for most of, especially when Munjed and Aran told their stories.

Georgina Ramsey was a young anthropologist. She has spent time in Uganda, and spoke about how they had thought Australia was difficult to get into but found there were no queues. This was a subject matter raised again and again by the panelist, these mythical, scare mongering queues - they simply do not exist.

David Manne is a human rights lawyer who helps vulnerable people from life threatening harm, "there is a simple beauty in that."

Aran Mylvaganam was a refugee, escaping the Sri Lankan military at 13 years old. He was at school in 1995 when seven bombs hit. He witnessed his own brother being killed, cut in half by shrapnel. He also had cousins killed by the same strike. His uncle rounded him and his cousins that survived and sent them away. They were in Villawood for 3 months. This is part of his story, one can only imagine what this tragedy has done to him. Aran assists other refugees now, using his experience as a positive example.

Rosie Scott edited a book with Thomas Keneally on refugees, in hope of bringing these issues into the mainstream. They had many famous Australians collaborate with them.

Munjed Al Muderis fled Saddem Hussein's regime because, as a surgeon, he did not want to amputate ears as part of torture. He is now a well respected surgeon dealing with robotics for prosthetics, in particular knees and legs. I will also add he is my brother-in-law's prosthetic leg surgeon and a much loved figure in our family. I knew he was a refugee but I had no idea his background was so traumatic. He was the most eloquent man but you could feel his devastation when speaking, not his story, but the way refugees are being treated now. He also reiterated there is no queue. He feels this is the biggest crisis since WWII, and we all need to grow up and be part of this society.

Aran reiterated that to stop the boats, we really need to stop the terror the people are fleeing from. And that the Australian government aided the Sri Lanken Army with tanks etc - we need to stop aiding them.

David Manne said it was not as simple as good and evil or dark and light, there are many layers to this problem. 

And then conversation turned to children.

Munjed said we are all involved whether we like it or not, and that he didn't "think anyone on earth should prevent children from education for one day." Europe don't detain people like we do here, and there were explanations on their processes which sounded fair and stealthy enough in terms of capturing anything untoward. Munjed has translated for children who had been molested when he was in his 10 month stay at detention. He didn't go into detail, he didn't have to, the look on his face, and the tone of his voice said it all.

David Manne spoke about "deprivation of liberty of a child in this society."

I felt totally gutted by this session, I guess it was nothing I didn't know already, but to hear these stories, especially Munjed and Aram's, they were the epitome of soul destroying. Yet here were these fine, intelligent, beautifully spoken men helping educate us, and having strong and important roles in society. To me, this is the best advocate for the cause. It helped ease my pain and the huge supportive crowd also helped soothe my soul.

But what more can we do, at a grass roots level?

We need to educate those that do not have the facts, and explain what is happening, and help turn them around and the more people we get through to, to larger the cause is and that might just get through to our government.
Kindness and understanding for our fellow humans on this precious planet...that is really shouldn't be difficult at all!

After the session I bought Munjed's book for my brother-in-law, and headed over for him to sign it. I introduced myself and mentioned my brother-in-law, he knew who I meant immediately and asked after him, my sister and their children. We had a lovely chat and he wrote some beautiful words in the book, too personal to mention here, but when I read them in private later, tears came to my eyes. Imagine if he had not been able to escape, imagine all the lives he has helped since arriving here, not just with his skills as a surgeon, but with his kindness. It's too painful to think about.