Author Archives: More to the Story

Our Imagined Selves

I am settled back at my desk for the new year and working steadily towards concluding my PhD on the life stories of people from a refugee background.

Because of my study focus (anyone who has undertaken a PhD will relate to this) I’ve restricted many other activities for a while. I am, however, pleased to be participating in two sessions at the Perth Writers Week coming up later this month. The theme of this year is Our Imagined Selves, which so perfectly encapsulates to me the process of delving into a great book.

The fabulous Dianne Wolfer and I will be discussing what every parent, grandparent and any other family member needs to know about children’s literature, on the evening of Thursday 21 February at the Perth City Library.  I don’t know about you, but I always scratch my head when it comes to choosing books for the younger members of my family, so I am really looking forward to our chat.  Dianne is an excellent writer and is probably most famous for Lighthouse Girl, but my personal favourite is Granny Grommet and me. 

Then on Sunday 24 February I will be facilitating a group session involving very different people from different countries, with amazing stories. Infinite Worlds, Infinite Words brings together writers Balli Kaur Jaswal, Carly Findlay, Heather Morris and Future D Fidel to discuss the relationships between language, freedom and identity.

One of the aspects I love about this festival is the eclectic collection of writers and topics. We have the outstanding Chinese poet Zheng Xiaoqiong sharing his work and thoughts on the vexed issue of translation; Hugh Mackay and Greg Sheridan in a lively discussion with Bill Bunbury; Benjamin Law, Ursula Martinez & madison moore talking with Ruth Little on challenging narratives of identity and family; and Gail Jones, Susan Midalia and Greg Fleet talking about style, substance and humour with Laurie Steed.

There really is something to suit every literary taste. I hope to see you there!

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Balli Kaur Jaswal, Carly Findlay, Heather Morris and Future D Fidel

 

Spotlight on Burma

As part of the Perth Writers Week at the Centre for Stories there will be an evening of reflection and readings hosted by local Burmese intellectual Chris Lin, that puts the spotlight on Burma.

This event includes a selection of translated creative works read by Holden Sheppard and Michelle Johnston and is a great opportunity to understand more about Burma. Light refreshments of traditional Burmese food will also be served. The event is free but reservations are essential via the Perth Festival website.

Spotlight on Burma is part of PEN Perth’s interest in human rights and the responsible freedom of expression in our Indian Ocean region. PEN is a non-profit organisation with chapters all over the world that works at the intersection of writing and politics. In particular, PEN campaigns for the release of wrongfully imprisoned writers and advocates for the responsible freedom of expression.

The Burmese military government has had a long history of silencing its critics.   I wrote about Paul Kyaw one of the leaders of the pro-democracy uprising in 1988 in my last book More to the Story – conversations with refugees. Paul and his family were accepted as refugees over 20 years ago and he remains an active advocate for the Karen people both in Australia and overseas.

As a former journalist, top of my mind is the false imprisonment of two Reuters journalists in Burma. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Ooo have spent a year behind bars on trumped up charges. The court recently rejected their appeal and sentenced them to seven years in jail for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act. You can read more about their plight on the Al Jazeera network.

Even if you can’t attend the event in Perth, I encourage you to follow their story and to consider joining your local branch of PEN.

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Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone (File: Thein Zaw/AP photo)

Small places, close to home

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”                                                                                                               Eleanor Roosevelt

I just love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt as it captures the essence for me of what human rights are all about.

Tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, so it’s a good time to be thinking about those small places. Human Rights matter in our local communities, our neighbourhoods, at our work, during sport and when we are out socially. It’s in these places that we need to think about the equal dignity and worth of every person we meet or interact with as we go about our daily lives.

To mark the day, I’m heading off to the Centre for Stories in Perth to hear three very different speakers and to learn more.  My colleague at Curtin, Misty Farquhar, is one of the presenters. As well as facilitating LGBTIQ+ inclusion training and other projects to support the community, Misty is the founder of Bisexual+ Community Perth, is a TransFolk of WA Board member, and frequently presents on RTRFM’s All Things Queer program.

This year, International Human Rights Day marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

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As a writer I love that it is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.

At this time, as we watch far right and populist governments take control in many countries around the world, I feel it is more important than ever to know what’s going on around us and to speak up.

My own country of Australia contravenes several articles in the Declaration in relation to asylum seekers and the protection of the children who are refugees. Each day I wonder how I can live in a country where this can be possible, but then I look around the world.

In the US Donald Trump separated refugee parents and children at the Mexican border and banned Muslim immigration. In Burma we saw the persecution of thousands of Rohingya people and more than five million children risk famine in war-torn Yemen as food and fuel prices soar.  Save the Children has warned that an entire generation may face death and “starvation on an unprecedented scale”.

Many of my Hazara friends from Afghanistan are watching in horror as the Taliban once again gain more power in their country and persecute the Hazara minority and other members of the community who do not support them. 2018 has seen a further increase in violence as the Taliban continue to make territorial gains and target the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces bases and outposts. Researchers point out that despite the effective destruction of Islamic State, the influence and scope of terror groups is greater now than it was in 2001.

It’s easy to feel powerless – just one person who can’t do anything. I used to feel like that. But these days I feel the absolute necessity to be informed so I can speak up, correct mis-information and call out discrimination and bad behaviour when I see it. Even in those small places. I hope you can too.

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The Day of the Imprisoned Writer

“When another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free” – Orhan Pamuk

Today is the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, an annual, international day intended to recognise and support writers who resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression and who stand up to attacks made against their right to impart information.

Globally writers are increasingly targeted and silenced by their governments as the climate for freedom of expression continues to deteriorate.

Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said:

“This is a day of solidarity and action. It’s a day in which PEN’s global community stands with those writers who are paying a heavy price for their commitment and belief that we all have a right to express ourselves freely and peacefully. It is a day on which we say, in one voice, that they are not alone. It is also a day on which we tell those governments who seek to silence writers that we will continue to stand with them and against any authority, system, or power that views the right to free expression as a threat.’

In Burma anyone outspoken against military rule has been routinely locked up in prisons for years. Currently there are 43 prisons and over 50 labour camps holding political activists. We know many are writers, but have no idea of the exact number. Most recently, Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were jailed. These two journalists have been sentenced to seven years in prison on retaliatory charges of violating the government’s colonial-era Officials Secrets Act. Working for an international news organisation, they reported on a story of profound global significance a crisis: millions of Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Burma.

In China more than 50 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in conditions that pose a threat to their lives, according to the Independent PEN centre of Chinese writers.  Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace laureate and winner of the RSF Press Freedom Prize, and Yang Tongyan, a dissident blogger, both died in 2017 from cancers that were left untreated while in detention. Under tougher internet regulations, members of the public can now be jailed for the comments on a news item that they post on a social network or messaging service, or even just for sharing content.

Closer to Australia, one of the most public figures in the current refugee crises illegally detained and kept in limbo on Manus Island is Kurdish journalist Behrouz Bouchani. Behrouz is one of many hundreds of people on Manus Island who are denied their human right to seeking asylum. I highly commend his book No Friend but the Mountains which was laboriously typed out on a mobile phone from detention.

Most of us don’t have to consider our freedom to write every day, but thousands of writers do. PEN Perth Patron, Peter Greste argues that we need to make freedom of expression a much bigger part of the public conversation. The problem, he says, is that press freedom around the world has been eroding since 9/11, because governments have been using national security as an excuse.

On 15 November I ask you to think about your own freedom of expression and sign up to join PEN International which promotes literature and defends freedom of expression world-wide. You can also join a local chapter of PEN wherever you are and receive newsletters and updates straight to your inbox.

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Readers first

There is nothing more joyful than dropping into a comfortable chair with a good book. The added benefit for me is that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. Stephen King wrote a wonderful memoir called On writing: a memoir of the craft. In it he said: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write.”

One of the things I love most about the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival is that it puts readers first. I think that’s why it draws such large audiences. As a reader you are immersed in five days of pure literary pleasure. I attend as a writer, moderator and as a reader. These photos will hopefully show some of the festival atmosphere.

At Ubud I always discover new books from writers I already know, but I also meet new authors and thinkers. Here are my recommendations from the festival.

I was privileged to interview one of my favourite authors – Gail Jones. The Death of Noah Glass takes you to the intersection and difference between families in a time of grief. As well as being beautifully written, it is a visual and sensual reading experience.

On the same panel as Gail was Fatima Bhutto. Her new book The Runaways is one you won’t be able to put down.   You’ll never forget Anita Rose, Sunny and Monty whose lives intersect in the desert and where their closely guarded secrets will force them to make a terrible choice.

Both Gail and Fatima would be excellent book club choices.

I also have books from two new authors in my reading stack. Giuseppe Catozella from Italy has sold more than half a million copies in 40 countries of his latest book Don’t tell me you’re afraid. I’m also reading Ground Zero: When the Journey Takes you Home by the wonderful Indonesian writer Agustinus Wibowo.

I love pulling books off my shelf to read and to browse. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil for morning tea I found myself browsing among the supply of children’s books that I keep for our grandchildren and found an old favourite in Dr Seuss who says: “ The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

I couldn’t agree more!

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Ubud 2018 – Entrance (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Gillian Triggs

Rosemary and Gillian Triggs (photo by Vifick Bolang)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro room

Ubud 2018 – Audience (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Rose and Jane Caro

Jane Caro and Rosemary (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Ubud 2018 Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rose, Fatima Bhutto

Gail Jones, Anurahda Roy, Rosemary, Fatima Bhutto

Ubud 2018 drawing in the audience

Ubud 2018 – portrait in progress (photo by Wirasathya Darmaja)

Feast and Fiction

I always enjoy writers’ festivals that are innovative with their programming, and the Ubud Readers and Writers festival coming up on 24-28 October fits the bill.

Now in its 15 year, I continue to be impressed with how this festival stays true to its goal to transcend cultural and geographical borders to create a truly global community. I always say the Ubud Festival is where East truly meets West in literature.

This year, not only do I get to interview Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Human Rights Commission in Australia, and Jane Caro, one of my favourite social commentators, but I will also be hosting a dinner where I interview three internationally acclaimed novelists.

Where else would you have Anurahda Roy from India, Gail Jones from Australia and Fatima Bhutto from Pakistan together in one session? Despite their different heritages and styles, in varying ways each novelist explores common themes of life and death, home and belonging. Individually they are all literary stars but hearing conversations with all three in one evening over a sumptuous dinner should be a feast for the mind and the body.

Each writer will be speaking with me during a different course at dinner at one of Ubud’s pre-eminent restaurants, Bridges. Over entrée I’ll interview Anuradha about her novel All the Lives we Never Lived; during main course Gail Jones will join me to discuss her latest book The Death of Noah Glass; and over desert we’ll gain insights into the turbulent Pakistani dynasty that is Fatima Bhutto’s family and her forthcoming novel The Runaways.

I’ll review some of the authors and their books in the coming months. This is one festival that must go on your bucket list!

The power of the written word

I am thrilled to be joining both emerging and established writers who will descend on the Centre for Stories and other venues in Perth for the Australian Short Story Festival, running from Friday 19 to Sunday 21 October.

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see.”

This powerful quote by Joseph Conrad will be in my mind when I participate on a panel at the festival on Sunday 21 October. With my colleagues Dennis Haskell and Marcella Polain, we’ll discuss the power of the written word and its conflict with the sword in a session hosted by PEN Perth.

pen-perthI am often asked what PEN stands for. Its name was conceived as an acronym: ‘Poets, Essayists, Novelists’ (later broadened to ‘Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists’) in the UK in 1921. Over many decades it has become a genuinely international organisation, encompassing a wide array of cultures and languages with over 146 Centres around the world.

PEN promotes literature and defends freedom of expression world-wide. You can join a local chapter of PEN wherever you are and receive newsletters and updates straight to your inbox. Right now that means you can access more information about the brutal killing of the Bulgarian investigative TV presenter Viktoria Marinova in Ruse, Bulgaria on 7 October, which came five days after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist critical of the Saudi regime, in Istanbul. There are unconfirmed reports that he may have been killed in the embassy.

In Australia, PEN campaigns for a number of writers including Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani who has just won the Anna Politkovskaya investigative journalism award for his work documenting Australia’s offshore immigration detention program. Behrouz, a refugee who fled Iran, has been held in indefinite detention since 2013 – first on Christmas Island and then on Manus Island. PEN Perth aims to raise the consciousness of the public and encourage a world where writers are free to express themselves, responsibly and respectfully.

I encourage you to participate in the Short Story Festival. You can book tickets online, and some of them are free. It should be a great event – I am particularly looking forward to David Malouf’s opening address and Maria Takolander’s sessions. I hope to see you there.

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