Category Archives: Festivals

A big weekend of stories and ideas

Regular readers and those of you who know me, understand I am a big supporter of Literary Festivals around the world.   They bring readers and writers together in exchange of stories and ideas.   There’s time for laughter, sadness and reflection.  The Perth Writers Week has just concluded, and I have to say it lived up to expectations.  Here’s some of the writers I interviewed and saw in action which might provide some good reading tips.

What fun I had with children’s writer Dianne Wolfer as we discussed navigating children’s literature at the Perth City Library.   We were lucky enough to have a really engaged group of librarians, teachers and parents attend, all of whom contributed their own ideas and suggestions.  Dianne will be blogging soon about a resource list of ideas she has put together.   I’ll send links once I get it.

Dianne Woolfer and Rosemary Sayer

Dianne Woolfer with Rosemary

The highlight of the festival for me was attending a Sunday breakfast chaired by the fabulous Alan Dodge, former Art Gallery of WA Director and art historian.  Amanda Curtin, Gail Jones and Amy Sackville were the guests and it was a wonderful opportunity to travel through their books each with an art focus.   The conversation was entertaining and informative – it was a really lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Alan Dodge, Amy Sackville, Gail Jones and Amanda Curtin

Alan Dodge, Amy Sackville, Gail Jones and Amanda Curtin

On the last day I chaired a panel with a variety of authors who all grappled with the concepts of freedom, identity and language. Heather Morris, Future D Fidel, Balli Kaur Jaswal and Carly Findlay, are very different people who have written vastly different books. It was interesting however to identify and explore some commonality within the themes we discussed. I highly recommend their books.

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

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

If you have never been to a writer’s festival, look out for one near you.   You can go by yourself or with a friend.  It’s an opportunity to hear from authors and thinkers you know or find new ones to get to know.   You don’t have to do anything other than buy a ticket, turn up and be prepared to enjoy yourself.

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.

kyaw so oo and wa lone at sentancing

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

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!

Ubud 2018 entrance

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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Speaking up

What a privilege and inspiration to hear Professor Gillian Triggs, former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, speak last night.

Professor Triggs is on the first leg of a book tour promoting her memoir Speaking Up. She spoke at the University of Western Australia to a packed theatre about her life and the many challenges she faced during her five-year tenure. She withstood relentless political pressure and media scrutiny as she and the Commission advocated for the disempowered, the disenfranchised and the marginalised.

I’m thrilled that I will be interviewing Professor Triggs myself at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in October. It will be a chance for us all to learn more about her global views and the lessons and insights she has taken from her time at the Human Rights Commission.

She left us in no doubt that as an Australian society we have failed to measure up to the human rights standards we hypocritically endorse. She worries about the decline in political leadership in Australia, and in her speech, highlighted some key issues in her book. She spoke passionately about Indigenous Australians and their human rights, freedom of speech, gender and marriage equality and the monitoring, treatment and law about asylum seekers.

She believes Australians can pull together and become a better society. She argued that the time is right for a legislated charter of human rights.

“We do not view social justice through the lens of human rights in Australia. Human rights law does not inform the legal or political discourse and is often ignored and expressly overridden by the parliament.

It is our responsibility as citizens in this democracy to become more informed and to speak up about injustices.”

I am looking forward to my interview with Professor Triggs and I’ll share some more of her thoughts on this blog.  In the meantime, I recommend the book Speaking Up to everyone.

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