Category Archives: Festivals

Voices from Iran

What a joy it was to meet and interview three outstanding Iranian writers Sholeh Wolpe, Sanaz Foutouhi and Shokoofeh Azar at the 2017 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival last week.

Our discussion ranged over the rich history of Persian literature, the influence of heritage and why we should all read more works from around the world in translation. These writers are creating a new chapter in diasporic literature.

Sanaz has written a book about meaning and identity since the Islamic Revolution. The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora is a must read for anyone who wants to begin to understand writing from Iran. Sanaz is also the Director of Asia Pacific Writers and Translators and works tirelessly to promote voices from different regions.

Sholeh lights up any room when she reads her beautiful poetry or other work. She is also an award winning playwright and translator. Her translation of Attar’s The conference of the Birds is a book I return to again and again. Attar was considered by Rumi to be the master of Sufi mystic poetry.

And, of course, Shokoofeh Azar is a writer I know well. I have already reviewed her first book in English called The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. It is an enthralling novel that combines magical realism alongside Iranian politics.

The writers discussed the challenges of working across cultures and how to encourage more people to read literature from Iran.   Perhaps, the most poignant moment came when I asked each of the writers about home. Shokoofeh cannot return to Iran.   She was jailed as a journalist and had to flee for her life. Sholeh feels she may never be able to return to Iran because of what she has written since moving to the United States.   Sanaz, however, returns frequently to Iran from Australia. I felt the great sense of loss from Shokoofeh and Sholeh in missing that connection to their homeland.

In Sholeh’s words:

Home is like a missing tooth.

The tongue reaches

For hardness

But falls

Into absence.

Ubud festival 2017 panel

Spiritual Mount Agung Volcano

Ubud Readers and Writers Festival Founder and Director Janet De Neefe knows the power and beauty of Mount Agung. From the terrace of her famed restaurant, Indus, she has watched Gunung Agung for nineteen years. ‘We respect whatever choice she makes, but we also hope it’s compassionate’, says Janet.

The mountain, which is the highest point in Bali, is a very sacred place. In every Balinese temple a shrine is dedicated to its spirit.mount Agung

Because of a possible eruption from Mount Agung, an estimated 140,000 people in surrounding areas have been evacuated and moved into makeshift shelters and formerly bustling travel hotspots have been left virtually empty. Festival organisers have looked at all options through their crisis planning and have decided to proceed.

We are doing everything possible to help the displaced villagers,” Janet said this week in an interview with the Guardian newspaper. ‘Ubud won’t be directly affected by the volcano and none of the writers has panicked or threatened to pull out. The Balinese are kind of chilled, like, “Ehh – this could take months”,’ she says. ‘But there’s lots of frantic expats out there.’ The Guardian newspaper has a more in depth look at the current situation.

I love this festival and have been attending as a moderator and interviewer for over a decade. This year I am very pleased to be interviewing Jung Chang the author of Wild Swans, Empress Dowager Cixi, Mao: The Unknown Story.

I am also moderating a wonderful panel of Iranian women writers. Sanaz Fotouhi is Director of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference, a writer and filmmaker. Sholeh Wolpé is an award-winning Iranian-born poet, playwright and literary translator and my friend Shokoofeh Azar, is a rising star of Iranian literature, whose first novel has just been published in English. On our panel, we’ll be discussing the magic of diasporic Iranian literature. The writers will contemplate the influence of their ancient Persian heritage and share insights gleaned from working and writing across cultures. I can’t wait to talk to this wonderful group of writers.

The Ubud Readers and Writers Festival was born from tragedy. In 2002, after the Bali bombings, Janet founded the festival to encourage visitors back to the region. It is now regarded as one of the best writers’ festivals in the world, highlighting and promoting Indonesian authors and attracting some of the biggest names in the international literary scene. I always tell people this is the one festival you MUST see sometime.

We are all hoping a rumbling volcano won’t discourage people from attending the 2017 Ubud Readers and Writers Festival.

Ubud writers festival logo

In discussion with experts

In our world of ‘alternative fact tweets’ and the 20 second media grab, it has been a real pleasure for me to immerse myself in reading a wide range of books as I prepare to facilitate a number of sessions at the Perth Writers Festival. Held from 23-26 February at the University of Western Australia the festival, as the program states, will be a time of ‘big bold ideas’.

I will be involved with these three panels:

I am particularly looking forward to Borderline with William Maley, Peter Mares and Ben Rawlence. All three writers have released new books about migration and refugee issues. We’ve seen an unprecedented movement of people around the globe in the last decade. There’s been an alarming reaction by western governments to limit the flow of refugees into their countries, while at the same time some have increased temporary migration and short term work or student visas. We’ll be discussing what the long term effect of these policies is and what has happened to our humanity.

Writers festivals are a chance to meet some great writers and thinkers in both non- fiction and fiction. They allow us to take time out from our usual routine, to listen and reflect more deeply. They also provide opportunities to make new friends and to buy or learn about new books… that’s why I love them. I hope to see you there.


The Meaning of Home

While I was writing More to the Story, I spent quite a bit of time thinking and writing about the meaning of home. It is a simple word for most of us. We have images of family and friends, a place where we make memories: hold family gatherings and celebrations, love laugh eat and sleep. It’s not just the physical structure, but the emotional security that it gives us.

But what if you don’t get to choose your home and where you go? If your safety, security, family, traditions and culture are torn apart and you are forced to flee from it in fear for your life?

Many of the refugees I have interviewed tell me the same thing and it has stayed with me: “When you are refugee then your home is whatever you carry around inside you to begin again”.

The theme of this year’s Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival is HOME and I know there will be many wonderful discussions. Everything gets underway on Friday June 3 at 9:15am and runs over the long weekend.

I’ll be in four sessions at the festival as an author, interviewer and panel leader. These are:

  • Searching for a Home – talking to Will Yeoman about More to the Story – Conversations with Refugees.
  • Home Truths – with Liz Byrski discussing her latest book In Love and War: Nursing Heroes.
  • Working from Home – with Natasha Lester talking about her themes of home, children, loss and so much more.
  • Home Thoughts – the closing event where I join Hannie Rayson, Kirsty Mackenzie and Jane Monk to discuss the influence their homes have on their careers and creativity.

You can download the full program to get all the details here. I hope to see you there.

MR festival image

Big issues and the power of ideas

Record numbers of Western Australians attended the Perth Writers Festival over four days. I agree with Program Manager, Katherine Dorrington, that the focus on ideas and issues helped bring a more diverse audience to the festival this year. I believe people are hungry for intelligent conversation and different ideas. Even if you didn’t agree with everything that was said, there was a lot to reflect on.

Of course, as a writer, I was inspired by some of the visiting fiction and non-fiction authors. How can anyone not marvel at the beauty of Gail Jones’ language, the breadth of Simon Winchester’s knowledge, the joyfulness of Katherine Rundell’s books for children, the compassion of Patrick Gale’s writing or the powerful storytelling of Etgar Kerat?

But I was especially energised by the debate and discussions about our society and who we are today. Thinkers and writers like George Megalogenis, Don Watson, Jane Caro, Stan Grant and Laura Tingle made me think and ask myself different questions. The sorts of conversations I heard at the festival seem sadly lacking in the general media and among our politicians.

In a society fixated on fast-paced environments, the ten second news grab, the ping of the mobile phone with another message and a “go, go, go” mentality, it’s difficult to find the time to sit down and reflect. But I plan to do this and think more about what I heard and the books I am reading.

As American President John F Kennedy said: “Too often we… enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

I am a big believer of moving outside my comfort zone to develop informed opinions – so well done Perth Writers Festival. Challenging, inspiring AND entertaining!

There are more photos on the Gallery page.

Rose, Liz Byrski, Melinda Tognini

Signing books with Liz Byrski and Melinda Tognini after our ‘Shared Narratives’ panel

The Perth Writers Festival

As many of you know the Perth Writers Festival is fast approaching. It’s held from Thursday 18th to Sunday 21st February in the beautiful grounds of the University of Western Australia.

While I’ve been involved in the event for many years, this is my first one wearing a variety of hats – interviewer, author, facilitator and guest speaker to launch a book!

I will be involved in two sessions as an author this year. I’m thrilled to sharing the stage with Stan Grant, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and George Megalogenis in We are Australian on Saturday 20th at 10am. We will be discussing what it really means to be Australian and whether we are still a tolerant, multicultural nation. And later the same day I will be talking about the intricacies of telling someone’s true story with Liz Byrski, Melinda Tognini, Alice Nelson and Bruce Russell in Shared Narratives at 2:30pm.

As I’ve done the past, I am interviewing some terrific writers over several sessions – something I enjoy immensely. I’m really looking forward to meeting Hyeonseo Lee who will be talking about her experiences of being trapped in North Korea, escaping to China and being reunited with her family in South Korea. This session is called The Girl with Seven Names and is on Sunday 21st at 2:30pm.

David Dyer, Katherine Rundell and Patrick Gale all have new books that drip with snow, ice and winter and I’ll be talking with them about the importance of place in their narratives. Winter is Coming is on Friday 19th at 10am.

I’m also facilitating the publishing seminar again this year, which is on Thursday 18 February. For those of you interested in understanding the publishing landscape in Perth, this is an extremely valuable day.

And lastly, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I am honoured to have been asked by Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson to launch a new book called Purple Prose, a collections of stories by women writers on what the colour purple means to them. The launch is on Saturday 20th at 5:30pm.

There is something for everyone at the Perth Writers Festival and I really hope to see you there.

Purple Prose

I am very honoured to have been asked to launch Purple Prose at the upcoming Perth Writers Festival on Saturday 20 February at the University of Western Australia.

A wonderful new book of stories published by Fremantle Press, Purple Prose has been written by Australian women answering the question “What does the colour purple mean to you?” It all began with a conversation between Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson and grew into a book with vibrant, personal stories about love and loss, beauty, art and nature – all inspired by the colour purple.

The launch is in Tropical Grove at 5:30pm and all are welcome. I hope to see you there.

Liz and Rachel

Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson

purple prose cover