Tamar Valley Writers Festival 2016

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Last weekend was the Tamar Valley Writers Festival – two days (well, for me – there were other events on other days too), of non-stop panels and book-signings and networking!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while now, may remember that around this time two years ago I attended the Festival of Golden Words, in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. This is that festival – rebranded, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the name change.

Unfortunately I missed the opening of the festival, arriving just in time for the second time slot of the day, with two talks of interest to decide between. With three sessions for each time slot, there were a few clashes over the weekend, which make it hard to decide what session to attend!

The first couple of sessions of the day (Saturday) were sparsely attended, and I worried that the festival wasn’t going to draw the same crowds as the first time around, (a big concern as this is the closest writers festival to me, and I want to be sure it continues!) but by the third session of the day there was standing room only in the sessions I attended, and the atmosphere was bustling, though some of the panelists seemed to lack confidence speaking to such large groups. Sunday continued on much the same as far as attendance was concerned, though the panelists seemed to be much more comfortable and relaxed, with more banter occurring between panelists.

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Petrarch’s Bookshop was in attendance, and with authors signing their books I spent up…

There were some fascinating discussions, and so much to think about – I ended up with seven pages of sometimes-barely-readable scrawl in my notebook! I won’t retype the whole seven pages here – just a few snippets from the weekend.

  • In ‘Mosaic Australia: words and cultural voices’, Ellen van Neerven (author of Heat and Light, which I read just recently – look out for my review soon!) commented on the use of the word ‘myth’ in regard to Aboriginal stories, for these stories are real and current for the Aboriginal people, and are held in the land itself.
  • In ‘Lost Voices: recreating historic characters’, Historian Michael Cathcart stated he was interested in confronting the mythologies of the past, that ‘they are not us’, and his interests lie in the differences between now and then. He said it was useful to look at the strangeness of the past, that we find the story in the difference.
  • In ‘Questions and Lessons from our History’, someone (my apologies – I didn’t jot down who!) commented on how stories from history are never actually finished, there are always ongoing discoveries. When asked about choosing the stories of ‘minor players’ of history, Steve Harris, author of Solomon’s Noose (a story about a hangman in Hobart during colonial times and now added to my TBR list!) commented that unless we acknowledge our own stories of the past – good and bad, we can never expect anyone else to.
  • ‘The Rich Tapestry: diversity in life and literature’, introduced me to Erin Gough, who spoke of her experiences growing up as a gay teen, and the lack of gay characters in any of the books she read. ‘We read to find our place in the world’, she said, and she wanted to write stories for teens today, so they can see themselves reflected back in fiction. (Seeing yourself in fiction is so important on so many levels and there’s a website ‘Visibility Fiction’ which promotes diversity in fiction – not just regarding sexual identity, but also colour, and disability, and any other way people may be different from each other).
  • Historian Patsy Cameron gave me goosebumps in ‘First Voices: Our Indigneous past’, when she spoke of trekking to a cave where thousands of years ago her ancestors left their hand prints on the walls. And later, in the session entitled ‘Our Island Home: issues in Tasmanian history’, my views on the past were re-arranged yet again (it’s happened quite a lot over the course of my research for my current WIP), when Patsy commented that she sees the war between the Tasmanian Aborigines and the white settlers as the ‘White War’, not as it is more commonly known, the ‘Black War’, because it was the whites that caused the war, not the original inhabitants of the land.

I’ve come away from the festival with so much to think about, not only from the panels and discussion, but from personal conversations with people – friends and acquaintances and those I only just met.

I have no doubt what-so-ever that my novel will be much stronger from the changes I’m making, due to what I learnt over the two days, and I’m so inspired and encouraged to continue with my writing.

Looking forward to the next one!

 

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#AWW2016 Review: Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane

Purple threads

 

 “I couldn’t tell them I wanted to be white then. But if I was white I’d see myself everywhere. In the classroom, when I opened up a book or looked at a picture. In the crowded playground, laughing, skipping and jumping between elastics. Down the main street in town. Or on the movie screen. I’d not stand out from the rest. But … Black? Too hard. Too ugly. Too different.”

It’s every child’s worst nightmare – to be different, picked on by the other kids at school, out of place. It leads so many children to change themselves, pretend to be like everyone else, hide their differences.

But what if you can’t hide the thing that makes you different? What if its the colour of your skin? And what if being picked on and singled out continues beyond the school years and throughout adulthood?

This is the experience of Sunny and her sister, Star, raised by their Nan and Aunties, who are constantly on the alert; cautious of the police who may come to take the children away, all too aware of how easy it might be to loose everything simply due to prejudice and bigotry.

There was so much to love about this story (despite my somewhat depressing opening here) :); the fantastic relationship between Sunny and her Nan and Aunties;  and Petal, the mother who comes and goes, and behaves more like a teenage sister than a mother, most times. Reading this story was like listening to my grandparents yarn about the old days, and as with them I learnt a bit of history while I was at it, including the shameful ‘forgetting’ of two Aboriginal men; Yarri and Jacky-Jacky,  who saved residents of Gundagai during a heavy flood, and received absolutely no reward or recognition for it, while the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ has a statue all his own.

 

 

 

#AWW2016 Review – The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

World Beneath

Late last year I attended the Tasmanian Readers and Writers Festival in Hobart, where I listened to Cate Kennedy and Kathryn Lomer in conversation, and discovered this book. The next day I also attended Cate’s Masterclass, and I am so glad I did – what an amazing day – (you can read about it here). 🙂

The World Beneath is the story of a family in pieces. Sandy has been left to raise Sophie alone, while Rich follows his dream of travelling the world and photographing amazing places. But Sophie is 15 now, and Rich wants to reconnect with the daughter he barely knows. A bushwalk along Tasmania’s famous Overland Track seems like the answer.

What to write about this novel??

I’m a Tasmanian, who loves bushwalking, but I still haven’t been on the Overland Track. I’ve been to Cradle Mountain and enjoyed day walks in that area, and I’ve taken the ferry across Lake Sinclair to the southern most end of the track.

I’ve heard of all the names: Du Cane, Narcissus, Pine Valley, The Labyrinth; and I’ve seen amazing photos of the incredible landscapes to be found, and perhaps because of this, Cate’s story felt so familiar. I could ‘see’ every step of Sophie and her estranged father, Rich’s journey across the wilds of Tasmania, I understood the risks, the importance of heading weather warnings, and being prepared for any eventuality. I cringed when… well, that may be a spoiler, so I won’t finish that sentence – you’ll just have to read it for yourself _ I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.

Even Sandy’s story – a mother just trying her best – resonated with me. I loved her visit to the Goddess workshop; felt terribly sorry for her as she tried her best to deal (mostly in her imagination) with a domineering mother and judgmental friends.

This is a brilliant story about facing those inner-demons we all carry, and coming out stronger on the other side. I highly recommend reading this one!

 

Beloved Books: or, what to save in the event of a bushfire…

Earlier this year our house was threatened by bush fire. (A fire that, sadly,  is still raging; devastating some of Tasmania’s most amazing forests).

Now when I say ‘threatened’, the fire was 25-30 km away as the crow flies. It never got close enough for us to see any flames, but it was almost unbearably smokey for a week, and for a day or two we had ash falling from the sky. We even lost sight of our Mountain.

mtn - no mtn
Enough smoke to turn the sun pink (not that it’s clear in this shot): followed by so much smoke it’s hidden our mountain… 😦

Pretty scary stuff, especially for the children who were convinced for a while there that we were going to lose our house.

It was this threat of burning embers that led the fire service to enact the ‘Watch and Act’ alert –  in other words, pack your most precious things and be ready to leave if the situation gets worse.

We packed an overnight bag, gathered our important documents and photo albums, packed teddy bears and special keepsakes.

But what about our books? The older kids picked their favourite half a dozen in their suitcases, and I managed to narrow down my 18 month old’s books to about the same number of favourites, before turning to my shelves.

Nine bookshelves. Not all full, but pretty close. How to decide, from nine bookshelves, which to save?

I limited myself to a box and set some rules: only signed books, and books that had sentimental value. In the end, it wasn’t that hard – after all, most books are still available to buy either new or second hand, without too much trouble.

 

Beloved Books

The books that made the cut:

Pastures of the Blue Crane by H F Brinsmead

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Books 1 and 2 of the Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody

Books 1 and 2 of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King

The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

It’s interesting (now, after the threat has passed) to see how easy it was to pare back the bookshelves (and other belongings) to the bare necessities. Though I won’t be reducing my bookshelves by choice I know I could if the need arose. (Fingers crossed it never does!)