Sunday, 29 September 2013

Women of Letters recap

The sun was absolutely blazing when we walked down High St Northcote, and we had to wait for our eyes to adjust when we entered the cool, dim Regal Ballroom. This afternoon both Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy were present, along with a line-up of wonderful women who were writing to the theme 'a letter to the thing I lost'.

First up was singer-songwriter Rebecca Barnard, who wrote to her car, lost deep in the labyrinthine bowels of the Crown Casino carpark. She described perfectly the creeping, irrational anxiety we have all felt when losing our bearings in a sea of parking spaces, complete with thinking up various rapist deterrents, which in Rebecca's case included shooting them in the face with breast milk. She told us of her utter and desperate relief upon finding the parking attendant, and apologising to him for 'having no spatial awareness because I'm so hormonal at the moment'. A side-splitting letter to start off a potentially devastating topic.

Next up was the simply glorious slam poet Maxine Beneba Clarke. She performed her letter in a glorious mix of spoken word and song, and wrote to her fears, specifically to her fears for her children. Her voice sent shivers through me, and the ballroom was completely speechless as we listened. She spoke of the most terrible things she could imagine happening to them, and when juxtaposed with lines like 'the truth is we walked death row before we learned to crawl' and 'these fears will drift like powdered charcoal on the wind', it made for an almost surreal experience. The applause was long and loud.

Culinary queen Stephanie Alexander was next. She wrote to a beloved letter from her 'guru', the food writer Elizabeth David, who she tragically never met properly in the flesh. Stephanie is a Francophile who was heavily influenced by Elizabeth David's writings, but it was Stephanie's prose that had the audience completely and utterly drawn in. Her letter was articulate, masterful and clear, and there was an audible groan when she revealed at the end that she had lost the treasured letter from her hero!

Randa Abdel-Fattah, author and academic, wrote one of the most intense letters I have heard. She wrote to her composure, and put us in vivid context - travelling with her elderly father and her young daughter, trying to get through the checkpoints to the Palestinian West Bank to see her father's birthplace and her grandfather's grave. As Randa marvelled at the patience of the Palestinians she shared the bus with, knowing it was a normal, everyday experience that they had to deal with, she was infuriated by the treatment dealt to them. 'Those who are denied their human rights do not have the luxury of despair'. Thankfully, Randa and her father managed to obtain a 7-day pass, which was better than nothing. You could have heard a pin drop in the ballroom as she read.

Finally, Gorgi Coghlan brought the entire place to tears with her letter to the deceased child of a close friend. The bereavement was fresh, but Gorgi wrote with warmth and heart in the face of what was obviously the rawest of experiences. She acknowledged that while there was nothing good that could ever possibly come from such a tragedy, such things can help us remember to find the good in our own lives we're lucky enough to still have. Keeping a clean house pales in comparison with keeping a happy family. Stories and laughter and songs are more important than timetables and groceries. And on that note, the reading was finished, and we had a break to buy more drinks, write our own letters, and listen to a very entertaining Q & A!

I think my favourite thing about Women of Letters is that it exposes you to a range of people and experiences you would not otherwise have come across, all linked by a common thread. It really drives home the similarities we share, whatever someone's circumstances, and the understanding that transcends differences and binds us together.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


This blog is a little rushed, but I wanted to write something about my experience. It's been such an interesting ride, and a few piddly words on my piddly blog can't really convey that, but I'll try and sum it up quickly.

A couple of months ago I submitted a story to Voiceworks magazine, a superb li'l publication run by the good folks of Express Media (mainly staffed by people under 25). I've been reading Voiceworks for years, and I think I even submitted something a couple of years back, but I realised recently that I only had a couple more chances to get something in because I'll be 25 in June, and the magazine is published quarterly. So I wrote this piece, a dark little story about a girl called Bronte and her life, and Voiceworks got back to me and told me it had been shortlisted for publication!

Being edited professionally and collaboratively for the first time was a wonderful experience. It made me think so much harder about my story and the minutiae of character's and their decisions, as well as the structure and language. AND Voiceworks pay their contributors, which for young, unpublished authors is pretty special. I went to the launch on Saturday, met lovely people, drank some wine and picked up a fresh copy of the magazine which can be purchased easily for $10.

On Monday night I read at Debut Mondays, a monthly event run by The Wheeler Centre that involves readings by 4 'new' authors. Included in the line-up with me was Kirsten Krauth, Fiona McFarlane and Adam Browne, all of whom are published novelists and share illustrious careers including publication in The New Yorker (McFarlane), editing the NSW Writers' Centre magazine (Krauth), and winning the Aurealis Prize for best Australian short story (Browne). I have had a few reviews and features published online (unpaid) and 'Bronte' is my first piece of published fiction. To say I was intimidated is somewhat of an understatement.

Debut Mondays is held at The Moat, the cafe beneath The Wheeler Centre. I was so nervous I couldn't actually finish my hot chocolate (sheesh) before I went to meet Donica, the program coordinator. I was up last on the list of speakers, so my heart had plenty of time for a vigorous workout. Listening to the authors read their work was bliss. I have read The Night Guest and just_a_girl already, but hearing them read aloud by the writers themselves is always much, much better. And I have not yet had time to read Pyrotechnicon, but after hearing Adam Browne read an excerpt, I cannot WAIT. It was finally my turn, and with my heartbeat roaring in my ears, I introduced myself and started reading. Brilliantly, there was a bright light and a big microphone right in front of me which made it difficult to see the audience, and easy to forget them. I actually felt myself getting calmer as I read.

I got some really lovely compliments afterwards and stalked the other authors until they took pity on me and signed my copies of their novels. They were all so nice to talk to and I think I managed to come across fairly coherently - go me. I can't recommend these Debut Monday events enough. All my near and dear ones who came to support me said they enjoyed themselves, and it was a great opportunity to meet other literary-minded people.AND Debut Mondays pay their contributors also. I am so incredibly lucky and thankful for this opportunity. And now I need to sit down and write more, stat.