MWF 2013 Take 2

I’ve finally caught up on everything that I’d put to one side while I was at the MWF, which means I’ve got time now to give you a run down on my second weekend at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

With Oscar now at school, I was able to swing into the city for a few Friday sessions, a first for me.

20130909-133130.jpgWith barely a minute to spare, I found a seat just in time to listen to Eric Beecher, Pamela Willams and Mark Forbes in the session; ‘The News About News’ (as part of the New News Conference). This incredible panel, filthy rich with journalism experience, provided a level of insight into the workings of media that I’d never thought I’d get. It was a rare opportunity and one I relished.

Eric provided a vital, impartial and slightly rebellious perspective to the conversation, whilst Pam and Mark spoke passionately about the future of Fairfax, the nurturing of quality journalism and the economic challenges facing traditional media, particularly as it struggles to find a new, workable business model. It was even suggested at one point that newspapers may in fact need to be run as not-for-profits or charities in order to ensure their survival. They are that important.

The panel was trying to communicate hope, whilst at question time, the audience brought to bear a far greater degree of scepticism. It was difficult to know whether Pam and Mark spoke positively from a position of employee-loyalty, professional passion or blind optimism. It was, nonetheless reassuring to hear that individuals working at top levels of the media game are still talking the talk, and hopefully also walking the walk.

I finished up at this session and headed to ‘The Politics of Sex’ featuring Shereen El Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel and Anna Krien, author of Night Games. It was chaired by Sophie Cunningham who added her own experience and intelligence to the topic.

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Shereen spoke of her experience of sexuality in the Arab world and Anna concentrated mainly on her investigations into sexuality as found in amongst the sporting clubs of Australia. Their contexts were different, as were their experiences, but the central issues were similar – the balance of power between genders, the perception of women – positive, negative and indifferent, and the overall conversations occurring within these environments (or in fact, the lack thereof).

I found this session frightening, and at times confronting. Still, it was quite constructive, with both writers suggesting ways that they believed change might come about and communications that might aid in addressing the current disconnect between the genders and help us all to behave a bit better towards each other.

I travelled home pondering on some pretty big topics.

Saturday morning was an absolute highlight for me, as I attended a seminar called ‘The Art of Literary Criticism’ with Jeremy Harding, contributing editor and Mary-Kay Wilmer, editor of the London Review of Books.

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As you know, I love to review books – to read them, to reflect on their content, their context, and their purpose. I enjoy putting them into place within my own experiences and to consider who might love them and why.

This session provided some incredible advice regarding evaluating a text, describing it to a reader, essentially telling the story of the book. Mary-Kay and Jeremy offered advice as to how best approach reviewing a book, should you not like it, treating it in such a way that a constructive and readable account can still be created.

The London Review of Books are publishers of the fine art of long-form journalism, and as such, I was thrilled to hear more of what it takes to put three, four, or five thousand words together on a bookish topic, how it is then edited and finally the joy that comes of having it read and appreciated by many.

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After this session, I put aside my pride and had Jeremy and Mary-Kay sign my copy of London Review of Books and had a little chat with Jeremy about That Book You Like. I hope I came across okay…

Finally, before heading home I had the privilege of having tea with the very talented Claire Scobie, author of The Pagoda Tree (Penguin). We had a great chat about her book, which I’m reading at the moment, and tee’d up the next TBYL Event. Claire will be joining us online in October as part of the TBYL Book Club (The Pagoda Tree will be our book for October!)… keep an eye out for full details later in the week.

All up, the Melbourne Writers Festival 2013 has been fantastic. I’ve learnt so much and meet some really wonderful people. I’m already counting down the days until next year’s program…