melbourne writers festival

Top 5 TBYL Posts of 2013

Before I forge ahead into a new and exciting year (2014 promises to be pretty wild), I thought I’d take a moment to crunch some stats and share with you the five most-read posts of 2013…

snake biteFirst up was With a Can of JD: Snake Bite featuring a brand-new coming of age novel from Allen and Unwin.

Christie Thompson’s Snake Bite pulled me forward, through a smoke-filled, booze fuelled suburban landscape towards, with equal likelihood, oblivion or redemption… You can read the full review here.

 

meshel laurieNext was Behind the Scenes: The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny, a really popular post on Meshel Laurie’s memoir.

Like any good memoir, The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny drops plenty of names (it’s a veritable who’s who of Australian comedy) and shares plenty of behind-the-scenes insights into the Australian entertainment industry. Meshel is brutally honest, mostly about herself and sometimes about others. As we know, those who laugh loudest on our TVs tend to struggle the most with demons off-screen and true to form, Meshel is absolutely no exception… You can read the full review here.

 

new york cult recipesComing in third was my Hardcover Christmas: Five Titles, featuring five beautiful books that I thought might be good for Chrissy this year.

I think it’s been fairly well established that books make great presents, wouldn’t you agree? It must then be said that a wonderful hardcover book is possibly one of the best gifts that one person can give another. They’re readable, durable and substantial. They wrap so nicely, sit on the shelf so proudly, and can be enjoyed many times over… Read the full article here.

 

mwf2013To my delight, number four was my write-up of the Melbourne Writers Festival MWF 2013, Take 1. A wrap-up of the first Friday and Saturday of the festivel (my favourite time of year), this article was enjoyed by many.

Singer weaved a well-considered logic, making it pretty clear that all of us can and should strive to find a way to contribute to the improvement of the lot of the world’s children, those who are unwell or vulnerable and creatures with no voice to speak up for themselves. He stopped short at saying that we have a moral obligation to do so, but essentially… You can read the full post here.

 

wicked windFinally, at number five we’ve got another ‘compilation’ post, featuring three of the eBooks that I’ve reviewed during the year. Three eBooks, sure to please was a snap shot of some of the great fiction on offer in the electronic form.

The first thing that I noticed about this fun paranormal action-story is that it kicks off with a fantastic fight scene, featuring two tough women ready to save the day. A brilliant start, followed up by a really nice premise – it’s lead protagonist’s unique special ability – the ability to command the wind… Read the reviews here.
It’s been an incredible year, full of absolutely incredible books to read. My Reading Pile has not once got smaller than ginormous, and that, my friends, puts a massive smile on my face.

Thank-you to all – the writers, the publishers, the reviewers and most of all, the readers, for yet another spectacular year of That Book You Like…

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Did you have a favourite TBYL post this year? I’d love to hear about it…

 

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…

 

MWF 2013 Take 1

After having such an incredible time last weekend at the Melbourne Writers Festival, I’m not quite sure where to start…

I’m getting set to go to more sessions tomorrow, but before that I thought it might be good to share with you guys a few choice statement, take-home messages, and curiosities from the sessions that I attended last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

An extremely busy Friday saw me running around after kids, backwards and forwards for the better part of the day. By the time I hopped on a train heading to Fed Square, I was well and truly ready for a little sit down and some me time. And what better way to wind-down than with a lecture from Peter Singer on how to best demonstrate effective altruism?

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Okay, so maybe it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it works for me and I took home a lot after this session.

Singer weaved a well-considered logic, making it pretty clear that all of us can and should strive to find a way to contribute to the improvement of the lot of the world’s children, those who are unwell or vulnerable and creatures with no voice to speak up for themselves. He stopped short at saying that we have a moral obligation to do so, but essentially…

What was refreshing and inspiring was Singers’s focus on the variety of ways in which we might contribute. Suggestions were not prescriptive, rather, they were respectful of individual income, skill sets and personal motivations. Singer acknowledged and encouraged us to ask questions around the integrity of aid organisations and charities, encouraging a healthy level of scepticism and emphasising the term ‘effective’ in his Effective Altruism movement. The basic idea is to find the best way we can to do the most possible good.

Peter can sometimes be a little extreme in his beliefs, but tonight he avoided the ‘shock and awe’ and as I result, on leaving the auditorium, I felt convinced and compelled

Next up were a couple of sessions on Saturday afternoon, the first being ‘Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard’ with Catherine Deveny, Max Barry and Sean Condon. Essentially this session tried to get to the bottom of what it takes to write funny, and although wonderfully entertaining, I think the audience might of left none-the-wiser as to the answer to this question…

In short, being funny, for these three at least, isn’t as much a craft as it is a language. It’s the way they communicate and how they observe the world. As it is, that just happens to be humorous to others. And you know what? I think that’s fair enough.

20130829-144402.jpgMax read from his latest novel Lexicon, and although he offered the explanation that this was his least funny book, it still had that tell-tale smart-arsery that comedians can’t seem to altogether avoid. Catherine read from her novel The Happiness Show, in which her character’s internal dialogue suggesting shades of Catherine’s own busy, rapid external dialogue. I got the impression that her ‘accident novel’ would be pretty sharp and a bit of a trouble-maker. After sitting impatiently, shuffling and rolling his eyes while he waited for his turn, Sean Condon read next, but not from his newest book Splitsville but rather, two short pieces from an earlier work. They were funny pieces, but what was more entertaining was seeing just how funny Sean seemed to find himself.

At the end of the session, each writer did offer a pearl of wisdom regarding being funny… From Max, it was make sure you always pick something that amuses yourself. For Catherine, her philosophy is to ‘shit where you eat’ – I can only imagine this is so as to stir up as much trouble as possible, and Sean suggests starting with a great first sentence, and for that sentence to never start with a B. Righteo…

20130829-144338.jpgAfter this, I gathered my giggles and headed to ‘Tartan Noir’ where I heard from Doug Johnstone and Liam McIlvanney. Both readers of Scottish fiction and writers of crime fiction, Doug and Liam were wonderfully knowledgeable, offering a fascinating insight into Scottish culture and literature.

I now understand more of why literature is so important to Scotland, how authors like Ian Rankin, Irving Welsh and Doug Johnstone help to give Scotland a new, independent voice of its own.

Suffice to say I now have about a dozen new titles and authors to add to the reading list, Liam and Doug, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay, as well as a hunt to track down a copy of the classic Laidlaw by William McIlvanney (on good authority, worth pursuit).

Sunday morning was an early start, and with tea in hand I bunkered down for a full day of MWF. It began with ‘No Safe Place’ featuring Deborah Ellis and Morris Gleitzman. This session was incredibly moving, and I think, very important. Deborah and Morris shared a little of their stories, of their conversations with children living in terrible circumstances and of the importance which they place on teaching children to consider their own ability to making the world that they want to live in.

The thing that stuck me the most about these two authors was the great admiration and respect that they had for their readers, in particular children between the ages of about 9 – 12 years-old. Morris reflected on the fact that “our awareness at 9 to 12 is starting to develop as we form our own individual moral landscape.” It is no doubt for this reason that he and Deborah feel to strongly about communicating with this audience – to teach them a little of what is going on the world, in the hope that they might grow up wiser, strong and more inclined to make a difference for the better.

I’ve always been a little worried about having Evan read these more seriously-themed books. I think now I’m convinced of the importance of doing so.

Next was an in conversation session with Michelle de Kretser, Miles Franklin Award winning author. Her newest novel Questions of Travel has been incredibly well received (she’s just won the Prime Minister’s Award for Fiction) and her career has clearly gleaned her a huge following of loyal fans – the auditorium was full to the brim.

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I’ve not read her book yet, but nonetheless, it was very interesting to find out more about just why someone would take it upon themselves to write about what it is to travel – what does it mean to move around the world; for fun, for work or for protection?

Questions of Travel, with its starkly contrasting characters of Laura (young, wealthy, professional) and Ravi (seeking asylum from Sri Lankan unrest) is topical, highly relevant in our currently political environment.

Another book for the reading pile…

20130829-144442.jpgMy final session for Sunday (after a long lunch and a look around the Ian Potter Museum of Art) was ‘Destroying the Joint?’ with Stella Young, Jane Caro and Aidan Ricketts. They pondered on the question… “how many likes does it take to change the world?

You could sense the electricity in the air, a gathering of people searching for a way to influence their community for the better. Many were asking the question – can a Facebook page (i.e. Destroy the Joint) really have any kind of impact when trying to redress the gender imbalances that are becoming more and more obvious as a result of conversation, political events and social media?

After listening to Jane, Stella and Aidan (an expert in activism) I was in no doubt that it can certainly contribute, as every action to call out crappy behaviour is a good one, one worth making.

I’m so glad that I went to this session as next time I despair at the discrimination and difficulty that I see as pretty rampant in our current landscape, I’ll reassure myself a little with these three reminders:

1. Three people talking about equality can fill an auditorium.

2. Expressing outrage achieves nothing. You can use it to drive you, but take it out of your argument (Stella Young)

3. There is no magic key that will unlock good will. Rather, we must learn to appreciate the wins as they come and continue to move forward (Jane Caro).

And with that, Sunday was done and on that note, buoyed and encouraged I headed home.

I’ve more sessions coming up (you can see what I’m going to here) so stay tuned for Take 2 next week!

Do you go along to the Writers Festival in your area? What kinds of sessions do you like the most?

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It’s on: MWF 2013

The Melbourne Writers Festival kicks off for me tonight and I feel a little bit like it’s Christmas!

I’m starting off my festival experience with some philosophy, hearing Peter Singer speak on ‘Effective Altruism’ as part of the Big Ideas series.

Effective altruism is an emerging movement of people who have  accepted that we ought to live more altruistically, and make our altruism as powerful as possible.  Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer will discuss the ethical issues that effective altruism raises, and introduce this developing concept by presenting the effective altruists themselves: who they are, how they live, and why they have chosen to live that way. 

As controversial as he might be, Peter Singer I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts.

altruism

I often ask myself about the complexities of altruism, especially in terms of what’s reasonable to expect of each ourselves and others, and I expect this session will be extremely enlightening.

Are you going to anything at the festival this year? If you’d like to join me at the MWF this year, don’t forget to tune in to FacebookTwitter and Instagram for updates.

If you’d like to know more about what I’m going to check out at the Melbourne Writers Festival, read more here…

Melbourne Writers Festival 2013

It’s almost that time of year when I kiss the kids goodbye and abscond for days, all in the name of writing.

That’s right, August brings with it the Melbourne Writers Festival, Enquire Within running from 22 August to the 1 September 2013.

The release of this year’s program last night has made my day today and as I’ve just finished booking my tickets, I thought you might like to know which sessions I’m getting along to.

Here goes…

peter singerI’m going to kick off my festival experience with some philosophy, hearing Peter Singer speak on ‘Effective Altruism’ as part of the Big Ideas series.

Effective altruism is an emerging movement of people who have  accepted that we ought to live more altruistically, and make our altruism as powerful as possible.  Philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer will discuss the ethical issues that effective altruism raises, and introduce this developing concept by presenting the effective altruists themselves: who they are, how they live, and why they have chosen to live that way. 

As controversial as he might be, Peter Singer was always a bit of super star around the philosophy department of Monash when I was at uni, and so I’m looking forward to hearing his thoughts.

I’m back to Federation Square on Saturday, changing gears to something a little more light-hearted, although I’m sure it’ll be no less controversial with the likes of Sean Condon, Max Barry and Catherine Deveny chatting about comedy in writing for ‘Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard.’

Fittingly it’ll be starting to get dark when I attend my second session for the day ‘Tartan Noir’ in which Andrew Nette, Doug Johnstone and Liam McIlvanney talk about crime literature in Scotland and whether or not books in this genre accurately reflect modern life in Scotland.

No doubt spooked, I’ll head home after this session and rest up before a bit Sunday.

I’ve booked in for three great session on Sunday, first up being ‘No Safe Place’ featuring Morris Gleitzman and Deborah Ellis.  Both of these authors write powerful books about children in danger and in this session they’ll explore writing about war, their research, and where they draw the line in showing children what the world can be like. Incredibly relevant, as I struggle with questions regarding books that my 12 year old should and shouldn’t be reading.

michelleAfter that, it’s straight on to hear an in-conversation session with the talented Michelle de Kretser, winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award. Looking forward to finding out a little bit more about her incredibly successful novel.

To finish off Sunday, I’ll be heading to ‘Destroying the Joint?’ …

More than 28,000 self-proclaimed Destroyers have ‘liked’ Destroy the Joint – a Facebook page that ‘shines a light on sexism and misogyny.’ While social media may provide a platform for participative activism, social commentator Jane Caro, comedian Stella Young, and activist Aidan Ricketts join Sushi Das from The Age to ponder the question: how many likes does it take to change the world?

After this session, I’ll have to wait until the end of the week for my next outing. On Friday, 30 August, I’ll sneak off after dropping the kids at school and get a little bit political.

I’m really looking forward to the first session ‘New News: The News About News’ as I’m often quiet perplexed, concerned even, about what’s happening with media and journalism…

Is journalism in rotten shape, or better than ever? Is information still reliable? Will big media continue to dominate, or will citizens and startups step up? Eric Beecher (Private Media), Katharine Viner (Guardian Australia), Mark Forbes (The Age) and Pamela Williams (Australian Financial Review) take the media’s temperature with Margaret Simons (Centre for Advancing Journalism).

politics of sexI’ll follow this up with a session featuring Anna Krien, Shereen El Feki and Sophie Cunningham ‘The Politics of Sex’ as they discuss how the politics of sex provides a literary lens from which to view society.

The second Saturday of the Festival is exciting because it has quite a few free sessions, which I’ll stay around for in the afternoon, after I’ve gone along to a professional development seminar ‘The Art of Literary Criticism’. I’ve not been to one of the seminar sessions before (they cost a little more than a regular session) but I’m really looking forward to this one, I think I’ll learn a lot…

The London Review of Books publishes the biggest names in contemporary literature, ideas, society, and the arts. Editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, publisher Nicholas Spice and contributors Jeremy Harding and Jacqueline Rose take us inside the LRB, Europe’s leading literary magazine. Chaired by Sally Heath.

I think it’s fair to say that by the end of Saturday my brain will be well and truly full, and I’ll be able to go home and fall in a happy heap.

The Melbourne Writers Festival program is out now, and you MUST take a look! If you’re going to be attending, please feel free to connect with TBYL… I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter the whole time and no doubt loitering around Fed Square on and off, I’d love to hear from you!

Here’s to the countdown to August 22nd!

 

Sure beats another cat video

I’ve got a bundle of new reviews lined up for the second half of this week, but I thought I’d begin my blogging week with the words of some people far wiser than I.

If you’re a little tired of Youtube’s usual fare of flash mobs, classic crashes and crazy kitties, maybe you’d like to take a look at these interesting videos from ABC TV’s Big Ideas

How about some real class?
Great English actor, writer and director, Simon Callow was the headliner act at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival and he based his keynote speech on his biography of Dickens – titled Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. In this address, he discusses the importance of theatre to the life and work of one of the greatest storytellers in the English language. You can watch the video of his presentation here.

I’ve not read Anna’s book yet, but I hope to soon…
This year’s Miles Franklin winner, Anna Funder is in conversation with writer Anne Summersabout All That I Am. You can watch the video here.

I’m missing the Melbourne Writers Festival now that it’s over, so I’m going to revisit one of the sessions that I went too…
Labor in Vain – Is the fate of the federal Labor Party sealed? Is it in crisis or just experiencing the odd catastrophe? You can watch this conversation here.

And lastly, some food for thought…
‘Foreign aid is a waste of money” – this was the proposition for this IQ2 debate in Melbourne. Watch this polarising debate here.

Have you come across any interesting ‘thinky’ videos online lately?

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My wordy weekend

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the Melbourne Writers Festival is the highlight of my literary year. Never am I happier than when I’m listening the wonderful words of people like Carrie Tiffany, Gillian Mears, Jenny Hocking…

It wasn’t easy to fit the festival in this year, I’m not sure how we got so busy this month, but I worked hard to carve out a little time over the weekend to get to a couple of sessions.

Saturday, I revisited my own rural childhood through the works of Carrie Tiffany, Rachael Treasure and Paddy O’Reilly. Three talented authors, all of whom in their novels, have captured the essence of country, the hardship of the outback and the beauty of the rural way of life. In this wonderfully relaxed session, Carrie, Rachael and Paddy helped us to get a little closer to their characters, and also told us something of why writing rural is so important to them.

As is often the case with these sessions, we were also really lucky to be able to get a glimpse of the writing process. Carrie describing her writing as a little like creating a colleague, a collection of “found objects”, whilst Rachael revealed her desire to affect, to support a “paradigm shift of some kind” helping people to understand through fiction the importance of soil health and smart operation in the production of our food and the care of our land. In turn, Paddy recalled a need to explore the paths people carve for themselves, especially in small towns; “they follow the same tracks, go to the same places, see the same people.” The effect that this has on small town folk is captured wonderfully in her novel, The Colour of Rust. 

I was incredibly grateful to these authors, as they’ve encouraged me to revisit my own small rural background, after many years of hurriedly moving away from it.

On Sunday, I had a little more time in at Federation Square and made it to two sessions.

Firstly I heard from the inspiring and poetic Gillian Mears, the author of The Age Book of the Year, Foal’s Bread. A sold-out session, the BMW Edge was filled with dedicated fans of Gillian’s work, most of whom could be seen reacting with a real appreciation and tenderness for the work of this talented author.

Again, the session itself afforded us an opportunity to hear more about how this book was written, including a little on why it’s taken so long to be published. The answer to this often asked question is that it was as a result of consideration for an older sister with her own story to tell. Eventually though, Gillian admitted, this novel had to see the light, with the Narcarrow’s story aching to be told.

Gillian’s love of horses, riding and jumping was evident from the outset of this conversation – she spoke of horses in poems, rich with sensory details; their smell, their shine, their silkiness. In turn, her grief at her illness and the restrictions that it has placed on her riding and writing was palpable. She was open and generous in her discussion of MS, and the significant effect that it has had, and continues to have on her life.

If you’ve not already read the award-winning Foal’s Bread, I’d strongly recommend it. You can read my review here.

After this moving conversation, I was up for something a little more political, and attended a fascinating session Labor in Vain. The panel, featuring Maxine McKew, Steve Bracks and biographer, Jenny Hocking, discussed the question of whether or not the Labor Party could be said to be ‘in crisis’ and if they are, what they should do about it.

The session was very revealing, and raised many important questions about party dynamics, the importance of the ‘party line’, and the role of the media and opinion polls. I could have happily heard more, and one hour hardly seemed to do justice to this important topic.

In addition to the sessions themselves, one of the real highlights of the MWF for me was the opportunity to have a book signed and to share a quick word with the authors. I’m really pleased to have been able to add to my book collection, two more signed copies…

I’ve one more event to attend on Thursday. I’m very excited about this keynote address by Germaine Greer, who’ll be discussing our language and its use… “in an oration that will make you think seriously about our place in the world and the role that language plays in putting us there.” Stay tuned for my review of this session, or if you’d like to come along, you can book here.

Have you been able to get to any MWF sessions this year? You can check out their program here…

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Booked in, now out of my way!

When I started That Book You Like… 18 months ago, I did so with the aim of reading differently. My goal of reading widely and outside my comfort zone has led me to meet a most incredible range of new authors and readers, and most enjoyably, to share them with a fantastic community of bookish people.

I’m pretty sure that this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival will allow for many more such meetings, and I’m thrilled! Enquire Within promises to be a fabulous gathering of wonderful minds from across the world; authors, intellects, commentators and of course, readers.

Here in Melbourne, we are incredibly spoilt for choice. Scarcely a week goes by that there’s not an author event or a big idea on stage, presented by The Wheeler Centre or the many fabulous bookstores and libraries around the state. To me, Enquire Within, Melbourne’s 2012 Writers Festival (running from the 23 August until 2 September) is the delicious icing on the cake of twelve months of amazing literary adventures.

The program promises to not only be entertaining, but also rich with insight, analysis and review:

“Our program addresses questions about liberty and responsibility; it takes inspiration from beautifully told stories; it listens to startling newcomers and intellectual heavyweights; it revels in literary coups and writerly gossip; and it celebrates words and language and hence, life.”

Opening with words from Simon Callow, on Dickens, the festival starts on a high note. This leads a program rich with authors and commentators from across Australia and the world.

The full program is available now, from the Enquire Within website. But here’s a little heads up on what I’ll be attending and reviewing…

Outback Lives, Saturday 25 August
Does rural fiction have an agenda? Is the bush a setting or the reason for the story? Rachael Treasure (The Girl and the Ghost-Grey Mare), Paddy O’Reilly (The Fine Colour of Rust), and Carrie Tiffany (Mateship with Birds) discuss why they are drawn to tales of life on the land. I’m particularly excited about this one after having chatted to Carrie earlier this year.

In Conversation with Gillian Mears, Sunday 26 August
Her first novel in 16 years, the Miles Franklin-shortlisted Foal’s Bread, has immediately returned Gillian Mears to the literary spotlight. The award-winning author of Ride a Cock HorseThe Mint Lawn and The Grass Sister talks with Ramona Koval about her life, living with MS, and her love of northern NSW, so often the setting for her writing. You can read my review of Foal’s Bread here.

Labor in Vain, Sunday 26 August
As its state governments are blasted from office and its federal fate seems sealed, is the Labor Party in crisis or experiencing hiccups? Former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, Whitlam and Lionel Murphy biographer Jenny Hocking, and former member for Bennelong Maxine McKew, discuss Labor’s present predicaments and its future. Hosted by Laura Tingle.

Speaking Australian with Germaine Greer, Thursday 30 August
To define us is to negate us. Those who are trying to impose a standard English on all the varieties of Australian speech are not simply wasting their time; they are applying an inappropriate notion of standardisation that would crush the life out of the living language. Australians contribute to literary culture all over the English-speaking world. Are they bilingual? Are they secure enough to distinguish between – and enjoy – different kinds of Australian, or are they hamstrung by spurious notions of correctness? In this keynote address Germaine Greer will discuss our language and its use, in an oration that will make you think seriously about our place in the world and the role that language plays in putting us there. Proudly supported by Queen Victoria Women’s Centre.

Are you going to anything at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival?

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Dark, cold, dragony night

I really like going out with my kids, it’s one of my favourite things.

I’ll admit that Oscar can still be a little bit of a handful, but he’s a showman, so what can you expect? Evan on the other hand is pretty much at the perfect hanging out age – good company, old enough to be really interested in what we’re doing, but still just young enough not to be (too) embarrassed to be seen with his daggy old Mum.

I’m making the most of it, because I know it probably wont last for very much longer, and so when I saw that Christopher Paolini, author of the Eragon series (Random House) was coming to Melbourne I thought it would be the perfect night out for Evan and I. Presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival, and the Wheelers Centre it promised to be a fun-filled, fan-filled evening and despite the cold, dark, wet, wintery night, it delivered.

I’ve got to say that I’ve not read any of the Eragon series myself. Sorry. But Evan has read the first three, and is half way through the forth (and final?) in the ‘four part triology’. And, although I’ve not read them myself, I do understand their appeal. They’ve got it all, heros, villains, dwarven languages, battles and journeys and of course lots of dragons. This combination of elements has seen an army of dedicated, extremely loyal fans build around the Inheritance Cycle. Standing in line for the book signing, with hundreds of readers with arms ladened with multiple copies of the four huge tomes, you could be left in no doubt that these people where committed – to the story, and to whatever this inspiring author was ready to do next.

Personally, I was fascinated by the fact that Christopher was only 15-years-old when he wrote the Eragon, the first in the series and couldn’t wait to hear more about what exactly brought that impressive feat about. In short, home schooled, living in Anchorage, Alaska and bored out of his brain, Paolini decided that the only thing to do was to get his head out of other people’s books, and bury himself in creating his own. With family support; as editors, publishers and publicists, Eragon was born and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s the great self-publishing success story…

Christopher was a very entertaining speaker, and Evan genuinely enjoyed every minute of the event. There were plenty of backstories, in-jokes and teasers, all of which had the audience on the edge of their seats in the hope that they might find out a secret or two about this world they’d clearly immersed  themselves in.

Further, his story is inspiring. In my opinion, it’s fantastic for kids like Evan (and grown-ups too) to hear of someone putting themselves out there, backing themselves and having great success to show for it. I hope it reinforces in Evan’s mind that anything is possible, even if it’s a little out of the ordinary.

I can’t wait until the next of these events comes up, I’m looking forward to another night out with the kid. I’ll be keeping a close eye on the calendar…

In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy watching Evan enjoy reading.

 

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On the calendar

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve fairly well had my head constantly in one book or another. This, of course is one of my favourite things to do, but once it’s been a few weeks I do start to feel that maybe I’m missing out on something that’s going on. It’s then that I know it’s time to start perusing the events calendars and making some bookings, which is exactly what I did.

I thought I’d share a few choice finds with you, which will in turn give you an idea of the event reviews coming up over the next few months.

First up, I’ve booked myself a ticket to a fantastic event being presented by the Wheeler Centre and the St James Ethic Centre. Freedom of Speech is Over Rated is a debate which promises to be enlightening, entertaining and perplexing. The line-up is impressive; Marcia Langton, Michael Gawenda and Catherine Deveny arguing for the proposition and Julian Burnside, Gretel Killeen and Arnold Zable speaking for the opposing side. I think it’s fair to say that the night might get a little heated, and it’s most definitely bound to get a little cheeky.

It’s being held at the Melbourne Town Hall, and you can book tickets here if you’re keen.

Next is a free exhibition currently being held at the State Library of Victoria. Love and Devotion: From Persia and Beyond, showing until 1 July 2012, is a celebration of Persian manuscripts and affords us the opportunity to see a selection of beautiful and rare original manuscripts.

Somewhat selfishly, I might sell this one as a day-trip and take the kids into the city for the day. After all, Oscar has been nagging me to go back to the ‘Big Library’ ever since the Children’s Book Festival. It’ll be good for them… If you want to find out more about the event, you can visit the exhibition’s beautiful website here.

Lastly, this event is a little bit further away, but Evan and I are both very excited about it already. We’ve got tickets to hear Christopher Paolini speak. Christopher is of course, the author of the incredibly successful Eragon series and his story is an inspirational one. I can’t wait to hear more about just how he managed to put Eragon together at the tender age of fifteen and I think Evan is just excited about seeing the author of a book he’s reading as we speak – brilliant timing! The event is being presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival crew, and will be held 21 June 2012. You can book tickets here.

Plenty to do, learn and write about! Love it!

Have you got any planned bookish outings on the calendar?

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