Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opening Address of the Brisbane Writers Festival

Last night, September 9, was the opening of the 2009 Brisbane Writers Festival. Jane O'Hara, the artistic director, gave an engaging welcome to the audience, describing those filling the seats and those that would come to stroll the halls of the State Library of Queensland as a "hum of authors" - strong, resonant, engaging, soft, loud, but always present.

This was followed by Noel Pearson as the guest speaker for the Opening Night of the Festival. Mr Pearson's words confronted, divided, challenged, moved, outraged, infuriated, offended, inspired - the content ranging from philosophical questions of social versus individual progress, to altruism and self interest in the face of climate change, to the land rights issue in the Wild Rivers area of Cape York. Mulling in the Breezeway tent afterwards, opinion was mixed on the choice of Mr Pearson and the content of his address and conversations could be overheard that sung his praise or disapproved of the choice of him as a speaker. Was this the forum for a long-term activist to be airing his grievances? Did the content of his speech have anything to do with a writers festival? Were his issues, his anger, his outrage, and his emotion, too much for a Brisbane audience to bear at 6pm on a Wednesday evening?

Regardless of what you think about Mr Pearson and the content of his speech - one thing is certain: it got people talking. And that's what festivals are about - debate, ideas, being pushed outside the comfort zone. That's why people attend writers festivals, otherwise they would stay away, preferring to be distracted and comforted by reruns of football finals in the company of those who always agree with their point of view. Writers festivals are designed to expand the mind, to present ideas to the grey cells of the brain that are otherwise stagnated at the desk jobs or Saturday morning soccer matches, and to provoke conversation topics that stray from the usual discussions of the state of road works in Brisbane CBD. The simple act of sitting, listening, and listening some more is something that we have become so unaccustomed to, preferring to be distracted by a palm held device starting with i-. It is incredibly therapeutic to allow yourself an hour, or two or three, to listen to what someone else has to say, and then think about it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Brisbane Writers Festival

Hi friends

The Brisbane Writers Festival is set to launch on Wednesday 9 September. This year, the Festival has a new director, Jane O'Hara, who is featured on the cover of Brisbane News this week.

At the launch of the Festival program on 31 July, Jane said, "In almost 150 events over five word-drenched days, from September 9-13 a perfect storm of writers from around the globe will converge on Brisbane each ready and armed to discuss that lovely little thing: the word."

Festival highlights this year include:

  • Opening Night address by Noel Pearson, speaking to his Quarterly Essay On Education, and on an educatoin for the future that leaves no one behind.
  • Closing Night address will be by Thomas Keneally, a fantastic storyteller, whose new book Australians: Origins to Eureka is the first in a four-volume history of Australia (whoa!)
  • Tracy Chevalier, Girl with the Pearl Earring, is launching her new book Remarkable Creatures.
  • Clive Small, Australia's most famous policeman, launching his book Smack Express - How Organised Crime got Hooked on Drugs
  • Bettina Arndt - and a mature discussion about intimate relationships and her book, The Sex Diaries
  • Krissy Keen - Affection
  • Gretel Killeen - The Night my Bum Dropped
  • Julia Morris - Don't You Know Who I Used to Be?
  • The Chaser Boys - Dominic Knight and Chris Taylor
  • Christian Lander - who wrote the now famous blog
  • Jeb Brugmann - Welcome to the Urban Revolution - speaking about revolutions to make cities sustainable
  • John R Talbott - The 86 Biggest Lies on Wall Street
  • Tania James and Padma Viswanathan on their Indian heritage
  • James A Levine - The Blue Notebook
  • A photography exhibition on Afghani women, post-Taliban rule, by Lana Slezic
  • Joris Luyendijk - Fit to Print
  • Wayson Choy's moving memoir - Not Yet: a memoir of living and almost dying (about reflections of what a family is to a gay man)
  • Brissie authors Amy Barker (Omega Park) and Kirsten Reed (The Ice Age)
  • Ben O'Donoghue cooking events
  • Cold Chisel's Don Walker
  • The Sports' Stephen Cummings ...and about 100 more sessions!

The program is available via searching online at

I am chairing the following sessions, with these fabulous authors:

Friday 1:45pm - Sex and Marriage with Bettina Arndt (The Sex Diaries) and Kate Legge (The Marriage Club)
Friday 4pm - The Lost Mother, with Anne Summers
Saturday 10am - Coming of Age, with Tania James (Atlas of Unknowns), Kirsten Reed (The Ice Age), Chris Silvey (Jasper Jones)
Sunday 9am-11am - BBQ Breakfast and Talking Food with Ben O'Donoghue (Ben's BBQ) and Rebecca Huntley (Eating between the Lines).

All ticket information is available through the website.

Please, have a look at the program - there is something for everyone!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?

Tell me what you thought.

Magic powers?

If you could have a magical power, what would it be? Invisible? Flying ability? Mind reading?

I must admit, ashamedly, to only recently becoming a convert of Harry Potter. Prior to this, I had been a sceptic. Yes, I was one of those people who screwed up their nose at anything that required any kind of thinking outside the square of reality. Aliens? No thanks. Space machines and time travel? I don't think so. Boy-child with broom and magic wand? I don't think so, that doesn't happen in the real world.

Basically, if it didn't happen in reality, it wasn't to be read. Moreso, I wasn't going to spend money on supporting J K Rowlings "childrens' books for adults", aka Harry Potter. I don't watch Star Wars, Star Trek, or Star Anything. I don't like the idea of small, slimey goblins chasing rings, even if it is in the green bliss of New Zealand. No. Science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction - not for me.


A dear friend of mine couldn't believe that I could be so narrow minded. So, for my birthday, I received a box containing a blissful set of Harry Potter books.

I have recently dived in - held my breath, put aside my bias and scepticism, and tried to open my mind.

I now want my own Owl.

Ah, the bliss of the open mind. May it hit us all. I am only sorry it has taken me this long.

Who knows, maybe J R Tolkien is next...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are book characters your friends?

Try this. Find yourself some time (easy if you're a freelancer like me), but find it somehow - on a holiday, a weekend, a night when the TV doesn't go on. Find the time, and then spend AT LEAST an hour with your book. This will ensure that you're immersed in it. Totally. And it has to be a fiction book - non-fiction simply doesn't do it, sorry boys!

You will find, I guarantee it, that you start to find that the characters in these books become your friends.

Trust me.

Monday, April 13, 2009

When characters become family

In the space of the last seven days I have read many books. Quite the lavish pastime to be considered "work", I know. I've gone from reading Bettina Arndt's intimate book The Sex Diaries, that has left me wanting to call my girlfriends over for a bottle of wine and a good chat, to Arndt's friend Kate Legge's The Marriage Club that has me terrified at the prospect that there is SO much that goes on behind the closed doors of other people's relationships that you can never be sure you know people at all. I find myself angry at George and frustrated at Leith - experiencing the tightness in my chest and awkward feeling in my stomach as if these people were really in my life, and not just constructed out of words on a page.
Then I dived into Anne Summers' The Lost Mother and found myself wanting to sit Anne and her mother Tuni down for a cup of tea and sympathy. This is then melded into Kirsten Reed's The Ice Age, where the adolescent in me is awakened by the awkward interactions by the vending machine and the infatuation with Gunther. When's Gunther going to pull up outside MY front door, cigarette slouching, to beckon to the open road? Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones has taken the cake though. I burst into tears when little Eliza bares her fourteen year old soul to Charlie Bucktin. Who wouldn't? The perfect gentlement, a mini Atticus Finch in the making, is that young man, despite hoarding his secret. And Jeffrey Lu - what a hysterical character, so vivid it was as if Silvey had produced a film instead of a novel.

I forget that the characters aren't real. I feel as if they were my family, or people that I know well. Their actions affect me physically and emotionally and I want to dive into the pages and be involved in their lives. Or, phone up the author and demand an alternative ending, more information, further clarification.

It's the sign of brilliant writing when your mind forgets where it is. When you forget that these people aren't really your friends, your family, your neighbours (thankfully, or not).

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Smell of Books

One of the first things I do when I buy a book, be it a new or second hand purchase, is take a long, hard smell. I stick my nose in between the pages and take several short sniffs, followed by a long, hard inhalation. It's as if I want to brand it, source it, sniff it out like a beagle.

'Are we going to like each other?', my sniff asks. 'What if we don't get along, but feel compelled, due to the extreme price tag of this piece of literature, to finish to the last page? Will our relationship be fast and furious, where the pace of reading is intense, so as to find the ending as soon as possible, or will we savour the words, linger over the chapters, and contemplate the next step in the plot?'.

This act is going to be sorely missed by myself and others if the world continues its disappointing path towards the e-book. Anything read on a screen doesn't smell. If you tried to smell your screen, you'd end up with spots dancing before your eyes, and a stunned nose that was rudely thwacked against the monitor.

Newspapers on a screen don't smell. Who doesn't like the musty scent of a black and white paper? And what about the smudged imprinted mark that it leaves on your sleeve as you rest your elbow on the broadsheet, craning your neck to read the text on the top of page 3?

Books on a screen definitely don't smell. There's nothing romantic about flipping a page by scrolling your mouse. You can't lend a friend an e-book. You can't fall asleep with your e-book on your lap; you'll probably short circuit something, run out of batteries, and accidentally delete it as you nod off and let go of the grip on your e-book reading device (note: refuse to use the word for the Amazon-promoted e-book reading device. EBRD). You can't fold down the pages to mark the passage that touches you on an e-book, and then put it in your bag to show your girlfriend. You can't savour the last page in a chapter on an e-book; you'll accidentally 'flip' the page and unwittingly keep reading, undoubtedly revealing the twist in the plot...

No. E-books don't smell. Real books do.

But society, as we know, continues to amaze with its inventions and mechanisms to constant placate our tendency towards complete consumer satisfaction. This company, it seems, has solved it all.

I weep as I sniff the musty pages of my pre-loved copy of Lunch with Mussolini. Nothing beats the real thing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Like spilt ink into cracks in old wood...

[Jennifer Mills]

Or beetroot on a hamburger.
Or one anchovy on a pizza.
Or the sound of someone singing. Or screaming.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Snippets of wisdom

I stop everyday right at the point where I feel I can do more. Do that and the next day's work goes surprisingly smoothly. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow.

[Haruki Murakami What I Talk About When I Talk About Running]

Monday, March 30, 2009

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.

[Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991]

Books from your childhood, if you were a reader, nestle in your memory like uncut diamonds. You often don't remember them unless prompted. For me:
  • The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - May Gibbs. A book that has moved house with me. I still look at banksia trees and imagine them to be the evil Banksia Men. A gumnut evokes images of chubby cherubs scantily clad in loin cloths made of gum leaves.
  • The Folk of the Faraway Tree - Enid Blyton. Who could forget pop biscuits and google buns? Moonface, Mister Watzisname, Silky, and the Saucepan Man? The Land of Take-What-You-Want, the Land of Dame Slap, the Land of Topsy-Turvy, the Land of Spells, the Land of Goodies, the Land of Dreams and the glorious Land of Birthdays.
  • Malory Towers and St Clare's - Enid Blyton again. The lure of boarding school when you were 8 years old was inescapable. Midnight feasts, lacrosse, and sprained ankles...
  • Anything, anything at all, by Roald Dahl. My favourite? Matilda. And I blame him for my sweet tooth, thanks to the visions inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Books can be dangerous.

The best ones should be labeled "This could change your life."

For me, Looking for Alibrandi (Marlina Marchetta) was a book that retains such special significance.

Snow Falling on Cedars (David Gutterson) was a book that, at the time in my life when I first read it, astounded me. I also think that the film depiction of the novel was one of the best I've seen.

Shantaram (Gregory Roberts) gripped me from start to finish. I read it while travelling through India with two girlfriends. All three of us read it in India, looking up from the pages out into the country we were backpacking through. Would it have made such an impression had I read it in Australia? Without a doubt. It is also a book that I have given to male friends of mine (who generally don't read fiction) who have read it and enjoyed it.

Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it...

This saddens me. What about the "brain cheese" (not my term, but one that I think aptly applies) of Marian Keyes? John Grisham? Do I have to hide my guilty pleasures beneath a Camus book simply to avoid the judgmental eyes of my fellow train passengers?

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