Release of Jennifer Bryce’s novel, Lily Campbell’s Secret.

Congratulations to Elwood Writer Jennifer Bryce on the publication of her first novel, Lily Campbell’s Secret. Jennifer’s book will be launched by Toni Jordan at Readings Bookshop in Carlton, details below. We’re looking forward to celebrating!

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Sorrowing woman leaning on table in front of photo of her husband

It’s 1913, and Lily’s comfortable middle-class Melbourne life is completely upended when she falls in love. As she sits in the hall of her private school, portraits of past headmistresses frowning at her, she realises the ‘glaring, unalterable fact’ that she is pregnant, the father a young stablehand called Bert. Her parents disown her: the first of many wrenching challenges she must face. She marries Bert and they have a few happy months together in rural Woodend, where their daughter is born. When the war starts, Bert volunteers and Lily is thrown very much on her own resources. After Bert returns home, Lily has to face the most momentous decision of her life.

Lily’s role as mother, musician, wife and lover, leads her to confront issues of patriarchy, nationalism, love… and the value of a human life.

In Jennifer Bryce’s ‘Australian Gothic’ novel, the suppressed grand passions of her long-suffering…

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Where Do You Write? | Margaret McCaffrey

My local café recently changed its seating arrangement. Oh no. Not because of me, I hoped. Me, sitting at the big table by the front window, trying not to spread my papers and books about too much, but wanting to get my work done.

Under the new configuration I was forced to sit at a table for two, allowing barely enough room for my ‘stuff’. But it’s a lovely café and I determined to make do. It has been a godsend to me as I go through the latest phase of ‘where-I-work’.

When I first took up writing, I rented a small room in the CBD. Having just finished working, I couldn’t imagine not going into the city every day. But soon, it dawned on me that I couldn’t catch the tram in my dressing gown, which is what I wanted to do. Plus the office rent kept going up.

Next, I settled for working at home. Some days I barely moved from my bed. I began the day by journaling and went straight from there into writing. Tessa, our dog, patiently sighed at the end of the bed looking up every now and again in wait for her walk.

Natalie Goldberg is an author who says she loves Paris because there you can write in the cafés. I’m not sure this is still the case. But the message is, if you like a café and feel welcome there – anywhere in the world – then make the most of it.

People will tell you where to write, what your office set-up should be, how things should look and so forth. But I say: create a space that’s right for you.

Update: I visited my local favourite café last week. The long table had been returned to the front. Order had been restored. I know my secret, quiet, little coffee shop will not remain so forever. But while it lasts, I plan to write and luxuriate as much as I can.

Poetry and Place

How do we write?  And, importantly, where do we write?  Each of the Elwood Writers has their own method, quirky or disciplined.  Some are methodical, setting aside regular precious hours to pen papers, while others wait for inspiration to strike and write ‘off the hoof’ – and that would be me.  I find Place particularly important – ideas and images come randomly; when I’m out walking, in the middle of a busy cafe, or regularly at 4 am.  It’s handy to have a notebook or even a smartphone to capture those fleeting thoughts.  It can be a chaotic process.

I write poetry and have just returned from a wonderful, enriching two weeks in Japan, the spiritual home of haiku.  Never was a sense of place more powerful to me than being in the land of the rising sun during both Sakura – the spring cherry blossom season – and the last of the winter snowfalls.

Finding myself mentally free from the entrapments of daily chores and routine, I felt creatively open to these unique sensory experiences.  In Kyoto I visited the 17th century home of Mukai Kyorai, the great haiku master Basho’s most famous disciple. I even dared to write a Sakura haiku and post it in the dedicated haiku letterbox.  The timing was serendipitous, as it was close to International Haiku Day.

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The home of Mukai Kyorai in Kyoto

Where I live in country Victoria we have a monthly poetry-reading afternoon, Chamber Poets.  In the very week when I was trudging through four inches of snow on a mountain pass on the ancient Nakasendo Way, my haiku, which seemed to spring effortlessly into my head day after day, were being read aloud at Chamber Poets as that important day was celebrated. The joy for me was in being able to relay that wondrous sense of place to my fellow poets so many thousands of kilometres away.

Earlier in March I had the privilege of being the featured poet at Chamber Poets.  Our meetings are held in the local RSL (Returned Servicemen’s League) Club.  I read a short memoir piece about my English grandfather’s experiences in the trenches as a 17-year-old foot soldier in World War 1, and I was both comforted and overwhelmed to share his history in that most appropriate of places.

Poetry and place; the words bind us, wherever we are.

French Film Festival: Non Fiction

“This film, directed by Olivier Assayas will have special appeal to writers. There are animated discussions about the nature of fiction, the future of print media — everyone huddled over wine and finger food. I felt very much at home!”
A recent film review from Little Smackerel, Elwood Writer Jennifer’s website:

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This film, directed by Olivier Assayas will have special appeal to writers. There are animated discussions about the nature of fiction, the future of print media — everyone huddled over wine and finger food. I felt very much at home!

Near the end of the film there is a reference to words from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard: Everything must change so that everything can stay the same. And indeed, this can be seen as the main premise of the film — most significantly as a response to discussions about the future of literature, but also as an underpinning to the lives of the main characters in the film. Should the publishing company focus on E-Books and audiobooks? There is an amusing suggestion that Juliette Binoche would be a good person to read a particular audiobook: Binoche plays the part of Selena in the film.

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Leonard , played by…

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Adelaide Festival Writers’ Week 2019 | Guest post by Tony Thomas

Many thanks to Tony Thomas for sharing his experience with us — Jennifer.

Sat 2 March 2019     Esi Edugyan interviewed by Geordie Williamson

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Esi Edugyan (pronounced Ed-oó-jun) is a Canadian writer of Ghanaian descent whose third novel, Washington Black, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year – and deservedly so I thought when I read it last year. She read to us the impressive opening pages where the protagonist, the child George Washington Black, a slave on a sugar plantation in 1830s Barbados, describes the arrival of his new master, the evil (it turns out) Erasmus Wilde, but here passing by dressed in splendid white, together with his brother Titch, a scientific experimenter, who becomes Wash’s mentor and protector.

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The first part of the book deals with the horrors of slavery, and these scenes are suitably horrific, but it’s the little details which strike us as absolutely real, such as the large mysterious covered object which Titch brings with him (it turns out to be an early airship) “bigger than the whipping stone” in the field. Esi said her idea for the novel started with an interest in the Tichborne Claimant. [Historical aside: Lady Tichborne refused to believe that her son and heir Roger had been lost at sea, and instead credited stories that he had been rescued and come to Australia. She advertised widely in Australian newspapers for news of him. A Wagga butcher eventually put up his hand as Roger, and Lady Tichborne asked her retired black servant, living in Sydney, to interview the claimant. The interview was inconclusive, but “Roger” was accepted as the heir, went to England and lived the good life for a while, until he was tried for perjury and imprisoned. Patrick White was also influenced by this story in his late novel, The Twyborn Affair, which however takes off on a very different tack.] Esi instead was fascinated by the life story of the interviewing servant, a former butler, who had been taken from the West Indies as a slave, had worked as a freeman for years as chief of a household, and whose life thus had been totally turned around in wholly unexpected circumstances. This then also became the core of Wash’s story in Washington Black.

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The Tichborne Affair

Esi said that in writing she always starts with character, that this is what fascinates her in the first place – but then of course, around the third draft she told us, the need for shape arises, a story has to take place as well, and in Wash’s case it was the story of a life being turned around completely. And not just one of being (eventually) released from slavery, but also a life of science, because Wash is endowed with a natural talent, a genius, for scientific drawing, especially of marine life, which comes naturally to him without training, and which becomes the most important part of his life. Science, she says, “was a way of engaging with the world without the need for solid relationships”. “Wash sees it as a benign equaliser”. And she wanted to focus on the idea of slavery not just as an unjust deprivation of freedom, not just lost bodies, but as something which causes a vast amount of lost potential, of which Wash’s genius can stand as example. Where are the great black scientists of the past, she asked: they hardly exist. So then her story developed into one of a restlessness of narrative, with many shifting locales after the slavery section at the opening, to the US, the far north in Nova Scotia, eventually to England, where Wash and his colleagues create the first aquarium and where in a shed in the gardens of a house, Wash has the first place that he can call home – very much a picaresque, she said in conclusion.

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Adelaide Writers’ Week 2019: the second day

In spite of the heat, crowds of people attended the discussion with Leigh Sales, popular ABC presenter of The 7.30 Report, among other things. Leigh started by saying that while she conducted her interviews, so often with people who had been ‘blind-sided’ by some terrible event, she kept asking herself, when is something going to strike me? And it did, in 2014. The birth of her second child was highly traumatic. Leigh and the baby ended up in Intensive Care — she didn’t see the baby for 3 days — the baby contracted viral meningitis among other things. Then … her 2 year-old had some problems, Then … Leigh’s marriage of 20 years broke up. Leigh mentioned ‘doubt and dread’ — how rapidly life can change.

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Leigh tried to gain control of her life by writing Any Ordinary Day. And she has realised that you can’t have complete control of your life. It isn’t a book about Leigh. She has interviewed a bunch of resilient survivors of all kinds of traumatic experiences. She has also looked at research into the brain, which shows that humans prefer certainty and predictability — we look for cause and effect. We think we can see cause and effect where there is none — because we want it so much.

Leigh spoke to the Vice Chancellor of Sydney university, to get a clear perspective of what to examine, where to go. He too had gone through a devastating personal experience. She spoke to people about the science of the brain and, although not a believer, to a priest. After speaking to these people she said she felt ‘strangely buoyed’.

There was discussion about how to interview people who have gone through severe trauma. Leigh said she tried not to cry in front of them — ‘it’s about them, not me’. There was mention of how important it is to talk to someone after they have been through some terrible ordeal — don’t make it worse by abandoning them, even if you think you don’t know what to say. There was mention of the different methods of interviewing on TV and for a book. On TV you have limited time — you interrupt to get to the point. When interviewing for a book it’s best just to ask a leading question and then let the interviewee talk: ‘How was that?’ rather than ‘that must have been awful’.

I hadn’t heard of Bruno Maçães. He was Portugal’s Minister for Europe. The government changed and he left the country (comments from the audience — a pity that more defeated ministers don’t do that!) and travelled — a long journey across Europe and Asia — he said you must go by road or train, not plane. You need to approach a city gradually. He started by saying that Australia could be the first Eurasian nation.

There was much discussion about what is the division between Europe and Asia. It has existed for centuries, yet it is artificial. Think of the difference between Japanese and Arabic people. Historically, Asia has been the ‘anti-Europe’. Does ‘Asia’ mean anything to Asians? Maçães described it as a ‘European myth’.

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There was discussion about how culture develops. A civilisation starts with trade and commerce. An infrastructure is built. Then culture develops.

Maçães now lives in Beijing. He said that arriving in Beijing is like arriving in the future. There is a love of technology and history suggests that technology is usually a basis for power — he reminded us of the superior technology of the 15th Century Portuguese, with their ship building industry. Maçães gave some examples of Beijing being like the future: you don’t use cash (we had come across this the previous evening at the Adelaide Festival Centre where we had to buy drinks with a card), there is now visual recognition at ATMs. New Chinese cities are being created. He described a gambling culture — your life is a gamble. According to Maçães, two big differences between China and Europe is that in China technology is embraced and English will not be the common language.

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Maçães compared the world today to the world of the 19th Century — but this time the world will not be led by the West. He said, we are entering ‘a world without adult supervision’. Asked about climate change, Maçães suggested that within about 30 years there will be trade routes through the Arctic (I wondered what there might be to trade — what will we be eating?), Arctic beach resorts with 24 hour sunlight.

I left the talk more pessimistic than Maçães seemed to be.

 

Elwood Writers at Adelaide Writers’ Week 2019: the first day

An annual event for Elwood Writers is attendance at the Adelaide Writers’ Week.  We are all over here in Adelaide — the first day was one of  40 degree heat. We particularly enjoy this festival because of its location on the banks of the Torrens, the excellent choice of speakers and … most events are free.

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The first event I attended was an interview with Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs, former President of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, who has written a memoir, Speaking Up.  On the front cover, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Human Rights Barrister describes Gillian Triggs’ way of refuting her detractors as being ‘with reason not rancour’.  How true. Through heated, often mysogenistic battles, Professor Triggs manages a calm demeanour. She always refers to people with courtesy: Mr Turnbull, Mr Abbott, Mr Dutton … Most of the talk was about her work in human rights, but there was some mention of her early life. Until 12, she lived in England. It was just after World War II. She said that the end of the war and effects of the holocaust ‘seeped’ into her life. From this childhood she remembers ‘the smell of poverty’ — TB, coal, bombed out sites.

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Professor Gillian Triggs

After a career in Law — particularly International Law, the invitation to become President of the Human Rights Commission came from Nicola Roxon, who was Australia’s first female Attorney General and happened to have been a student of Gillian Triggs. There was discussion about the weakness of Australia’s constitution and the fact that Australia is the only Western democracy that doesn’t have a charter of human rights.  The constitution is more to do with state powers than matters such as freedom of speech. As a model of what could be, Gillian Triggs held up the example of Dr H.V. Evatt, who, as Chief Justice of the High Court and leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1951 to 1960, linked the importance of human rights to world peace. Gillian Triggs reminded us of the Magna Carta (1215): no man may be held without the judgement of his peers. Yet in Australia we have held people in detention without allowing them to go before a court.

There was discussion about the ‘cycle of poverty’ for women — the gender pay gap in Australia is increasing rather than decreasing. For example, at present women retire on 46% of the superannuation that men have. The figures don’t match our perception of ourselves. Gillian Triggs  suggested that her own generation of women ‘played the game’ — of getting well educated, turning up for work on time, nicely dressed … and consequently lost the ability to challenge the rules. The more privileged women must speak up for those ‘at the bottom of the pyramid’.

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Gillian Triggs also said that we will never be a coherent democracy unless we engage our indigenous people. She finds ‘identity politics’ an offensive term.

It was poignantly relevant to then attend a talk by Kassem Eid, whose identity card is marked XXX for nationality and he has a Protection Visa from Germany. Among other horrific experiences, Kassem Eid was involved in al-Assad’s  Sarin gas attack in Syria in 2013. He has written My Country: A Syrian Memory.

 

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Kassem Eid

Kassem Eid was born a refugee in Syria — his family having been ‘kicked out’ of Palestine in 1948. He described Syria as a place where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony before the military coup. Kassem Eid learned his excellent English from reading The Reader’s Digest as a child. During the military regime, Eid’s family lived ‘under an iron curtain of fear’. Before the revolution it was Eid’s dream to leave Syria but afterwards he wanted to stay there, to make Syria a better place.

Children wrote ‘freedom’ on their school walls and were arrested and sexually abused. You are ‘safe’ if you do nothing, he said. If not, the punishment is unimaginable. By 2012 there was a siege around Kassem Eid’s town (near Damascus). Power was cut off. There was no medicine. ‘They bombed the shit out of us.’ Kassem Eid and his remaining friends and family survived by eating grass and a few olives. He described old Soviet/ Nazi tactics that were used. A lot of journalists lost their lives, he said, trying to send out images of what was actually happening. Then came what he called ‘Judgement Day’ in August 2013. He described a most terrifying and unimaginably horrific gas attack — everyone was suffocating — ‘something I cannot describe in words’. He was thought to be dead but he survived. He picked up a gun for the first time. He had not wanted to resort to violence.  ‘All I could think of was revenge.’ He ended by saying, ‘refugees love life — if not they wouldn’t go through such danger to get the minimal things a human being should have’. Having mentioned the pain of civil war where a friend fights a friend, he said, ‘get to know people that you think you hate’. I walked out holding back tears. Why hold them back?

After this devastating presentation  it was a relief to attend a session that focused on writing ‘what you know’, although it turned out that what the speakers ‘knew’ was still pretty shocking. Joelle Taylor, a poet from the UK has written Songs My Enemy Taught Me. She said that you ‘own those dark spaces’. Her ‘dark spaces’ were particularly about being sexually assaulted: ‘No one notices/ That the daughter is eating herself’. Joel helps others to write. Asked, can you write successfully about the banality of life, Joel said, ‘we need those stories, we need to find the beauty and poetry in going to the shops.

Before flaking in 40 degree heat, I attended Toni Jordan’s session on her latest novel The Fragments.

 

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Toni Jordan said that for her, the hardest part of writing a book is getting the ‘idea’ — by this she meant, the idea that will spark off the story. For this book she was inspired by the publication of a second book by Harper Lee, more than fifty years after her first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, which was highly acclaimed and won the Pulitzer Prize, and also by the fact that the identity of successful writer Elena Ferrante was revealed — she found Ferrante less interesting once she knew who she really was. Thus formed the idea of exploring author identity.

Toni Jordan doesn’t enjoy doing research for a book. She says she does as little as possible: ‘readers just need to feel as if they are there’. She in fact does what research is needed after writing a first draft of her book. Then she finds Trove very useful. She prefers not to have to move away from her desk.

Asked how she built up the ‘architecture’ of the book, Toni replied that she is a ‘knitter’ rather than a ‘quilter’. A knitter must start at the beginning (casting on) and continue, writing in the order that the book will be read. On the other hand, a ‘quilter’ would write ‘scenes’ and piece them together later.

Speaking of description (eg of surroundings) — ‘the particulars’ must always relate to the character . For example, in The Fragments, James lives in an old tumbledown Queenslander — this tells us a lot about him.

And, apart from Toni saying that when she’s finished one book she thinks she’ll never have another idea, there’s another book on the way — a clue to it is a tattoo on Toni’s arm — don’t worry, it’s nothing to do with tattooing (or dragons).

 

 

What’s occurring?

2018 was an industrious and fruitful year for Elwood Writers. Among other events, we hosted and thoroughly enjoyed presenting our work at our first public soiree, in August at St Kilda Library, and in November provided the material for the Armistice Day Centenary edition of Cover To Cover on Vision Australia Radio.

We’ve more exciting group projects planned for 2019, kicking off with an excursion to Adelaide for Writers’ Week in March. We’re thrilled to have been invited to collaborate with Tim McQueen and the team at Cover To Cover for another themed program on Vision Australia Radio, and will post more about that closer to the time. Also in the pipeline is another soiree, possibly towards the end of the year.

And of course our individual projects continue, with material regularly workshopped within our fortnightly group meetings.

With so much going on and coming up, from time to time it can be useful to consolidate and reflect. In that spirit, we’ve created a dedicated page on the website for recordings, mostly podcasts, of our group radio programs. All our programs for Cover To Cover beginning with Starting Over in January 2015 can now be accessed easily in one place, here, or by clicking on the link below:

We look forward to updating this podcasts page with the recording of 2019’s radio program later this year.

There’s much to look forward to, and always so much to write about. Here’s to a peaceful year; happy reading, listening, and writing.

Best wishes from Elwood Writers.

Winter 2018 Soiree | Margaret McCaffrey

Margaret’s notes on the Elwood Writers soiree held in August at St Kilda Library:

The Elwood Writers 2018 soiree was our third in a series of evening readings. The group’s first two events were held in a private home where we tested the performance waters with family and friends. This year we branched out a little, presenting at a local public venue and inviting a slightly wider audience.

The concept of a soiree is loosely based on the old-fashioned, European notion of a ‘salon’. People are invited to gather and enjoy themselves while being entertained with stories and musical interludes.

As my own work is mainly memoir and of a personal nature, I can find public readings to be challenging. But I have to be willing to open my soul, while protecting myself with the suited armour of a story and carefully crafted narrative.

Despite the challenges, however, in the long run I value the opportunity to leave my comfort zone (the support of my group and the patient listening of my partner), to spring into the exhilarating and expectant atmosphere of a live audience, whether this be with friends or strangers.

The audience’s response to us can be subtle. It might come in the form of a sigh of satisfaction or as a wave of relief (or even agitation) that ripples through the crowd. One might detect a murmur at the end of a story or poem, or a facial expression of pleasure or questioning. But despite any nervous apprehension on my part, I would not be willing to miss the experience for anything.


“… a sigh of satisfaction or as a wave of relief …”

The graduation from working solo to public performance is all in the path of the writer, I believe, where she must firm her step and ready herself to stride forth into the realm of the more global sphere.


All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we live and write, and we pay our respects to all elders past and present.

Winter 2018 Soiree | Helen McDonald

In August, Elwood Writers held its Winter 2018 Soiree at St Kilda Library in Melbourne. In this post, Helen McDonald describes the work she presented at the event.

2018_08_25-elwoodwriters_058.jpgIt takes time and a good deal of thought for Elwood Writers to arrange our program so that the literary readings are varied, complement each other and hopefully engage our audience. One of the things I enjoy most about our soirees is the range of genres covered, and not only hearing but delivering an interpretation of the pieces we have polished and workshopped in our group meetings.  Each member of Elwood Writers brings their own unique voice to the occasion across fiction, memoir, short story and creative non-fiction.

My own leanings are towards poetry and memoir, and in this, our first public performance, I read a selection of poems as well as haiku, a poetic form I‘m very much enjoying exploring.  Our appreciative audience were even subjected, from me, to a short analysis of what haiku is – and isn’t.

This time it was just as much a treat for us, as for the audience, to have Jenny’s chamber group providing musical interludes.  Duo Con Brio (two thirds of Trio Con Brio) chose Bach as the perfect accompaniment for the literary works, and the combined sounds of oboe and cello clearly delighted everyone.

St Kilda Library’s community room was the perfect venue for this intimate evening with friends, acquaintances and family, and we were so pleased to welcome members of Roomers, the City Of Port Phillip creative writing project.

It is such a rewarding experience to share our work and with each soiree I like to think we raise the bar just a little bit higher.


All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the lands on which we live, work and learn, and we pay our respects to all elders past and present.