Fathers Day

Elwood Writers are going to be on the radio again! This time it’s for Fathers Day 2017: Jenny, Barry, Margaret, and Helen will be shining a light onto many facets of fatherhood through a selection of their literary work, including pieces of poetry, fiction and memoir. Their stories will be broadcast on the Cover To Cover program, Vision Australia Radio on Friday 1st September at 8:00 p.m., and repeated on Sunday 3rd September at 1:30 p.m.

Tune in!
There’s a handy frequency-finder here and the program can be live streamed around the world here. VAR broadcasts in Perth too. Details here. For Melbourne listeners, the Vision Australia digital radio service is on your radio under ‘VAR Digital’. Or if you’ve got an old school wireless you can listen in at 1179AM.

Helen’s Impressions of Adelaide Writers’ Week 2017

Once again Adelaide delighted with its heady mix of festival fare. Writers from round the world took to the stage in the wonderfully situated Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens by the river. This year I was drawn to the writings of the chroniclers of our times – the journalists and social commentators who strive to show us the truth of complex human situations through both non-fiction and fiction. A highlight was the poetry reading session curated by Peter Goldsworthy, with six of Adelaide’s noted poets reading from their collections. I particularly loved the simplicity of Jules Leigh Koch’s and Cath Kenneally’s readings. Their observations on the small, often suburban details of life can be both profound and poignant. Leigh Koch’s Man in the Bookshop ‘tucks his thoughts away like a bookmark’ while one of Kenneally’s characters is ‘leaking at the seams’.

In US journalist Thomas Frank’s ‘Listen Liberal’ he explores the failings of the US left and the disintegration of the middle class. He believes the Democrats cannot find the policy or conviction to alter the economy and ‘the gravity of discontent keeps pulling to the right, and the right and the right’. Ben Ehrenreich and Mei Fong, respectively writing about the lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank in ‘The Way to the Spring’ and the effect of China’s one-child policy in ‘One Child’, discussed the very real issue of bias and objectivity in telling compelling stories. Ehrenreich posed the question: How can you write about Palestine objectively when it is very clear there is an absolute imbalance of power? You cannot denude the truth, he purports, and you must be transparent about where you stand. Fong concurred that the reader wants to know the truth and you must give your reader a clear point of view. Of course bias is in her book by her very status of being Chinese and a woman.

Journalists Patrick Cockburn (Ireland), ‘The Rise of Islamic State’, and Janine di Giovanni (US), ‘The Morning They Came for Us’, both Middle Eastern experts, gave a sobering and thorough account of the chaos that is Syria, painting a clear picture of the major players involved and the likely outcome. On the other hand, two novelists have brought the stories of the marginalised to readers via fiction. Mexican author Yuri Herrera, ‘Signs Preceding the End of the world’, and Korean Krys Lee, ‘How I Became a North Korean’, explore the realities of displaced people. Herrera delves into the shadowy world of border communities where people are not ‘recognisable’ (no papers or passports) and must adapt to many migrants from different worlds living together. He deems ‘art allows us not to be hostage to one version of reality’. Lee wanted to write about the people she knows who are not just ‘North Korean’, but complex human beings. How do we know what it is like to be that person who is simply a stereotype to the outside world? she asks.

I enjoyed an entertaining session on Books and Reading with Keith Houston (Scotland), an expert on the history of the book, and Alberto Manguel (Canada) who has written extensively on books and reading. It was heartening to hear both authors emphatically stating that the book will survive, that libraries are our identity and memory, and can and must collect everything, including new technologies.  Libraries must be preserved, they concurred!

Of course there was so much to sample of the Arts and Fringe festivals running concurrently. Watching the Berlin company Schaubuhne Berlin’s rendering of Shakespeare’s Richard III in German was a roller coaster of frenetic-paced, fantastic acting, to the accompaniment of heavy metal music, rapping, and with audience interaction and nudity (his) on stage. A phenomenal performance and for this writer quite thrilling as Richard limped off the stage, plonked himself next to me at the end of the row and asked ‘Do you mind?’ as Anne delivered her soliloquy over her dead husband’s body.  No proscenium arch here!

Finally, as part of the Fringe Festival, a delightful concert of popular music by The String Family, mum, dad and two teens all on cellos or violins, had everyone’s toes tapping.  Their story of life on the road for the past thirteen months, travelling around Australia, living in a caravan and winning the Australian National Busking Championship, had moments of great poignancy as they live out ‘the dream’. While missing the family and friends they have left behind, they have come to understand, first hand, the hardships of life on the land for so many Australians. Now there’s a book in that.

ELWOOD WRITERS MEETING 14TH JANUARY 2017

Another spirited meeting of the Elwood Writers this week. Inevitably, domestic and world political affairs loomed over the general discussions again. It seems we’ve entered a new age of anxiety. Before our collective blood pressure soared too high, we made teas and coffees and got down to literary business.

Barry proposed sharpening up the structure of the group’s workshopping sessions. In place of an informal general discussion about a particular piece of writing we agreed to try a more targeted approach where we each have five minutes to deliver individual feedback. This new format will allow us to focus during meetings on the more salient or urgent responses to a piece of work. So that nothing is overlooked, all comments and observations will continue to be captured within the marked up documents that return to the writer of the piece under consideration.

In this week’s workshop sessions, Helen talked about a book she’s recently acquired, Contemporary Australian Poetry (Puncher & Wattmann). Her poetry library is growing. She has approached the form in a somewhat unconventional way, beginning to write it before studying it closely. But that may prove to be an advantage. Margaret shared a piece of work that was conceived during a writing workshop she attended last year. Barry shared the first 2000 words of a reworking of one of the stories from his linked collection. He’s been experimenting with blocks of second person narration in the piece, and was keen to see if this was working. Finally we were introduced to a new character from Jenny’s novel when she presented a recently developed section from the work.

We’re going to return to second person narration/point of view in a future meeting for a fuller discussion of its features and applications.

ELWOOD WRITERS MEETING 31ST JANUARY 2017

‘What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.’
Samuel Johnson

It was another lively session at Elwood Writers, especially with world events as they are. We discussed the group goals for 2017, including our planned soiree in August where we will read from our own work. As the group prepares to attend Adelaide Writers’ Week in March, we looked at the possibility of designing individual business cards that reflect our status as members of Elwood Writers.

In the past fortnight, Margaret attended Lee Kofman’s Introduction to Memoir: Telling the Emotional Truth. Lee reminded the class that memoir is always about memory, it is always told from your point of view, and is not so much about what happens to you as it is about ‘what you make of it’. She emphasized that the narrator must always be specific in their writing, that is give details. When asked about the importance of telling the emotional truth in memoir, she said, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson: ‘Books that don’t do any harm don’t give any pleasure.’

In the workshopping sessions, Margaret read a piece from her memoir that is currently ‘placeless’ (as Lee would say) in her narrative, but important to it. Jennifer is preparing her first contribution to a short-story writing online class that she has enrolled in. Her story is most topical and we await the class feedback. Barry read a piece of fiction he intends submitting to a literary journal. Helen presented a new poem written ‘off the cuff’ in a poetry class she attended. We look forward to hearing more about this at our next session.

Radio Times

On Vision Australia Radio later this week, 2 programs featuring the work of the Elwood Writers will be rebroadcast for the Best Of Cover To Cover:

Mothers can be heard again on Thursday 29 December at 12:00 p.m.
Starting Over can be heard again on Friday 30 December at 12:00 p.m.

Timings might vary depending on location. Check out the program guides here:
http://radio.visionaustralia.org/program-guides

Get some snacks in, turn the lights down low, put your feet up, and be soothed as you listen to a selection of stories, including poetry, memoir, and fiction, at your radio or online device. Network and listening information can be found at this link:
http://radio.visionaustralia.org/our-networks

In case you missed it …

We’re thrilled to share the podcast of the special Mother’s Day edition of Cover To Cover from Vision Australia Radio. The entire program featured work from the Elwood Writers. And thanks to Tim McQueen and Vision Australia Radio, we were given the exciting opportunity to read our own work on the air.

Here’s the podcast link:

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/zc2fq-5f2e5d

We’d love to hear what you think of the program. Let us know in the comments section below. Happy listening!

Lit on the Radio

Don’t forget to tune in to Vision Australia Radio for this year’s Mother’s Day edition of Cover To Cover. The program is currently in production, and will feature the work of the Elwood Writers. We’re very excited to bring you a taste of what to expect from the literary line-up:

Jennifer Bryce was prompted to write her short story ‘The First Day’ when she read her 97 year-old mother’s autobiography. In it her mother describes ‘the overwhelming sense of responsibility’ when she brought the new-born Jennifer home from hospital. In this story, Jennifer imagines her mother’s feelings at that time.

For this special Mother’s Day program, Helen McDonald explores the darker intensities of the mothering experience through poetry and creative non-fiction with her pieces ‘Forbidden’ and ‘The Lake’.

The post-war decades of the fifties and sixties were hailed as the boom times. But what was life really like for a young mother of five, married to an injured ex-serviceman who’d spent four years in a German prisoner-of-war camp? Find out in Margaret McCaffrey’s story ‘My Mother, Lawre’.

In Barry Lee Thompson’s story ‘So Much Lemonade’, a small family picnics on the clifftops at a secluded coastal spot. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it. But will anyone be smiling when the rug’s unfurled? The event is explored through the eyes of the young son.

You can catch the program on Friday 6 May at 8:00 p.m. or listen to the re-run on Mother’s Day on Sunday 8 May at 1:30 p.m.

WRITING IN UBUD

The search for a distinctive and productive way to use some of my Overland VU Short Story Prize money, other than just for paying the rent and bills, has brought me to Ubud in Bali for a few weeks. While I’m here, I’ll be working on my short-fiction collection. I’ve visited Ubud several times for its writers festival, and wanted to experience its mood at a different time of year. There’s a tradition of artistic activity, and a number of creative workers are based here, so it’s not unusual to arrive looking for escape and a workspace. Importantly, it’s an inexpensive destination, and so I’m able to visit for a significant period of time.

I’m staying in a room overlooking the rice fields of Jalan Bisma. The main streets of Ubud are a short walk away. My stay includes breakfast and unlimited Indonesian tea and coffee, and there’s a swimming pool in the grounds. I spent the first few days shaping a daily routine, and shaking off a faint anxiety around doing visitor activities. But the pressure’s off. A huge relief. No tours required. No need to try different venues for food or coffee. I’ve had dinner in the same Padang restaurant for the last five nights, followed by consistently good espresso-based coffee from a nearby bakery. There’s no need to visit the sights; I did it on a previous visit. The guidebook’s in the bin. It’s liberating to explore without an agenda. Gradually, the commercial spruikers of Jalan Raya Ubud are realising they’re barking up the wrong tree with me. Or at least the chants of “taxi” and “transport” are sounding fainter in my ears. My main requirement is that my keyboard clacks and my pencil scratches for a few hours each day.

Writing Process: Barry

I visit my writing several times throughout the day. Sessions vary from five minute bursts to extended periods of a few hours. This way, I can put in a minimum of a couple of hours a day, and often more like four to five. This is a framework. I have a home workspace – a place for my computer, books and tools – but can work anywhere.

Writing isn’t just a physical process of working with words on a page. It’s the creative and percolative activity that goes on in the spaces. In other words, the work also happens while reading, daydreaming, riding the bike, poking around, or what-have-you.

I’m never without a paper notebook. I keep the old ones stored in a filing cabinet. Captured moments. Conversations, song lyrics, glances, peripheral observations. The unorthodox, discordant, and mundane. Here, an obsessive mind might be a fortunate trait.

Short fiction suits my temperament and way of working. A new story can begin from a blank page, or a paragraph or phrase within an existing piece of writing. I rarely delete. An opportunity arises, such as a competition or a callout for submissions, and I circle round until I land on a fragment of material that captures my interest, and then begin to shape it into a new piece. Experimentation is thrilling, and I love the idea of development through failure. It’s a playful process, and instinct plays a part. Sentences are the building blocks of a story, and proficiency in them gives a reader confidence that they’re in capable hands, so allowing greater experimentation within the work.

Reading aloud, and listening to playbacks, I imagine works as radio pieces. Listening enables an objective sentence by sentence edit, and a chance to gauge the texture, mood, rhythms and poetry of the prose.

Writing can help to make life navigable. Anxieties, uncertainties and ambiguities can be contained and explored on the page through the endless possibilities of fictional forms.

Barry’s Adelaide reflections

coffee-adelaideThe festival experience in Adelaide becomes richer with each visit. This year, I felt an initial restlessness during the events. I wanted to be away from the authors talking about their work, and to get in front of my own writing. To put my hands inside my manuscript and pull the guts out of it. To lay it all out, examine it closely, and put it back together again. This reaction, far from a complaint, is rather desirable. I’m travelling to Ubud next week to work on my manuscript, and I can be confident the trip will be one of industry and production.

A highlight of Writers’ Week: The Crow on Wednesday morning at the west stage. Max Porter, author of Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, converses with Jonathan Bate about the life and work of Ted Hughes. In the soothing dapples of soft early sunlight we listen, rapt, to the disembodied voice of Hughes reading his work aloud in Adelaide forty years ago. Eerie and beautiful, this presence of the poet. Afterwards, I decide that I want this to be the taste that stays with me, and so leave the garden setting for the final time this year.

A similarly affecting experience on Thursday at the Art Gallery. A series of photographic images by William Yang chronicles his friend Allan’s demise from AIDS between 1988 and 1990. Each image is accompanied by Yang’s handwritten narrative. An unexpected punch arrives with the final photograph, of Allan in 1980. His vibrant and healthful face stares out. Ten years later, he’d be dead. Grateful to be alone, I search the image for a long time, looking for some communication between it and the fate of its subject.

The poignancy of Yang’s work is sharpened by the shade of an incident a few days’ earlier in the dorm at the youth hostel. Vivid anti-gay sentiments were a valuable reminder that we can’t be complacent; that, despite whatever ultimately happens with marriage equality in Australia, fear translates into hate in some minds. The hostel interaction is, however, a timely gift, prompting me to consider my short-story collection in a stark and vigorous light. Now on to Indonesia. There’s work to do.