Fathers Day Broadcast

On Friday 1st and Sunday 3rd September, Vision Australia Radio presented a special Fathers Day edition of its Cover To Cover literary program, featuring the work of Elwood Writers. If you missed the program, there’s now an opportunity to hear the podcast at your leisure here.

We hope you enjoy the stories. We welcome feedback, so if you have any thoughts you’d like to share, please voice them in the comments field below.

Happy listening! from Elwood  Writers.


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.

Jennifer’s Impressions of Adelaide Writers’ Week 2017

What will I take away this year from Adelaide Writers’ Week? One of the visiting writers, Ian McGuire, when asked why he writes, quoted John Cheever: ‘I write as a way of making sense of my life’. Yes, I thought, that’s what I try to do.

I spent quite a lot of time not attending the talks on the banks of the River Torrens. It seemed better to savour a few things than to come away crammed with a confusion of wisdom. This allowed time to attend some of the concurrently running Adelaide Festival: plays, concerts and two excellent interviews/panel discussions on The Secret River and Richard III, conducted by David Marr.

Adelaide writers week

I attended (and years ago had read) Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, I had recently read Hannah Kent’s The Good People and Zoë Morrison’s Music and Freedom and I have become particularly interested in how writers might use a little-known historical incident as the starting-point for a piece of fiction – most of the sessions I attended related to this interest.

Armando Lucas Correa uses the story of the ship, St Louis, which, just before World War II transported Jewish families from Nazi journey to find a safe haven. But they were turned away from Cuba, Correa’s home country, from New York – with its vibrant Jewish community – and other places, to have to return to Europe, to countries such as the Netherlands, which were later occupied. Many of those Jewish families seeking asylum ended up in Nazi concentration camps. Correa has created a young girl on that ship, who happens to be the same age as his own daughter, and he tells the story of those families through the eyes of the young fictitious Hannah.

Glaswegian Graeme Macrae Burnet found intriguing documents when he was researching his family history: medical reports and court transcripts of a murder trial in 1869. A seventeen-year-old youth wrote a lucid confession to three violent crimes. Why?  The context is a remote crofting community where stoicism and violence may have been the only way to respond to feudal conditions and grinding poverty. One of the characters sums up what is explored in Macrae Burnet’s book: ‘One man can no more see into the mind of another than he can see inside a stone’. The book, His Bloody Project, was short listed for the Man Booker award.

Hannah Kent found a short newspaper article one day when she was undertaking some other research. In the early 19th century, in Ireland, a woman was tried but ultimately pardoned for a drowning murder because she believed that she was dealing with a changeling – a child brought by the fairies and substituted for another child. This led to Kent’s book, The Good People. Kent spent 6 weeks in Ireland, going to the place where her story is set, walking through the muddy fields, learning some of the expressions used in the isolated communities of that time. From a brief newspaper article a vivid depiction has unfolded of a life governed not only by faith in God but, with poverty so grim that a doctor can’t be afforded, with spirits and superstition.

Ian McGuire studied the journals of surgeons on whaling ships to inform his book about mid 19th century whaling in the Arctic region, The North Water. The book is a thriller, but not a ‘whodunnit’—we know from the first chapter that Henry Drax committed murder. There is an abundance of smells, suggesting that Drax is like an animal, moving through a world of smells as animals do. He is also animal-like in that he lives in the present moment, with no sense of consequences. McGuire grew up in Hull, where the book is set – it has changed greatly since those whaling days, but his familiarity with the town helped him to recreate it in an early 19th century context.

Although it is set in the past, the interviewer did not dwell on this aspect of Zoë Morrison’s Music and Freedom. There was greater interest in her treatment of domestic violence, which indeed is a central theme of her book. Zoë said that her main character ‘just appeared on the page’ one day when she was doing a writing exercise. Presumably her vivid accounts of performing a Rachmaninov concerto come from personal experience, as Zoë is an accomplished pianist.


Two other sessions that I particularly enjoyed were Caroline Baum’s discussion of her recently published memoir, Only, and Paula Byrne’s discussion of research into the life of Jane Austen. Caroline, an experienced journalist, mentioned how refreshing she finds it to write in the first person – something that is pretty much taboo for journalistic reporting. I was hooked when she read from her prologue, using the metaphor of a triangle as the situation of an only child – there are pointy ends, things don’t mesh together. Caroline mentioned that a life of privilege can in many ways be a handicap for a writer. Now she has had to tackle the fact that her mother doesn’t agree with all that she’s written, and grapple with the possible fallacy of memory – we think we remember something accurately – but is it accurate?

Paula Byrne has written several biographies of Jane Austen. From her talk I got further insight into Austen’s genius. Byrne said, ‘nothing Jane Austen does is an accident’. For example, the way characters play the piano has a purpose. The Real Jane Austen is organised around objects: each chapter begins by focusing on an object, such as a cashmere shawl. Byrne stressed that as a young woman Jane Austen was playful and naughty – not the demure young lady that the Victorians described, and Byrne emphasised Jane Austen’s independence and feminism – her female characters think for themselves, they don’t defer to men. Byrne is sure that Jane Austen could have married – in fact she turned down one poor man pretty much on the day of the wedding. She may have been anxious about childbirth, or she may have realised that as a married woman she would have less freedom to write.

Elizabeth Harrower

Something quite different, though, was the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Harrower. How exciting that today we could see this 89-year-old writer, right there on the stage in Adelaide, and feel connection with the Australian literary canon. Harrower had attended the first Adelaide Writers’ Week in 1960. She used to have long phone conversations with Patrick White! She is a survivor of the generation of Patrick White and Christina Stead. Being there reminded me of musicians who, through their venerable teachers, have links to Liszt or Beethoven. After tremendous success as a young writer in the 1950s and ’60s, Harrower stopped writing when a manuscript was rejected by a publisher – she locked it away in a library and it was retrieved only recently by Michael Heyward of Text Publishing, who was her sensitive and intelligent interviewer on this occasion. In some ways we writers of today may feel that things were easier in the 1960s with so much less competition, but there also wasn’t support. It seems that back then there was no one to tell Elizabeth that she was right to think her writing good and that she should have persisted and not given up with the ‘rejection’. Fortunately, Text Publishing came along 50 years later.


‘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.

Paradise, by Helen McDonald

Elwood Writer Helen’s poem Paradise is published by Celapene Press in Short and Twisted 2016. Short and Twisted is an annual anthology of short-stories and poetry with a twist at the end. Congratulations, Helen!
You can read Helen’s poem below. And if you’d like to enjoy more of this wonderful anthology, the book is available here.


Under brooding skies
beside the sheening metal sea
scuttling children, two-legged crabs,
tunnel to China, heads down bottoms up,
side-stepping drifting jellyfish
lazy see-through saucers just off-shore.
A seaside edge of seaweed currants
tortured palms, abandoned spades.

A flock of yachts strains, bows to the breeze.
Gulls on matchstick legs, beaks to the wind,
sentinels to the barricades banked along the sand
stretching out to claim the beach.
Signs that scream ‘Keep out’.
It’s not for you

Helen McDonald

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:


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.