Winter 2018 Soiree | Jennifer Bryce

Elwood Writers recently held its Winter 2018 Soiree at St Kilda Library in Melbourne. Over four blog posts, each of the writers will tell us more about the work they presented at the event. We begin with Jennifer Bryce.

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Elwood Writers soiree, St Kilda Library.

It’s daunting to get up in front of 30 or so people – even when they are friends – to read your own work. Daunting because what you’ve written is something of your own creation; you are vulnerable – you can see the response of the audience – it’s more immediate than receiving a critique (or a rejection notice) for something you’ve written.

But the experience of reading in a public setting is extremely valuable. We usually read work out aloud in our writing group meetings because we find that hearing our words brings out different aspects of a piece. You might have read a piece to yourself several times – but things jump out when you hear the words rather than just look at them. And when you know that it’s to be a public reading, you go through the work with a fine tooth comb.

Earlier this year I started work on my second novel. It is connected to the first (which is at present doing the rounds of publishers), but not necessarily a sequel. Publishers would classify it as historical fiction. For our Soirée I chose to read the very beginning of this new book. One reason for choosing the very beginning is that it should make sense to listeners without requiring any explanation.

I love to immerse myself in early 20th Century history – I’m intrigued to understand the world that existed just before I was born. In my new book a young woman travels to London in the 1930s to take up a scholarship at the Royal College of Music. So much happened at this time: World War II was brewing, Edward VIII was about to abdicate in order to marry a divorced woman (he also had Nazi sympathies), radio had developed and people liked to ‘listen in’ to news broadcasts and concerts.

My protagonist has completed a diploma at the conservatorium in Melbourne, but she is naïve to the extent that the trip to London on board the Strathnaver is indeed a rite of passage. She isn’t modelled on any particular person of that time although a few years earlier pianist Eileen Joyce had left Australia ultimately to become a celebrity known in films and on gramophone recordings as well as on the concert platform. Other young women, such as composer Miriam Hyde, also ventured overseas at that time because Australia was seen as a backwater and you had to study overseas to ‘make it’.

For the Soirée I divided the first chapter into two parts. In the first part, the ocean liner leaves Melbourne. The young musician is alone and she watches the coastline as the ship steams up Port Phillip Bay and through the heads. I have never travelled by ship, so I had to read memoirs and talk to people who had had the experience of a liner pitching in rough seas, sea-sickness, the layout of a large steamer. I found useful photographs on the Internet. In the second part, my protagonist has met one of her cabin mates (she is travelling tourist class and has to share a cabin with strangers) and they have dinner in the tourist class dining room. This part was assisted by an old menu I had from the time when my mother was taken overseas by her parents in 1939. Compared to today’s menus, the food was stodgy and plain – Brown Windsor Soup, roasts, caramel pudding.

I know, from experience, that this chapter will change a lot before I consider the piece to be ‘finished’ – indeed, is a piece of writing ever finished? But the challenge of reading at our Soirée meant that I gave the all-important opening chapter special attention.

My first novel took several years to write. I hope that the process will be a little shorter for my second. One thing I’m sure of is that in a year’s time the piece I read at our Soirée will be different. I hope that in a year’s time I will have finished a complete first draft of the novel. Even though I have a plan, it will change.

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Duo con Brio, St Kilda Library.

At the Soirée I enjoyed the opportunity to play some music. Playing the oboe is an important part of my life and I’m in a chamber group: Trio con Brio. Our flautist has been unwell, so we were Duo con Brio: oboe and cello. We have found that some of Bach’s Two Part Inventions for keyboard work very well for this combination because Bach gives an interesting line to both treble and bass – it’s not a case of the cello plodding away and the oboe having all of the fun. We enjoyed playing some of these pieces in between literary items.


For more on Jennifer’s work, visit her website Little Smackerel.

All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we tell our stories, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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Lit on a Winter Afternoon

At the end of August, Elwood Writers held a literary soiree in the community room at St Kilda Library in Melbourne. The event provided an opportunity for us to present a curated program of short readings from our own work, and included fiction, memoir, and poetry.

Duo con Brio, with Monica Edwards on cello and Elwood Writers’ Jennifer Bryce on oboe, punctuated the proceedings with musical pieces by Bach.

We’ll provide more information on the work presented at the event over the next few blog posts. For now, wherever you are, happy reading and writing.

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The writers.

All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we tell our stories, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

Jewels of San Fedele

Margaret is pleased to be a contributor to the anthology ‘Jewels of San Fedele’, which comprises the work of 14 women who attended a writing retreat in Italy, 2016. The ‘experiential’ classes were designed to have students deepen their work. Margaret’s two stories are excerpts from a memoir in progress.

‘Jewels of San Fedele’ is edited by D Ferrara and Patricia Florio, and is available from Amazon at the following link:

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.

ELWOOD WRITERS MEETING 17TH JANUARY 2017

Elwood Writers meets every fortnight. The week before a meeting we circulate any material we’d like to discuss. Meetings typically begin with general business, mostly discussions about writing issues or what we’ve been reading. We use this time to discuss activities and plans for the group in the year ahead. Margaret is our time-keeper. After the general discussion we divide up the remaining time equally between the four of us. This usually leaves about half an hour for each member to have the floor to discuss their circulated piece or anything else they nominate.

At the 17th January meeting, much of the general discussion focussed on the use of social media for writers. Jennifer had just been to Patrick Lenton’s Creating an Author Platform seminar at Writers Victoria. She came away from that with the view that if you don’t already use Twitter it’s not especially important for a writer to start doing so. She said that the seminar reinforced the importance of maintaining some kind of online presence, and highlighted the benefits of Facebook author/writer pages.

We agreed to have a fuller discussion of future online strategies for the group when we meet at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival in March. There was also mention of the next Cover to Cover radio program we’ve been commissioned to develop for Vision Australia Radio for Fathers Day later this year.

Helen read the latest draft of a new poem she has been working on. Jennifer read a re-working of the opening of her novel-length story. Barry read a new short story he’s developing from a piece written a few years ago. Margaret outlined a section from her work-in-progress that she will circulate for discussion at the next meeting.

Decisions and discussions

Elwood Writers had its fortnightly meeting at a café on Carlisle St in Elwood last week. We’re a politically engaged group and so the early part of the session was inevitably spent talking about the then upcoming federal election. Decisions, decisions.

Before looking at the pieces of work we’d submitted for review, we talked shop. We discussed the literary industry, and visited the recurring issue of how to make ends meet as a writer, and how to balance financial pressures with the demands of a creative practice.

What happens to a piece of writing when it’s out of our hands, and to what extent should we be concerned with how our work is interpreted by an audience? It was interesting to consider the possibility of misinterpretation by readers and whether this matters. Maybe there is no such thing as misinterpretation. Once a piece of work is released and shared, it ceases to be controllable. Readers bring themselves and the sum of their experiences to the writing, and they place themselves inside or alongside the work, and so all interpretations and responses have a claim to be valid. There’s the reader and there’s the writer and there’s the work, and they all exist in a fluctuating relationship. An author’s biographical notes, a writer speaking at a festival, an artist’s stated political position: these are experiences which can affect the way we read and respond to a piece of writing.

After critiquing each other’s submitted pieces over a couple of coffees, we dispersed into the busy afternoon. And now the federal election has come and gone, and at the time of writing the outcome remains unknown. There’s a possibility that the outcome will still be unclear by the time of our next meeting.