MWF 2013: No Safe Place

Okay, so yesterday when I said I would be going to Women of Letters today, I meant it. Except that my dementia-riddled cat kept me up half the night and I had a very uncomfortable sleep punctuated with weird dreams and when I dragged myself out of bed this morning I felt a bit sick. I went to the Writers Festival, because Writers Festival, but I’m not quite feeling up to driving anywhere this afternoon as there is a high chance I may fall asleep at the wheel. So you get this blog early! And I get to take a nap this afternoon.

This morning I was back at ACMI for No Safe Place, an event hosted by Clare Renner. She was interviewing Morris Gleitzman and Deborah Ellis about their books written for children, and more particularly, their books that focused on young characters in danger. I was drawn to this event because of the subject matter, but also because I am a massive Morris Gleitzman fangirl and I like hearing him speak about his books and readership. However, I hadn’t done much research on Deborah Ellis, and was pleasantly surprised to realise I had actually read some of her work before.

Morris Gleitzman spoke about how he still uses humour in his stories, no matter how bleak the setting/plot because the more he puts his characters in jeopardy, the more he wants to give them tools to cope with it. He enjoys starting with a character, then getting to know them and the biggest problem in their lives. He focused particularly on friendship in his Felix series (After, Once, Then and Now) because he likes to believe that maybe, MAYBE, a friendship could provide some kind of safe place, despite the worst of human circumstances surrounding it. He maintains that innocence is not the same as ignorance; rather, innocence is a lack of cynicism, and therefore she be preserved as much as possible. He thinks his target readership of 8-12 years old is the perfect age to believe in your own power to influence change – kids of that age are often old enough to know how to question things, and not blindly accept everything the adults around them say and project, but young enough to predate the rush of hormones and cynicism that can often accompany adolescence.

Deborah Ellis believes that children have a really strong sense of justice and injustice, and that ‘safety’ is an illusion, no matter how much we would like it to exist (which I agree with also). She was also quick to remind the audience that the present that happens today only happens because of decisions made in the past. Too easily we forget this, and lose the chance to make the right decisions for the future. Clare Renner also quoted Malala Yousafzai’s UN speech when she thanked the writers for using pens and paper as their most powerful weapons, which was a really lovely way to finish off the talk.

There were heaps of questions asked, a few from some really articulate kids. I joined the line to have my book signed, and this boy in front of me was sort of hopping on the spot as he saw the authors come to sit down in front of the signing queue. ‘I can’t believe I’m really here!’ He said, and I melted into a puddle of book appreciation. It’s moments like these that I love best about the Writers Festival, and I wish, wish, WISH I’d bought tickets to more events.

MWF 2013: History’s Script and This Is Scotland

It’s that time of year again – Melbourne Writers Festival! I really regret not buying my tickets earlier this year – three of the events I wanted to attend were booked out when I got my act together (Tavi’s World, Book Club and Lucrezia Borgia). I have booked tickets for four events now – not nearly as many as I would like to attend, but money and time are two issues that I can’t really compromise on at this stage of my life, so it is what is is. Today, however, was my first of three festival days!

I took the tram in to ACMI at Fed Square and fronted up for History’s Script at 11.30. Michael Cathcart from Books and Arts Daily on Radio National was interviewing Sarah Dunant and Jane Sullivan, and recording the whole session to broadcast on Tuesday. Before I even talk about the session, I just have to say that it made me even more ticked off that I’d missed the Lucrezia Borgia session. Like, ragey. It would have been so good (especially as Sarah Dunant was involved, and has just written a novel on the Borgias called ‘Blood and Beauty’).

Sarah Dunant is a well-known historical fiction and thriller author who studied history at Cambridge, but her interest was really piqued from reading historical fiction. She feels that gender affects people’s approach to history and her obsession and specialisation in the Italian Renaissance was influenced by Florence, where she now spends a lot of her time.

Jane Sullivan is a journalist who has written two novels, the most recent of which is called ‘Little People’ and set in Melbourne in 1870. She came to Australia in the late 1970’s and found out that Melbourne used to be known as ‘the Chicago of the South’. She has not studied history beyond high school (she studied literature at university) but came to history through her love of stories.

Both of these women were excellent speakers, and their passion and enthusiasm was evident. Sarah Dunant likes to put the ‘soil’ in place in her manuscript first – the politics, culture etc – then create a character from that, and stick to the character the stuff that she knows. There was much discussion of the ‘licence to invent’ when writing historical fiction and where the lines are drawn, and the existence of different truths – after all, ‘the victors write the history’ that is most commonly known/accepted. Sarah Dunant in particular talked about her disagreement with the Showtime series of ‘The Borgias’ – why add sex and violence and nudity and sensationalism, when the real truth of the history is just as crazy and exciting? Jane Sullivan pointed out the importance of afterwords – how they can acknowledge what’s true, what’s untrue and what the author/historians are still not sure about.

Michael Cathcart spoke about ‘pluralising’ history – how history is inclusive of lots of different versions of truth and we know have British histories instead of British history and Australian histories instead of Australian history. Sarah Dunant also expanded on her theory of gender and historical fiction – men are now coming to read historical fiction more and more, so have the men changed, or has the historical fiction changed? It’s also important for women, particularly young women, to read about times (often quite recent) where women didn’t enjoy the same rights we do. It shows us how carefully we need to protect what we do have.

Having thoroughly enjoyed myself, I inhaled some caffeine and went to the Deakin Edge simply stunning Atrium for the This is (Sparta) Scotland panel. Liam McIlvanney was chairing, and the Scottish writers taking part were John Burnside, Kirsty Gunn and Doug Johnstone, which pretty much meant it was an hour of auditory bliss with that many accents floating about. They read pieces of their work to us, and then discussed what it meant to be a Scottish writer, and the literary backdrop of the country. There was particularly interesting mention of different brands of nationalism and the discomfort of being appropriated into it, being known as the ‘voice of a nation’. Coming from a nation famous for their crime writers, Doug Johnstone deliberately includes family life and mundane domesticity in his high-octane crime dramas in order to explore those contrasts. John ‘bleak is my middle name’ Burnside expressed delight that here at the Melbourne Writers Festival ‘you can walk from one cultural experience to another without getting drunk along the way’, and they all mentioned other writers who had influenced them in various ways – Iain Banks and Irvine Welsh (Doug Johnstone), Neil Gunn (Kirsty Gunn – no relation!) and Hugh MacDiarmid and John Muir (John Burnside).

I came home to blog about these sessions in preparation for tomorrow, when I’m going to No Safe Place, and also a Women of Letters salon. Expect another blog in the next 48 hours! Meanwhile, I have some reading to catch up on.

Spring :)

So it’s spring! YEOW! Pretty excited by the sunshine that has started peeking out. I’m still taking my Vitamin D tablets, but hopefully I can come off them if the weather keeps up and just stand out in the sun instead!

My library hermit activities have continued and I think I may have a serious addiction to books. At least I’m not spending heaps, but seriously. I borrowed 9 books in two days last week and am going back again today. I’ve been trawling the internet for recommended YA authors and have let myself discover a lot of American authors I hadn’t seen before like Elizabeth Scott, Courtney Summers, Stephanie Perkins, Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen. It’s nice to see the different topics people incorporate into fiction, and it is helping with my own writing because I am seeing what authors can get away with in the YA genre. Up until this year I had tended to stick with Australian YA authors (not a conscious decision, just how my reading habits ended up evolving) like Melina Marchetta, Maureen McCarthy, Jaclyn Moriarty and Markus Zusak. Maybe I should change one of my initials to M, as it seems to be the go to letter for successful Australian authors 😀

I went to the Melina Marchetta/Morris Gleitzman seminar that was part of the Melbourne Writers Festival and came away awed and inspired. I have seen Ms Marchetta talk before, and enjoyed it just as much this time. I was completely enamoured by Morris Gleitzman. I’ve read many of his books (what young Australian bookworm hasn’t?) but am now resolved to read all of them. What a genius of a man. I also went to see Vikki Wakefield talk at the State Library about Friday Brown. I am pretty darn excited to read this book. I enjoyed All I Ever Wanted, but from the sound of it, Friday Brown is going to mess us up even more. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

In the meantime, I am just working, watching Breaking Bad, new Doctor Who and Shameless. I am trying to organise myself to start my next assignment early but procrastination is far more appealing at the moment, so we’ll see. Still have not heard back from either literary agent I submitted my manuscript to, but I’ve decided no news is good news, as it’s not a rejection yet 🙂

I’m going to go for a walk in the sun to the library now. I am going to try and remember these kind of perfect, cruisy days when I am freaking out about working full-time (one day, distant future).

Ciao for now xo