I’m just coming down from the high of three days at the Perth Writers Festival, where I conducted a workshop on editing, talked about Family Dynamics with Peggy Frew, Myfanwy Jones and Michelle Michau Crawford, discussed Foreboding with Garry Disher and David Dyer, and then finished with the official book launch of All That is Lost Between Us.
I loved finding out more about the wonderful novels by my co-panellists, whose books I would all highly recommend. I also had quite an emotional moment listening to Liz Byrski launch my new novel, because Liz is an author I deeply admire. To have her say such wonderful things about not only this book but my previous stories was very, very special.
I made it to a few sessions myself. I watched Roman Kryznck open the festival with his engaging talk on empathy. I listened to Susan Johnstone, Helen Ellis and Lauren Groff discuss the Domestic novel, and it was great hearing them speak, although the session didn’t really go in the direction I hoped it would (I wanted them to get into the nitty gritty of how the domestic is written and perceived in fiction). I also attended the Stan Grant, Jane Caro and Lindsay Tanner session called ‘We Need to Talk About This’. They each spoke passionately about issues from racism to mental health, and left me wanting to read their work. And I watched Michael Cathcart interview Paolo Bacigalupi, where he raised the interesting point of whether descriptions of sexual violence in novels can ever go too far. I found myself agreeing with Michael, because I think I stopped reading a lot of crime (I used to read loads) due to the graphic descriptions of horrible events in many of the novels. But … how can we ever censor stories? Because if we did, the same reasoning might be applied to some of the awful scenes in Shallow Breath, but they form an integral part of the novel. They have to be there, even though I found them very distressing to write. This is complex question, and while Paolo Bacigalupi certainly did his best to answer it, I didn’t feel he nailed it.
A personal highlight of the festival was spending the evening of my 40th birthday with the Simon & Schuster authors and publishing team, along with a few passionate booksellers and journalists. The beautiful, inclusive nature of the event left me in no doubt that Simon & Schuster Australia is a very special publishing house, and I feel extremely blessed to be under their wing.
If you attended the festival, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And if you came to one of my sessions, thank you. Roll on PWF 2017!
First of all, I apologise to all AWW fans for not wrapping this up sooner! Life has been a bit crazy in the Foster household, and I needed to go through my very eclectic reading list from last year! For those of you wondering what it’s all about, the Australian Women Writers challenge was set up to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women. The challenge encourages avid readers and book bloggers, male and female, living in or outside Australia, to read and review books by Australian women throughout the year. You don’t have to be a writer to sign up. You can choose to read and review, or read only. You can sign up or the 2016 challenge and find out more information on their website. There are three entry levels: Stella (read 4), Miles (read 6) and Franklin (read 10).
My year began with Liane Moriarty’s fantastic Big Little Lies and Dawn Barker’s compelling Let Her Go. Soon after that I was lost in the exquisite writing of Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, and then moved on to a couple of dystopian/apocalyptic YA gems – Genesis: The Rosie Black Chronicles by Lara Morgan and The Sky So Heavy by Claire Zorn. While in the midst of having three big projects on the go at once, it was the perfect time to read Rachel Power’s brilliant book Motherhood and Creativity – an anthology of artists talking about their experiences of combining these two life-consuming roles on a day-to-day basis. I found myself nodding and writing down passages so I could refer back to them, and found Cate Kennedy’s poem ‘The Zen Master’ a masterpiece of writing. At the end of the year I managed to squeeze in a couple more fiction books: Ann Turner’s brooding and evocative The Lost Swimmer, and Susan May’s thrilling ride Deadly Messengers.
When compiling this list I thought I hadn’t quite met the Franklin status of ’10 books read’, then I remembered I had also read Mem Fox’s Reading Magic and Jackie French’s I Spy A Great Reader – both important books about how to get young children engaged in reading. As as side note, the Foster girls are avid fans of Mem’s and Jackie’s books for children, and this year we loved Wilfrid Gordon Mcdonald Partridge and Koala Lou by Mem, and Josephine Loves to Dance and Diary of a Wombat by Jackie. While I’m on children’s books I can’t help but mention Alison Lester’s wonderful Are We There Yet, which we discovered this year. We spent ages putting the places mentioned on a map of Australia and Miss 6 is now determined we will visit all of them! We also loved Magic Boomerang by Frane Lessac and Mark Greenwood, where the wonders of Australia are brought life by an enchanted boomerang.
So I think I may have just snuck in to Franklin status. And while I suspect that my reading in 2016 will be dominated by dystopian fiction for my PhD, I’m going to aim for Franklin again, because there’s no harm in being ambitious! This initiative has been of inestimable support for Australian women writers for some years now, and I’m very happy to be part of it.
I can’t conclude my 2015 inspirations without mentioning this talented bunch of WA writers. I feel privileged to know them, and it’s always great when we get together to share words, ideas and support one another. I have read all their latest releases and they are all bloody brilliant, so do go and grab copies for your stockings if you‘ve missed any of them. They are: Annabel Smith – Author, THE ARK (and don’t miss WHISKY CHARLIE FOXTROT, published in the US in 2015 as WHISKEY & CHARLIE); Amanda Curtin – Author, ELEMENTAL (shortlisted for the Premier’s book awards, and to be published in the UK in 2016); Dawn Barker – author, LET HER GO (which followed her acclaimed debut FRACTURED); Natasha Lester – Author, IF I SHOULD LOSE YOU (and new book A KISS FOR MR FITZGERALD coming in April 2016); Yvette Walker, LETTERS TO THE END OF LOVE (winner of the WA Premier’s Emerging Writers Award); and Emma Chapman – Author, HOW TO BE A GOOD WIFE (new book THE LAST PHOTOGRAPH coming in 2016).
I love this talk by Ann Morgan on her year reading her way around the world. Ann noticed that her bookshelf was dominated by American and English titles and set herself a challenge to read a book from every country in the world – and so she did. It made me think about my own reading goals for next year – although at the moment my reading pile is dominated by research books! If you’re inspired by her talk too, here’s Ann’s written guide to reading the world.
One of the joys of my studies this year has been coming across so many brilliant books that might otherwise be out of my usual reading range. Australian author Claire Zorn’s YA book The Sky So Heavy is one of these. Fin is just a regular kid at school, getting by in class and trying to suss out how to get the hottest girl in school to notice him. Then missiles are detonated thousands of miles away, and a nuclear winter descends on Australia. Fin’s father and stepmother go out and never come back, leaving Fin and his brother to try to cope as their world slowly disintegrates around them. Never mind the teenagers, I loved it! If you’re still looking for Christmas gifts for the younger generation, Claire also has a new book, The Protected.
I read a short story in 2015 that left me staring at the wall in dumbfounded awe while I tried to absorb it. The story is ‘The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas’ by Ursula Le Guin, written in 1973. I’m not even going to try to sum it up, I’m just going to urge you all to read it, because within its many treasures is a profound and timeless question about every one of us.
Later on in the year I watched Ursula’s acceptance speech at the National Book Awards, and it confirmed that this year I have found someone very special to look up to as I take on new writing challenges in the coming year.
A few months ago I listened to Carl Honore discuss ‘the slow movement’. He is a great speaker – and as with all those wise motivational people around us, he wasn’t so much telling us things we didn’t know but reminding us to take time to listen to our inner voice and reflect on our approach to modern life. I am always amazed by how my productivity and contentment increases when I slow down – although this year slowness has been a real challenge at times. I am looking forward to reading his books, and introducing more slow strategies into my life!
The chance to hear Hilary Mantel and Elizabeth Gilbert speak at Perth Concert Hall were two of the hottest tickets at the Perth Writers Festival this year. I was entertained, enthralled and inspired by both, and their words will remain with me for some time. Here are a few of my favourite soundbites from each of them.
On Margaret Thatcher: ‘I admire her as one must admire any woman pioneer, but I don’t think she solved the problem of how to be a woman in a man’s world.’
On writing: ‘I’m always looking in my fiction for the moment of transformation – the moment a life or society changes. These are the questions that drive my fiction.’
Hilary’s advice to the BBC director of Wolf Hall: ‘Remember that these people [characters] don’t know they are in history.’
On fiction writing: ‘A novelist has no business with neutrality.’
On her audience: ‘All the time I am asking my reader where their prejudices come from; where their information comes from.’
On research: ‘I put a great deal of effort into research but there is inevitably that marshy ground of interpretation – and I’m in that marshy ground.’
On Thomas More: ‘The news is Thomas More was not a 1960s liberal… he was a man of his time, and heresy hunting was a fact of life. More was a wonderful man, but he just happened to have this foible: he liked burning people…. The idea that he was a martyr of freedom would have him spinning in his grave.’
‘There is no creativity without courage.’
‘Fear is boring. It’s a song with only one word – and that word is stop. What it stops most of all is creativity.’
‘In order to begin to have that conversation with fear you have to have a fierce sense of personal entitlement – it’s not possible to do creative work without it.’
‘It’s about being aware that you as a citizen of this universe have the right to participate in the creation of culture.’
‘The arrogance of belonging is the only voice that can stand up to the darkest voice of fear.’
‘If it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If you can finish you’re already so far ahead.’
‘Having a creative mind is like having a border collie – if you don’t give it a job to do it will find a job to do, and you might not like it.’
‘Creativity can be done with lightness and it can be let go, so you can move on to the next thing, and the next thing…’