Tag Archives: Melbourne Writers’ Festival

Winding up, winding down

How do you capture the flavour of 366 days in a few words? Issued the challenge, I’d have to go with: Work intense. Writing irregular. Friendships strong. Cycling legs good. A curveball (or wake-up call) to end the year…

But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it? If it means anything, it’s probably only to yours truly. The rest of you deserve better.

So, at the risk of boring any regular readers, let’s recap a tad. The tiny company I’ve worked with for over a decade, the same mob that’s given me the flexibility to be an author when the Muse sings and a public speaker when schools, libraries and festivals come calling, was taken over twice in 18 months. From my POV that involved adapting to approximately three successive sets of managers and a morass of policies, procedures and paperwork easily the equivalent of this. Or this.

There are definite upsides to working for a juggernaut entity but survival in a large organisation means striving harder to be seen. In the past two years I’ve taken on two massive and rewarding projects – but have had to wind back on being an author and speaker. I’m hoping to adjust the balance soon.

Work aside, this year has served up some considerable challenges. There was the phone call that let me know my parents had been hit head-on by a recidivist careless(!) driver, health scares for friends, the text message in the middle of the night that suggested other friends may be splitting up and the test result that delivered a personal wake-up call.

Daunting in far more positive ways have been the commitment to raise over $2500 and ride 200km plus for cancer research (mission accomplished – thank you all), finding the right secondary school for the Little Dragon (fingers crossed) and working on proposals for two new novels (in progress). I loved touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Working with students studying Five Parts Dead was good fun, too. On the bike I’ve clocked up 4825 km in 2012 so far, which has to be a PB.

A particular 2012 highlight was the night I spent acting as a prompt for Impro Melbourne creativity. Over the course of the night I read three passages from my work and left the impro experts to run with whatever ideas occurred to them, based on my readings. The third passage I chose was from a speculative fiction manuscript I’m working on and, not only did the actors enjoy it, I had audience members approach me and ask where they could buy the book. That’s what you want to hear about an unfinished work. Confidence can be a fleeting thing and any boost is a bonus.

And so to my traditional end of year lists. Because work has dominated the year, I haven’t read, watched or listened as much as usual. I’ve probably forgotten favourites but here are those that sprang to mind as I prepared this post:

TV: It’s been a big year for Glee at my place, courtesy of the Little Dragon singing lead in his school rockband. Once the kids slide into sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ABC productions such as Rake and back seasons of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights.

Movies: Apart from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which was great fun if a tad long, I haven’t had many magical cinema moments this year. The Dark Knight Rises was solid but didn’t quite deliver to the expectations of this Frank Miller fan. Take This Waltz lodged in my head for quite a while but my favourite films for 2012 were Paul Kelly: Stories of Me and the utterly wonderful Hugo (based on the prize-winning book).

Reading: I’m immersed in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) to the detriment of all other titles. Other reading highlights include: David Almond’s Skellig; the marvellously consistent Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven; Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones; The Rider by Tim Krabbe; and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There’s a few tears in that list.

Music: Apart from the aforementioned Glee, there’s been limited time for music this year, sadly. Albums that did strike a chord include: Metals by Feist; All the Little Lights by Passenger; Spring & Fall by Paul Kelly; and Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. (Late arrivals I’m currently enjoying are Of Monsters & Men’s My Head is an Animal (very Arcade Fire) and Chet Faker’s Thinking in Textures).

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog, read my books and supported me in 2012. Your faith and friendship is appreciated.

New Year’s Eve update: Having managed some downtime in the past few weeks and in the wake of a visit by the jolly bearded gent I am belatedly entering the universe of Chris Ware. This is storytelling on a whole new level, best tackled by emotionally resilient and visually adventurous readers. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the National Year of Reading. From where I’m sitting it’s been such a success we should do it all again. Starting tomorrow.

Returning to country

I was born in red gum country, not far south of the Murray River. Flat, irrigation country with long straight roads. We moved away when I was two but I remember ibis, herons and artificially carved channels lined by bullrushes. Not to mention the curdled smell of the milk factory and the ever-present whiff of manure.

The nature of my father’s work meant changing towns semi-regularly and I lived in the north, south and central parts of rural Victoria. I call myself a Bendigo boy, mainly because the formative years from age 10 to 16 were spent in the goldfields district. But despite an ancestral connection to the region, it’s not where I hail from. Bendigo is ironbark country, not red gum.

Last week I had the honour of touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival with three other fantastic authors and an uber-efficient tour co-ordinator. One of the towns we spoke at was Echuca, only a couple of stone throws from where I entered the world. I found a spare hour or two to wander along the Murray banks listening to the corellas squabble and watching the sun set. It felt familiar. Like home.

It made me think of Australia’s indigenous people and their all important connection to country. I couldn’t recall whether Echuca was Yorta Yorta or Bangerang country and did some quick googling. Apparently there’s still some contention as to where the traditional tribal boundaries lie.

At our public (non-schools) session at the spectacular new Echuca library, I found myself speaking with a local resident who had participated in cultural training with Bangerang elders in Shepparton. One of the activities included creating ‘family’ groups of trainees and then breaking these up, separating ‘children’ from ‘parents’ and people from country. My informant said the sense of dislocation was palpable.

What a powerful way of getting people to understand the Stolen Generations and issues spawned by these policies. It sounds to me like training every Australian should experience. While we’re at it, we should all be made to watch the SBS series, Go Back To Where You Came From. Watch this show and you’ll understand that leaving country is not something most people choose to do lightly. Or voluntarily.

Coming up

Blink a couple of times and we’re approaching half-way through the year already. I’m not on track with my writing goals and failing to achieve the creative work-life balance I’d intended. Must try harder.

That said, there’s lots to look forward to in the coming months. I thoroughly enjoyed the Emerging Writers’ Festival last year and this year I’m chuffed to be back, telling spooky stories at Fright Night. Sounds like great fun.

And stay tuned for details of the Melbourne Writers’ Festival Schools Program, where there is rumoured to be more Tim frivolity in the wind.

I also have various school and library visits on the cards and, hopefully, some flexing of the creative muscles on an exciting project inspired by the Australian Society of Authors interactive books workshop.

Which all means I should be brewing a pot of tea and getting back to work…

Book Week

There’s a parental saying I recall from childhood that arose whenever I asked/proposed something apparently unrealistic, unreasonable, inconvenient or inappropriate. The reply was along the lines of, “What do you think it is, Bush Week?” I quickly came to interpret this as meaning there was no chance of my request/idea eventuating.

Today I Googled the origins of the expression. Seems it refers to a week when wide-eyed bushies visited the city and fell prey to unscrupulous urban scams and rip-off merchants. My parents clearly cast me in the role of the scammer, despite my rural origins.

I’m reminded of the expression mainly because it sounds similar to Book Week. And, yes, this is a time when authors (often introverted and naive like bushies) venture, blinking, out of their garrets and into the wide world to proselytise on the magic of reading and creative writing. For those of us writing for children and young adults it can be the busiest week of the year.

My Book Week kicked off early, chatting to Yr 7 students in Pakenham on Friday. Yesterday I was in Wyndham Vale, as the (kind of) local storyteller accompanying Melina Marchetta, Elizabeth Honey and insideadog.com.au’s Adele Walsh. Tomorrow I’m in Fitzroy, followed by Greenvale (Thurs) and Berwick (Fri).

The following week I’m chatting in Mentone and also chuffed to share a Melbourne Writers’ Festival stage with Alice Pung. Last but not least, I’m trundling down the Western Highway for the Ballarat Writers’ Festival – a brilliant line-up focused entirely on literature for children and young adults. (Think Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Kate Constable, Steph Bowe, Leanne Hall, Karen Tayleur, Gabrielle Williams, Maureen McCarthy, Corinne Fenton and many others.)

September promises some other big adventures (details another post) but I’ll round off the month with the A Thousand Words Festival where I’m doing a couple of sessions including, gulp, the keynote address. As I blog this, I’m still open to suggestions on what folks would like to hear about. (At the moment I’m thinking about tackling ‘risk’.) This fledgling festival also puts writing for children and young adults in the spotlight and has some sensational sessions in store. If you’re interested in mingling with authors and illustrators it’s an opportunity to meet the likes of Sally Rippin, Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood & Michael Pryor. The Little Monkey and I attended in 2009 and had a great time.

Come the end of September I reckon I’ll be ready to self-medicate and/or become a hermit. Actually, I’m expecting to be overflowing with ideas and inspired by all these creative encounters. Locking away some rare writing time should be a must.

Speaking of which, folks keep ask me what I’m working on and I give necessarily vague answers. I’m not sure where the current ideas will go when they find water, fertile ground and fresh air. What I can say is my latest piece of published work arrived in the mail last week – a short story in a collection called The New Paper Trails. I was rapt to be asked to submit a story for this textbook and was honoured to find my work surrounded by tales from established authors like Garth Nix and Carole Wilkinson. The book is designed for English teachers with students aged approx 10 to 14. Hopefully it will find its way into teacher resources and a library or two.

Have a great Book Week and watch out for scammers.