MWF 16 – My thoughts

This weekend I attended several sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Every year I look forward to the MWF and every year I am not disappointed. This year I eagerly anticipated not only the sessions I had chosen, but also the atmosphere. Apart from the many writer’s talks, book launches, forums and other sessions to choose from, there is also the festival club where one can sip on a drink or have a bite to eat. You never know who you will bump into.

Instead of writing about the sessions I attended, apart from saying Geoff Dyer is amazing, I want to describe my thoughts at what I heard and saw.

I arrived quite early for my first choice session, a writer’s talk, which was free and required no tickets. I thought I had better be there well before time as the seating might have been limited. So I was in the queue for a long time. I started chatting with the lady in front of me. Like me, it was not her first festival and, like me, she arrived early just in case. We talked about many things; grandchildren, social media, Mark Latham’s meltdown at the last festival. These random conversations with strangers are a part of the atmosphere of the festival, a part I thoroughly enjoy.

I enjoyed that particular talk but it also made me realise the writer, who is the focus of the talk, is only as good as their interviewer. I’m not saying this particular interviewer was bad, but there were some stumbles and long pauses which, for me, stilted the flow of the conversation. However, I enjoyed the writer’s responses. At the end I so wanted to ask a question or three, but was far too shy to put my hand up. I would have liked to know more about the writer’s research. I love research. Maybe next time.

Did I mention Geoff Dyer is amazing? I am not the only one to think so. He was quick with replies, witty and generous with his details. He and his interviewer danced through the question and answer session with ease. The audience lent forward to catch every word. At later sessions I discussed this with other people who had listened to him and we all had had similar reactions.

I met a couple from Auckland, NZ who had travelled to Melbourne just for the festival. I chatted to a nice young girl who sat next to me at a later session. I exchanged smiles with other attendees as we sipped our wines at the festival club. It is one of the benefits of the MWF, this random meeting of like-minded people, this feeling of belonging to one big club.

I learnt a lot from the writers I listened to. I definitely felt a connection to some more than others, but that was to be expected. Each session underlined what I already knew; we all have stories to tell, we all tell them in different ways but they are all important and they are all out there, just waiting for us to read them.

My list of books to read has just increased again.

Tracing Threads of the Past – Live art performances

Yesterday I visited one of my friend, Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo’s live art performances at the Museo Italiano Language and Cultural Centre in Carlton. For three days Luci has sat at a small table in the entrance to the Museo, dressed in a similar fashion to her ancestors, embroidering much like her mother, grandmother and great grandmother before her, creating small works of art with images which relate to Italian proverbs. These live performances form part of Luci’s Master of Visual Arts project, “Famiglia: tracing the impact of the Calabrian diaspora on the cultural sphere of North-West Victoria. Explorations through performance, video and relational art.” You can follow Luci’s project here:

While researching her project, Luci visited Italy, interviewing townspeople from Calabria, as well as travelling to places of cultural, creative and religious significance. Her research reminded me of my own trips to Europe, specifically Germany and Latvia, in an attempt to find out more about my father, his family and his war story. I too tried to trace his past, connecting places and images with history. My research resulted in a manuscript which, hopefully, will one day be published. Luci’s research is constantly evolving into numerous works of art which she lovingly creates in public spaces, letting everyone partake in the moment of creation.

As I sat and watched, and as we chatted, Luci worked on an embroidery of the full moon. I was envious of her ability to concentrate on both her art work and our conversation. The table she sat behind was draped with an embroidered cloth which her mother had made. The embroidery was exquisite. If you turned it over you could not see the difference between the front and the back. There were no threads hanging, no ungainly stitches. Luci laughingly showed me the back of her work which, if you looked very closely, was not as perfect as her mother’s. But for me the small bits of thread at the back of the artwork were the very reason it was beautiful. I believe it was Marilyn Monroe who said, “Imperfection is Beauty.”

Just as the mistakes I almost certainly made with my conclusions about my father’s story, the loose threads at the back of Luci’s artwork remind us of the myriad of fragments we must attempt to put together as we travel back in time, tracing our roots, trying to make sense of our families place in history. We will never be certain of the thoughts of our ancestors, or of their emotions. We will never be able to find out why they did the things they did. We can only try to recreate their actions, sentence by sentence; stitch by stitch, in order to create an image which we can relate to, or feel happy with or, at the very least, satisfies our curiousity.

Emerging: creativity can develop at any age

The word emerging conjures up various images, shadowy figures appearing through the fog, the answer to a puzzle gradually revealed, a butterfly breaking through its pupate. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, the simple definition of “emerging” is “newly created or noticed and growing in strength or popularity: becoming widely known or established.” There is no mention of age in the definition, or in any of the images, apart perhaps, from the butterfly. So it was with gratitude and enthusiasm I read this article, put on Facebook by Writers Victoria:

As an “emerging writer” in my mid-fifties, it was heartening to discover at one of the forums held during the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne this June, the panel agreed “that writers emerge at any age and should all be supported and encouraged, and that the current focus on youth could well discourage older writers from being actively involved in the writing community.

History reveals several well-known authors who were first published, or made their names within literary circles, late in life. Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing in her forties and her novel Little House in the Big Woods, was published when she was 64. Helen DeWitt’s first novel The Last Samurai was published when she was in her forties. Not only did Frank McCourt begin to write after he retired, but his first book, Angela’s Ashes, was published when he was 66 years old. Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty, began to write at 51, selling her only published work at 57 and, unfortunately dying just five months after the novel was published. There are plenty more examples.

For many potential writers and authors, and indeed all creatives, the act of creating all too often takes second place to the act of earning a living. Gone are the days of finding a patron or philanthropist to take care of every day matters such as paying the bills or putting food on the table. So we plug along at our day jobs, fulfill our obligations to family or friends and fit our writing into the cracks of time in between. Sometimes we cope and sometimes we crash. Sometimes we have spent years and even decades scribbling lines on bits of paper, lines which often never see the light of day. But sometimes we do manage to put together the correct amount of words for whatever genre we write and sometimes we gather enough courage to put it out in the world and sometimes it is taken up by a publisher, or perhaps we self-publish. But just because some of us are older, doesn’t necessarily mean we have the confidence or support or skill or ability to see our passion become anything more than another manuscript for the bottom drawer.

I was pleased to read the recommendations of the panel. Changing the language, ensuring inclusion, providing mentoring opportunities, altering the culture and offering grants to those who need them are all positive steps to encourage all writers, even those who are no longer in their twenties or thirties such as myself, as we attempt to emerge in an industry where solitude is the nature of the work and failure is more prevalent than success.

Write Places – In the Sky

I’m not the type of writer who believes there is only one place suitable to write – wherever their place of preference may be. Rather, I believe different places provide their own suitability for writing, some may even provide motivation in their own right. Flying back from my recent holiday I discovered, to my surprise, one of those places was in the air.

I was flying back from Western Australia. As a Qantas frequent flyer member I usually try my luck at upgrading to Business on longer flights but this time I was unlucky. I got my usual aisle seat and made myself as comfortable as I could. In order to access a range of inflight entertainment I should have downloaded the app but I hadn’t realised this and it was now too late. I wasn’t keen on the one movie playing on the small screens dangling from the ceiling so I turned my Kindle on and read for a bit.

The meal came, served by some of the friendliest flight attendants I have encountered. They certainly went out of their way to make everyone feel comfortable and, unlike a café or bar, you don’t have to continue to pay for more coffee or food in order to ease your guilt about taking up space for long periods of time. The downside is no internet and lack of space.

Once the meal was cleared away I found I didn’t really want to continue reading and it suddenly struck me, here I was with a tray table, pen, paper and very few distractions, the perfect scenario for writing.

As I scribbled away I caught wisps of conversation from all around me. Flights are perfect for deliberate eavesdropping without having to explain oneself. I caught bits of a discussion about some celebrities who had featured in a magazine the women next to me were reading. The school kids in front of me were discussing the interstate excursion they were returning from, with a few interjections from their accompanying teachers. A couple of foreigners, who I assumed to be backpackers, were chatting in their own language. And all of these words were punctuated with the occasional cry of a baby or raised voice of a toddler.

There must have been so many different stories on my flight. I looked around and tried to picture my fellow travelers as characters. Why were all these people flying to Melbourne? Were they, like me, returning home? Were they beginning a holiday, a business trip, catching a connecting flight to somewhere else?

Not only did I write this post on the plane, I also jotted down a few scenarios, possible plots, which I might or might not use later on. The flight, the lack of entertainment, the many different people around me, all provided the means and the motivation for writing. I never would have thought the sky would be such a good place to write.