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Festivaling

4 October 2023

My last post started with ‘I bloody love festivals’, and this one could start the same way. I really do. And I was recently at the wonderful Write Around the Murray, which I had long heard such good things about from author friends. They were absolutely right, it’s a cracker. The venues are gorgeous, the audiences were warm, the author line-up was fab, and everything was run so seamlessly by Director Ann-maree Ellis and her incredible team (particular shout out to Chris and photographer Pete, who is responsible for most of the photos here). To top it all off the weather was utter perfection and I could not have had a better time.

 

Opening night kicked off with yarnbombing from local Wiradjuri educator Ruth Davys, and a panel that I moderated with Paul Dalgarno, Gina Perry and Rijn Collins (who I also spoke with at Sorrento Writers Festival earlier this year). Our topic was ‘Mum’s the Word’. Interestingly, all three of the books have mothers who are absent in some way. All three also have brilliant plot twists which make it bloody hard – I so wanted to ask them questions that I couldn’t! Hard recommend on all three books as book club reads where all the spoilers can be discussed – A Country of Eternal Light (Dalgarno), My Father the Whale (Perry) and Fed to Red Birds (Collins).

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Saturday morning saw me up bright and early for an event for families at Lavington Library (where they have the loveliest staff who will make you tea and endlessly talk books with you), with my picture books Seree’s Story and Where the Heart Is. Next came Stereo Stories which was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. It’s such a cool format that Vin and his band have put together where authors read a memoir piece inspired by a song. The band weaves the song around the author’s words. As Chris Hammer once told me, ‘It’s like having your own backing band.’ And bloody hell, it was fun. Other performers included Debra Dank, Paul Dalgarno and Rijn Collins, who has performed at the most Stereo Stories of any writer.

It made me reflect, though, on how years ago, even the very thought of being on stage in this way would have left me with a feeling of utter dread. Several of my brothers were natural performers (I have five!), and for a time were actors or street performers. They loved an audience. I, on the other hand, avoided one. Public speaking was not something I ever voluntarily did. But then I started to get published, and I realised I was going to have to get comfortable with it. So, I pushed myself to do all the things. Eventually, I looked comfortable on stage. Looked being the operative word. But the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. And now, I love it. Stereo Stories was a moment in time that made me realise how far I’ve come. To be on stage, making people laugh, and enjoying every second, is a world apart from how I once was.

Kate Mildenhall, Kathryn Heyman, me, TR (Tim) Napper

 

But I digress. Sunday’s final event for me was a panel moderated by Kate Mildenhall with Kathryn Heyman and Tim Napper. We talked about all things writing and publishing, and I’m sure we could have talked for the rest of the day, if not for a packed program! It was recorded for The First Time podcast, so look out for that one.

Kathryn and I discovered some weird synergies. When I was deciding on a title for The Breaking I googled it to see if anything came up. Nothing did. But a few months after The Breaking came out, another book appeared with that title. It was Kathyrn Heyman’s debut novel of 26 years earlier, previously published only in the UK, and now released all this time later in Australia. The weird bit, though, is that at the festival we discovered that both books started as a series of short stories, and we both had a friend who said to us, ‘I think you might be writing a novel.’ So two debuts with the same title, started in the same way. It seems Kathryn Heyman is my book twin!

As usual, one of the best bits of the festival was writerly hangs with brilliant people. Massive congrats to Anne-maree and her team on a stellar festival. Can’t wait until the next one!

TR Napper, Kate Mildenhall, Paul Dalgarno, Andrea Rowe, Margaret Hickey, and me

Festival bliss

15 May 2023

I bloody love festivals. Spending time with other writers – chatting with them onstage and off – is such a buzz. I always come away invigorated and buoyed up. I’m with my people – those who understand all the craziness of the publishing industry – and it is pure bliss. So I was absolutely delighted to be a part of the inaugural Sorrento Writers Festival, conveniently located in my ‘backyard’.

And what a festival it was. The unpredictable Naarm/Melbourne weather decided to play nice and we had glorious sunshine and big blue skies. The venues were all walking distance from each other, and every session that I attended was packed. It seems the peninsula has an avid reading population, though many came from further afield. The line-up of authors was ridiculously good – Christos Tsiolkas, Sarah Winman, Tom Keneally, Jane Harper, Marcia Langton, Craig Silvey and Chloe Hooper, to name but a few.

 

I moderated two panels and had the most fun. First up was Rijn Collins, who I have stalked on Instagram for some time, and Chris Hammer, an old Canberra mate. One of my favourite moments was when I asked Rijn about her writing rituals and she said, ‘Mine are very boring,’ then proceeded to describe how she wrote Fed to Red Birds with a tiny snake curled up inside her bra. So boring, right?

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Another fave was when I asked Chris about his highest high as a writer and he was brought to tears describing the bidding war for his debut novel, Scrublands, that changed his life. Afterwards he told me that he’s told that story plenty of times before and doesn’t know why in that moment it moved him so. I think the problem may be me, because on my second panel there were tears too. But when there is laughter and tears and all the feels I consider my job as moderator done!

Hilde Hinton, me, Pip Drysdale, Ramona Koval and Pirooz Jafari

My Sunday panel was the stellar line-up of Ramona Koval, Pip Drysdale, Pirooz Jafari and Hilde Hinton. It was a big panel to manage, but there was so much laughter and so many fascinating insights. I loved discovering that Hilde has to build Lego before a writing session (my son would approve) and that Pip has to effectively write in a cell – a place without windows or views, which right now is her garage. As a panellist and person, Ramona exudes such light and joy, and my fangirling rose another notch. Pirooz was such a wise and gracious presence and I loved that he was unable to name a lowest low as a writer – I ask this question on my podcast and he’s the first writer to ever say that there are no lows, only good things. It makes sense that having grown up in Iran, witnessing every human rights violation imaginable, publishing ‘lows’ mean nothing. It was a moment that put things into perspective for all of us.

Afterwards, Ramona Koval said the loveliest and most generous things about my skill as a moderator and I almost died on the spot. Having interviewed practically every author on the planet, praise could not come from a higher source! Totally made my festival.

Of the panels that I attended as audience member, my highlight was hearing Thomas Mayo recite the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It was such a potent and powerful experience, and an absolute privilege to be in the room. No photo I’m afraid because I was utterly spellbound.

 

I also popped into the gorgeous Antipodes bookshop to sign copies of Seree’s Story, and again into the onsite festival bookshop run by Avenue Bookshop to sign The Breaking (pictured with the wonderful Emily Westmoreland who also happens to be the genius behind Willy Lit Fest). Plus there were general author hangs to be enjoyed (clearly we were having a terrible time).

 

I’m delighted that the Sorrento Writers Festival will return next year, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to the aforementioned Willy Lit Fest where I will be in-conversation with the incredible Amelia Mellor, author of the bestselling The Grandest Bookshop in the World and The Booksellers Apprentice. And looking further ahead I’m doing a bunch of things at Write Around the Murray. It’ll be my first time there and I have heard only the very best things about that festival. Stay tuned!

All the happenings

8 July 2022

It almost feels like we’re back to normal with events again, and it was so lovely to recently head over to gorgeous Western Australia for the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. I took a week beforehand to travel the coast from Bremer Bay to Margaret River and, my goodness, it is stunning! I knew that the beaches were all white sand and turquoise water but I didn’t realise that they were next-level stunning. World class, in fact. If anyone wants to hand me the job of WA publicist, I’m up for it! The weather was warm and we swam and hiked and explored and generally had the most glorious time.

 

I finished up with a weekend at the festival where I interviewed a bunch of lovely people for my Secrets from the Green Room podcast as part of a special partnership with the festival. It was so great to be hanging with my literary tribe again! The first ep with Claire G. Coleman is up now and – like all our guests – she speaks with brutal honesty about the writing and publishing process.

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Following her will be an ep with brother and sister duo Brooke Davis, of the international smash Lost and Found, and Rhett Davis, who won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript for Hovering. It was such a delight being around these two lovely and very funny humans and witnessing their sibling bond. They both rated the green room soup as the best ever, and they weren’t the only ones to rave about it on the podcast. (Frankly, you may begin to think we have all gone a bit mad on soup, of all things.)

 

Third in line will be New York Times bestselling author Natasha Lester who I finally met after many years of online chat. We got very silly on the blue velvet couch in the green room and generally had a grand time. She is gorgeous inside and out, and I loved chatting with her both on and off the podcast.

Finally, I spoke with Australian literary royalty Craig Silvey of Jasper Jones and Honeybee fame. Because of a mix-up, we had to change the time of the interview to after the festival close on the final day. This meant we were the last ones left inside the locked building, bar the janitor. It felt like the beginning of a crime novel, but thankfully Craig did not murder me in the green room with a microphone stand. Stay tuned for these eps!

There have been more events since I’ve returned to Canberra. I had the absolute pleasure of being in-conversation with Ashley Goldberg about his debut novel, Abomination, at The Book Cow. Ashley took my editing course at the University of Canberra many years ago, so it is especially wonderful to see him publish his first book, and for it to be garnering such great reviews.

 

Ashley’s novel explores new territory for me as a reader. Abomination delves into the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Melbourne through the lives of two friends – atheist and secular Ezra and rabbi Yonatan – who are reunited by the sexual abuse trial of a former teacher. Neither of the students were violated by this teacher, and along the book pivots around this case,  it is really about the crises of identity that these two men are experiencing in different ways. The book explores identity, faith, family, love, belonging and what it means to be a good person. It’s such a thought-provoking and beautifully written book. I recommend you get yourself a copy!

Launching the Harry Hartog Tuggeranong store

During our chat Ashley revealed that he originally submitted his manuscript to the Penguin Literary Prize but it was not even longlisted. But guess who ended up publishing it? Penguin, of course, after his agent sent it through the usual channels. Publishing is full of weird stories like this – timing and luck is just as crucial as talent.

Last month I was also delighted to launch the beautiful new Harry Hartog store in Tuggeranong with crime author extraordinaire Chris Hammer and bookselling legends Robert and David Berkelouw. This bookshop is now my local – hurrah for that! A couple of weeks later, as part of their grand opening celebrations, I did a storytime event with my two latest picture books, Seree’s Story and Where the Heart Is. Meeting young readers has to be one of the best parts of this job, and I must give a special shout out to Yusuf from Bonython Primary who is on his way to becoming a published author.

A week later I passed the store and literally found my story. My novel, The Breaking, featured in a particularly gorgeous window display. Always a thrill! #findyourstory

 

Coming up I’ll be at the Canberra Writers Festival on 13 August. It’s great to be back out in the world talking books!

Zooming through lockdown

10 September 2021

Like half the country, the ACT is back in lockdown and this means that a bunch of my IRL bookish happenings shifted to Zoom. But one that was always intended for Zoom was F*CK COVID: An Online Literary Affair, organised by the dynamic team at the ACT Writers Centre.

 

When the event was first proposed I remember thinking that online probably wasn’t necessary. Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra weren’t in lockdown — oh, how those days seem like a distant dream! But clearly the organisers are fortune tellers and this event ended up being the highlight of my locked-down weekend. Plus every time I typed ‘F*CK COVID’ it was like a fist punch of defiance.

 

The event sold out in three days. Then more tickets were released, and it quickly sold out again. I was on a panel with Mark Brandi, moderated by Nigel Featherstone, called ‘Hard truths; Risky fiction’, and what an absolute delight it was. Nigel was his usual magnificent and thoughtful self, expertly guiding the conversation, and Mark and I found so many synergies in our work and writing process.

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My ‘set’ for F*CK COVID

Mark’s The Others is an absolute cracker of a book and kept me up until the early hours of the morning. Like The Breaking, which I was there to discuss, it’s tricky to talk about without giving away key plot points! But I found our conversation so rich and thought-provoking, and I hope the audience did too! It’s always difficult post-event to remember exactly what was said, which is why Sue Terry’s incredible write-up of the panel is invaluable! I will defer to her summary of everything, except to say that I work full-time as an editor, not part-time, which makes finding time to write extra challenging, especially when you combine that with being a single parent of three children. But there are cracks in life, and I seize on them whenever I can!

Jumping now to school visits, I wanted to mention the gorgeous kids at Dawul Remote Community School which is located in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. This is where Zoom comes into its own, because how lucky was I to visit this school remotely! I shared the stage (or screen!) with DeadlyScience’s Corey Tutt. I was fortunate to edit Corey’s brilliant middle-grade book, The First Scientists (Hardie Grant, out 13 October 2021), so it was an absolute blast chatting to the kids with him. They had so many great questions about books and writing, and I came away enlivened, as I always do. My own kids are homeschooling during lockdown and were under strict instructions to keep out! Just one of the many challenges (as all parents know) of trying to simultaneously work and homeschool.

 

Next up was a pre-record for the inaugural Macgregor Primary Writers Festival — a whole week in which the school does nothing but celebrate books and writers. How blissful does that sound! They had an incredible line-up, including Andy Griffiths, Jackie French, Bronwyn Bancroft and yours truly, among others. If only I could travel back in time and be a kid at that school!

 

And finally there was my Editing Essentials presentation for SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) which covered editing the full gamut of kids books, from picture books through to YA. The SCBWI crew organised a stellar line-up and there was a lovely big crowd who had great questions. When asked which was my favourite children’s genre to edit I had to say ALL OF THEM!

These events have brightened my lockdown immeasurably. Massive thanks to all the organisers who are making sure adults and kids alike have plenty of literary goodness to sustain them in these crazy times.

Secrets from the Green Room

22 October 2020

Mega exciting news! This year I’ve been busily planning a new writing podcast with my co-host Craig Cormick, called Secrets from the Green Room. Craig and I have known each other for more than 20 years. I first met him in my second year studying creative writing when he happened to be my tutor, and since then we’ve made books together, been in a writing group together, and now we’re hosting a podcast together. And boy is it a lot of work starting a podcast! I knew it would be, and yet…

Our tagline is ‘The author stories you won’t hear anywhere else’ because the podcast is taking green room chat live. When writers get together — be it in green rooms or bars or cafes — they talk frankly about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing and publishing in ways that they usually don’t when put on a stage at a festival. So Secrets from the Green Room is going to take you backstage, with thanks to our sponsor and supporter, the ACT Writers Centre.

Season 1 features James Bradley, Holden Sheppard, Karen Viggers, Chris Hammer, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and more. We talk about everything from rejected manuscripts that never made it to publication (Anna Spargo-Ryan), how the publisher you choose can have a big impact on sales — and no, it’s not necessarily about big versus small publishers (Chris Hammer), the perceived glamour of an author’s life versus the reality (Karen Viggers), being snubbed by literary big shots in the green room (Holden Sheppard) and so many other things besides.

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Ep 1 is now live! It features my interview with Anna Spargo-Ryan. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed talking to her about how she grew up with her own publishing house (sort of!), the manuscripts that never made it to publication, how she accidentally pitched a book on Twitter that led to a heated auction, what said heated auction involved (hint: a lot of emotional paralysis on the couch), the worst rejection of her writing life and a whole lot more.

You can find us on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen (obviously we’d love you to subscribe) and all the socials: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (obviously we’d love you to follow). And you can drop us a line via our website. Hope you can join us for the ride!