Labour of love that honours a literary legacy Reply

By Eliza Berlage

Now in its 29th year, the 2015 UTS Writers’ Anthology showcases the best emerging writers from the Writing Program at the University of Technology, Sydney. In almost three decades, alumni from the anthology have made big names for themselves as authors including David Astle, Gillian Mears, Bernard Cohen and Gill Jones. This year’s anthology, Strange Objects Covered with Fur is a labour of love, the product of a four-month process involving an editorial team of seven students.

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Editors Lily Mei and Tom Lodewyke with the finished publication of the 2015 UTS Anthology

Under the supervision of Associate Professor Debra Adelaide, the editors – Harriet McInerney, Emily Meller, Lily Mei, Tom Lodewyke, Hanna Schenkel, Emma Rose Smith and Louise Jaques – undertook the daunting selection process. They had to read and make a selection of 30 works from more than 300 anonymous submissions across undergraduate, postgraduate and research students.

Editing the anthology, which is only open to UTS students, is an experience many work towards during their university studies. Having dreamt of being part of the team since starting her degree, final year Law and Writing student Emily Meller knew this was her last chance to get involved. She says the task of selecting the works was pretty natural and the final works just seemed to fit.

“In my classes I’m always surprised at how out-of-the box people’s writing can be. We wanted the anthology to reflect that, to show the strangeness. It’s experimental but not for the sake of it. It also has heart.”

A journey through the anthology reveals this effort to ensure diversity: it includes poems, essays, flash fiction mixed in with longer fiction and screen plays. More…

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Tohby demonstrates show and tell Reply

By Thuy Hong Bui

Tohby Riddle pic

Cartoonist, illustrator and author Tohby Riddle

Tohby Riddle is the Australian cartoonist, illustrator and author of a number of much-loved children’s picture books including Nobody Owns The Moon, The Singing Hat and The Great Escape From City Zoo. He has a longstanding fascination with words, images and visual information, which led to him illustrating the award-winning The Word Spy books of Ursula Dubosarsky. In a talk entitled ‘The Art of Language’, he spoke about the ideas and creative process behind his latest book The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar. at Kings Cross Library during the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
“There are trees older than the English language. If the English language were a tree, however, it would make a very unusual one. Its many roots would reach far into the ground but what kind of tree would grow from such roots?” he asks in The Greatest Gatsby.

Mr Riddle always wanted to do a picture book about language, he told the audience. During the 10 years he spent drawing cartoons for The Good Weekend magazine he began thinking seriously about presenting visual information.

“If I look back my whole works are based on words and images, to getting the idea and to working on how to combine and show those words and images together in order to deliver the messages,” he said.

“Words convey realities which are really complicated and convince (us of) so many things, so again thinking about what does the word look like and how you must show that word. It’s somehow conveyed some of the ideas that the words it mean to represent.” More…

How Enid Blyton changed his life Reply

By Wendy John

To have a real adventure one must jump over the ditch at the back of the house, run through the Enchanted Wood, up the Faraway Tree and into the clouds. These top instructions to a jam-packed crowd were issued by Australian author and travel aficionado Robert Dessaix at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

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Robert Dessaix: a childhood yearning for kith and kin

With the modulated tone of a grand storyteller, Mr Dessaix theatrically traversed the predominant themes of adventure and friendship found in all the childrens’ stories by British author Enid Blyton.

But rather than infantalise Blyton’s tales, Robert Dessaix elevates them. The naughty fairies, Dame Slap and treacle pies of Blyton’s works were spoken of with equal regard alongside references to Shakespeare, Emerson and the Bible. Mr Dessaix said, “The others, such as Shakespeare, were more a background radiance but none of them had as much impact on my imagination as Enid.”

Frequently referring to Blyton by her first name, Mr Dessaix made occasional soliloquies.  “Enid. Enid. Enid. You of all people made me who I am,” he said. It’s a big call for a creative writer whose publisher Random House lists as one of “this countries finest writers”.

Mr Dessaix treated the audience to a witty, poetic monologue as he shared remembrances of Blyton’s tales. While telling the audience about enchanted lands that sometimes occurred at the top of The Magic Faraway Tree, he spoke of “the land of Dame Slap – now Dame Snap – who runs a school for naughty fairies” and then paused with a knowing nod to his sexual orientation. “To be honest, I’ve hardly moved on,” he said, evoking laughter from the audience.  More…

Rick Stein: on life, love and, of course, food Reply

By Saskia Tillers

“We can all admit to having watched your programs. They’re like porn for the over 30s. We’ve all watched each episode 20 times.” Broadcaster and columnist Richard Glover grins at the. There are nods and laughs of agreement from the audience.

Rick Stein

Rick Stein: resolving unfinished business in Australia. Photograph by James Murphy

It was a capacity crowd when Richard Glover spoke with celebrity chef and restaurateur Rick Stein about his  memoir Under a Mackerel Sky at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Both the book and the discussion began by describing Rick’s seemingly idyllic childhood, growing up as part of a large, close-knit and loving middle-class English family. An early exposure to organic local food from their family farm in Oxfordshire and the abundant seafood in Cornwall, where they holidayed, was instrumental in shaping his lifelong love of food. However, it is not long into these stories that Rick reveals that this otherwise joyous period of his life was marred by his father’s unpredictable manic depression and bipolar episodes.

One morning when Rick was 17, a close friend brought him the horrific news that his father had been “blown off a cliff” and died.

“I just remember every detail about that drive home. At certain points in your life, time does just stand still and everything is like a photograph. He hadn’t been blown off a cliff, he’d dived off a cliff.  He didn’t even jump, he dived. It was something that really affected me, the actual reality of it, something about the will of someone not to just jump off a cliff, but to dive.

“Suicide is quite a terrible thing for all the people left behind. There’s no finality to it really; they blame themselves and think they could have done more,” he says.

At the time of his father’s death, Rick Stein had been working as a street sweeper in London, one of the first in a vast array of jobs. More…

On pop music, and the human condition Reply

By Remedios Varga-Taylor

Rebecca Sheehan

Rebecca Sheehan: when pop music says much about the world and the human condition

“Kanye West’s actions both at the Taylor Swift event and at the Beck winning have fundamentally protested racism in the music industry. In fact, during the years of her career Beyonce has largely been nominated for awards and won awards in categories that are traditionally black. This reflects segregation in the music industry that goes back to the 1920’s.”

And so Rebecca Sheehan begins to elegantly unfurl the misleading simplicity of popular music while speaking at the 2
015 Sydney Writers’ Festival. Sh
e strips back the glossy layers to look at the often murky politics in the development of pop in the United States.

Beyonce and Kanye are victims of a long practice of creative segregation, says Dr Sheehan, who lectures on US history at the University of Sydney and writes on identity, music and culture.

“If you look for a Beyonce record, you might look in popular female artists. You wouldn’t find her there. You might look in top best-selling albums. You won’t find her there. Where you will find her records is in the urban category, where she is put and segregated along with other black artists.”

In the criticisms that followed the Beyonce, Kanye and Beck scandal, the justification was that Beyonce couldn’t own her music. Her music was collaborative, born from the work of many artists. Beck deserved to win because he was the sole artist. His sole authorship made his music more authentic. More…

Reflecting on the richness and diversity of our vibrant literary and publishing industry Reply

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2015

By Amanda Smuin

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2015 were a celebration of the literary achievements of some of Australia’s best authors, poets, translators, playwrights and screenwriters.

Don Watson

Don Watson was awarded the 2015 Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, and the 2015 Book of the Year, for his book The Bush at this year’s Premier’s Literary Awards. Photograph by Erinna Ford

The night began with a message of welcome by Dr Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian and Chief Executive, who said, “This evening’s celebration of the Premier’s Literary Awards recognises the best of our nation’s literary works and also allows us the opportunity to reflect on the richness and diversity of Australia’s vibrant literary and publishing industry.”

Dr Byrne’s comment was reflected in the judges’ decision to award the $10,000 prize for Book of the Year to The Bush by Don Watson, who also took home the $40,000 Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction. As the title suggests, the book explores the idea of the bush and what it means to Australians. The judges praised “the profundity of Watson’s thinking, the scale of his subject and the virtuosity of his writing”.

On accepting his awards, Mr Watson said, “My delight is boundless; my embarrassment is about the same. This is not an expression of my Protestant temperament, it’s because I’ve seen the shortlist.”

It was an impressive list of nominees, whittled down from over 500 entries across a range of genres, including fiction and non-fiction, poetry, writing for children and young people, writing for stage, film and radio, as well as the work of translators.

The night’s nominees included a number of authors nominated for other literary prizes. Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett and Golden Age by Joan London, both shortlisted for the Christina Stead Prize for Literary Fiction, are on the shortlist for this year’s Miles Franklin literary award. The 2015 Stella Prize winning novel was also in the running at the Premier’s Literary Awards, shortlisted for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing. More…

You can teach an old brain new tricks Reply

By Henry Zwartz

The French philosopher Descartes maintained you could change the mind but not the brain; his influence had a profound and in some ways negative impact on Western medical thought by essentially dividing the fields of psychiatry and psychology.

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Norman Doige: We have use it or lose it; our brains constantly adapt to our environment

Now it is well documented that the brain can improve itself, with training enhancing our memory and performance. That is in no small part due to Dr Norman Doidge, the psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, academic, essayist and poet who brought the field of neuroplasticity to world attention in his best-selling 2007 book The Brain that Changes Itself. In his recently released follow-up, The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Dr Doidge explores and gives examples of how the mind can influence the brain to repair itself and also to fix or improve chronic pain, psychological conditions and physical injuries.

Dr Doidge was in discussion with Radio National health presenter Dr Norman Swan at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. He told the packed house how patients suffering from conditions such as strokes, which damage brain tissue, could make near-miraculous recoveries by utilising the abilities of the brain to compensate for disabilities. “Things you lose you can regain in some shape or form through neuroplastic rehabilitation,” he said.

He warned that Western medicine had become indoctrinated into the idea of an unchanging brain, a mere “electrical object with chemicals… This all-destructive doctrine had its high in the 1990s. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the unchanged brain. If you don’t try to use techniques to repair the brain, then of course you won’t see that difference.” More…

When books remind us of what it is to be human Reply

By Jackie Keast

Mohsin Hamid pic

Mohsin Hamid: faith is no longer a comfort. now a tool of fear, a justification to divide each other into different groups and go to war. Picture by Jillian Edelstein

The theme of the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival is a question with no easy answer: “How To Live?”
 It was a question Mohsin Hamid, acclaimed Pakistani author, ruminated on during his opening address to the Festival, Life In the Time of Permawar.

Speaking to a sell-out crowd at the Roslyn Packer Theatre on Tuesday evening, Mr Hamid talked about how we add meaning to our lives in an era of ongoing conflict and technological disruption.

His speech was not one in the traditional manner, rather a six-chapter story addressed in the second person. At times, as Mr Hamid spoke to “you”, it was unclear if he was addressing the audience, himself, or both; an effect that was equally confronting and personal. The second person is a technique that Mr Hamid commonly uses in his books to consciously blur the line between the reader and the writer.

Mohsin Hamid is the author of the international bestseller, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007. His other novels include Moth Smoke and How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia. His most recent book, Discontent and its Civilisations, is a series of non-fiction essays covering a diversity of topics, such as Islam, fatherhood and geopolitics.

For the last 15 years, Mr Hamid has lived in Lahore, New York and London. Life in his native Pakistan, as well as his experiences as a migrant, have been ongoing themes in his work. More…

Julia Gillard: on standing for something Reply

By Ben Nielsen

After three years and three days in the nation’s top job, Julia Gillard returned to her Altona home in June 2013 to an “eerie silence”. She had been ousted from politics in a whirlwind that mimicked her induction to the job.

Julia Gillard

Julia Gillard: “I wanted to write a book because I wanted my story to be told”

“It hits you pretty hard, because there are the emotions about the defeat and there’s the physical reaction. It takes you a bit of recovering in every sense,” she said at the 2015 Sydney Writers’ Festival sell-out event, ‘On Standing for Something’.

As prime minister, Ms Gillard achieved major policy reforms and social transformation as well as re-establishing the functionality of government, which had been left in tatters following Kevin Rudd’s reign. This was done in the face of internal division, minority government, and gratuitous scrutiny.

In the days after the leadership ballot that returned Mr Rudd to power, Julia Gillard lived as a fugitive. It was a conscious decision, she said, to vacate the domestic political arena in order to give the new generation of Labor the best opportunity of survival and success. For someone who had spent 10 years trying to break into federal politics, it was a gracious departure.

“I didn’t want to get in the middle of the [2013 election] campaign, but I emerged afterwards and I wanted to organise what the rest of my life was going to be,” she said. “I wanted to write a book because I wanted my story to be told – and I wanted it to be told quickly because I feared that a lot of young women had watched my experience and said ‘politics isn’t good’.’ More…

Behind the scenes with Jemma Birrell at the Sydney Writers Festival Reply

By Greta Stonehouse

Jemma Birrell

Jemma Birrell: “Everything I’ve done has prepared me for this.”

When Jemma Birrell completed her communication degree at University of Technology, Sydney, she worked for a number of bookshops before joining publisher Allen and Unwin. An urge to see a new landscape took her to Paris, where she worked for seven years at the prestigious Shakespeare and Company. During her time there, Jemma was in charge of programing book-related events. While co-directing three different editions of Festival & Co, Shakespeare and Company’s literary festival, Jemma got her first taste of showcasing writers from around the world in line with a chosen theme.
This year, Jemma believes the Sydney Writers Festival has the strongest theme to date – “Everything has been figured out, except how to live”, a Jean Paul Satre quote. “I think this is the crux of a lot of books. It always has been a timeless topic, but it is particularly apt now. Readers also seem to have a particular hunger for books that are exploring this idea.” According to Jemma, a good theme is an open one, inviting everyone in.

While the Festival comes together each year as one clear entity, the process of putting it together is continual and fluid. Jemma says that at any given time, she is planning the next one. She says her relationships with writers are important, and have flourished over many years. It can take years of negotiation to secure particular writers for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The biggest obstacle is always timing. “One year, an international writer was booked simultaneously at about three or four festivals,” she says. More…