Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2009

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Today, I am going to blog about MWF. Not because I think you will find this particularly interesting but because I have to write about it for a TAFE assignment. It’s Saturday afternoon, however, and the idea of staying home and doing a TAFE assignment is not appealing whereas the idea of updating my blog is always exciting.

Before I begin discussing the 2009 Melbourne Writers’ Festival, I would like to start by pointing out the apostrophe on the word: writers’. For it is by such small things I measure my progress. Once, I would not have known where the apostrophe should be placed. But I am a fair-dinkum, bona fide writer now and I know that writers is the plural of writer but, in this case, it is also a possessive noun, therefore the apostrophe goes sat the end.

Why do I tell you this? Please, read on.

When walking to the train with Priya on Friday, the morning of The Whole Shebang, Priya kissed me goodbye and said: You look like a writer Mum. As the bells for her train were ringing, I didn’t have time to ask what she meant by this. Whether it was the go-get ’em aspect of my writer’s demeanour she referred to, the stuck staring at the keyboard for hours part, the wake up at the crack of dawn with snakes in your tummy feeling, or that heady moment of discovering a powerful new simile. I hoped she meant the latter and, keeping my progress with apostrophe in mind, I struck out bravely.

By some strange process of osmosis (probably called Euan Mitchell) a number of Box Hill TAFE students who barely knew each other had worked out that we’d be Shebang-ing together. We met on the train and at various stages during the day, and finished the evening with a drink in one of the Bars at Fed square. It was a nice collegiate feeling.

But what did you learn at the Whole Shebang? I hear you ask. Surely that’s necessary for the assignment?

Funnily enough, I have been avoiding that part of the assignment because, after listening to authors, publishers and various writing organizations throughout the day, my primary take home message from The Whole Shebang was: publishers are looking for writers who are reasonable and sane. I think at least, three speakers made direct reference to sanity.

Most of the others implied it.

Look, I don’t want to be neurotic or defensive about this but, I ask you, is it sane to sit hunched over a screen for hours on end wondering whether stillness of the night sounds better than quietness of the night, scribbling in notepads in the middle of movies and concerts, reading aloud to hone your dialogue, or relating to characters that feel more real than your own family?

Exactly. It wasn’t very encouraging.

On the Saturday, I rose, donning sanity like a school uniform, and caught the train to Flinders Street. Unfortunately, I had failed to check the Connex site and had therefore missed the all important message about work on the line. I was therefore a little late for my masterclass with John Boyne (a perfectly sane and reasonable excuse).

The Past is Not Dead, involved writing exercises (in which everyone but me came up with pithy and polished writing, no matter what the subject), and discussion of issues close to the heart of historical fiction, such as: defining the historical novel; recreating historical figures; and finishing with the question of how much responsibility a writer has to the truth. It was an interesting day, but not earth shattering. Although John Boyne was an excellent presenter, my friend Marina, a fellow Historical Novel Society member, and I agreed that we didn’t learn anything that we had not already heard discussed in various HNS publications.

I did however make a valuable contact.

Last year, I met Marina and was given an opportunity of writing feature articles for Solander. This year I met a MWF volunteer who works in the library at the Koorie Heritage Trust. We had been asked, for one of our exercises, to write about a real historical figure. I chose to write about the execution of two aboriginal men, Bob and Jack, in the early days of the Port Phillip District. An MWF volunteer heard my short piece and, in the next break, told me about the Koorie Heritage Trust library. She also gave me her business card. I was thrilled, as the execution of Bob and Jack will probably be the opening scene of my next novel.

On Sunday, I attended Focus on Kate Grenville. I was particularly keen to attend this session, as I am writing a profile on Kate Grenville. I had heard Kate speak previously. In recent months have listened to or read every one of her recent interviews and read all of her novels, so I wasn’t sure how much I would learn from the session. But as in the past, it was a privilege to listen to this warm, intelligent, human being talk about various aspects of the writing life. The session ended far too quickly.

So that’s my wrap of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Tomorrow, I go to my last session, The Place for a Village, which is a two hour walk with Gary Presland. We’ll walk around Melbourne and Gary will talk about the natural history of Melbourne and how it might have looked prior to the arrival of Europeans. This session will also be useful for my next novel and, as I know Gary from Balwyn Writers, I am looking forward to it.

So why did I tell you about the apostrophe? Oh no reason. It was just a hook, in the end. But I do think it is improtant to take note of the small things. It’s like the little white pebbles Hansel and Gretel left strewn along the path. It shows how far you’ve come.

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1 Comment

  1. I too enjoyed the collegiate feeling of spending the day with fellow ‘Tafers’. Hope all is going well with your book. It was good to Whole Shebang with you!

    Carole

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