YARRA VALLEY WRITERS' FESTIVAL BECKONS
I'm sitting at home, quarantined and thinking...not possible...I can't sit here on my lonesome looking at a screen and listening to an endless series of writers--as riveting as their books may be. Can it work? Ten hours in front of my computer?
Confronted by Covid19 on their inaugural run, the organisers of the Yarra Valley Writers' Festival went fully digital--seamlessly streaming a program packed with information and thought-provoking exchange, alongside inspiring musical and literary performance.
What's the saying, 'Discretion is the better part of valour'? I scanned the program and the post-op offerings...hmm...promising. So, I paid the ticket, set myself up with a good Fair Trade coffee, plus some gourmet snacks and some Yarra Valley shiraz--'bold yet refined'--and waited before a misty, idyllic Yarra Valley scene.
Festival Ambassador Michael Veitch--like some grand wizard--emerged in the spotlight before a velvet-dark curtain and swept us through the program on his magic carpet.
The keynote address set the tone, we're all in this together. Whether it's the natural world order, exploring Australian society as it changes, or portraying families and relationships--the pain and the rewards--the program had it covered.
Dear readers, please bear with me if I mention only a few highlights--there were so many ideas, so many insights. I'll start with David Lindenmeyer's address, Saving the Environment: It's Not Fire and Brimstone. Trees, fire and indigenous knowledge--I thought I knew a lot about these. But David tweaked my ideas...for starters:
CO2 levels are now twice as high as they have been for the 800,000 years of life as we know it
we need to save old growth forest because it can regenerate after fire--unlike new growth-- of special relevance to Victoria's forestry policy
forests mean much more than greenery and air...in Australia they are about WATER conservation
indigenous knowledge was specific to their particular country--we cannot make simplistic generalisations.
This all sounds heavy, but his talk was clear, uplifting and accompanied by vivid charts. Now I was paying attention. Thank you, David.
This segued into a discussion--on the theme Fire and Climate--by relative newcomer Alice Birch, flanked by established authors Tom Birch and Michael Cathcart. I had been eager to hear Alice Bishop read from her first book, A Constant Hum, a collection of short stories and flash fiction. In spare prose, Alice leads us into a space inhabited by fire and smoke--where throats burn and chests pound--where she channels the visceral experience of loss, fear, pain and connection. A startling Must-Read.
At this point, I must say, I enjoyed seeing the human face behind the books...a novel facet of this festival. It was somehow endearing to see writers esconced at home, sitting at their desk surrounded by their books and artworks...at times provoking curiosity in the panel members. I confess to being a bit of a sticky-beak too: how do they do it? where do they get their ideas? what do they look like and what is their background. Are you like me? I always Google artists, musicians and writers I like in order to make a connection. Several of the writers made similar comments along this line.
In the session, Writing About the Natural World, authors Chris Flynn, Vicki Hastrich, Lia Hills and Robert Gott continued the trajectory--reflecting back the themes of place and belonging--with a particularly Australian dimension.
Place in the New World Order provided a platform for authors Alice Robinson, Meg Mundell, Karen Viggers--facilitated by Elizabeth McCarthy--to 'write for good,' to address Social Justice issues, to write the world. Stalwarts such as these, spray across many genre and include writers such as, Canadian Margaret Atwood or Australian John Marsden. Issues canvased here were many. Literature can explore the meaning of life--'turn darkness into light'. It can 'hover above an issue,' 'enmeshing Social Justice' into the narrative, 'sliding in the issues...gently, gently'...revealing different ways of thinking--above all, keeping the 'characters front and centre'.
Being first of all, a Hannie Rayson fan, I looked forward to her discussion with David Williamson, 'A Writers Lot: 50 Years, but who’s counting?' The session opened with a shot of his lush tropical garden and followed him on a short wonky ride via iPhone into his study. As a Canadian ex-pat, it took me years to warm to Wlliamson's raw portrayals of Australian social mores. I first saw The Removalists and Don's Party in London and Melbourne and I was...frankly...shocked. Let's say, he's grown on me...maybe I've been educated...or maybe I've changed. I should have paid attention a lot earlier.
Next up was How Weird Does Your Family Need to Be? with Alice Pung, Rick Morton, Richard Glover in conversation with Michael Mackenzie. Some readers consider family stories run-of-the-mill, chick genre--but these authors channel the lived experience of family history and relationships with power and conviction. Inherited trauma is everywhere...and these writers are giving it the airing we all need. They say that family is the biggest, best-kept secret. If you heard the deeply moving stories of these authors, you would have to agree.
Road to Damascus--not religious? Neither am I. Going by the title, it wouldn't be my first pick off the shelf. Christos Tsiolkas--in conversation with Angela Savage-- persuaded me otherwise. I picked up his insistence on structure as a blue-print, on the paramount importance of having an authentic voice. The concept of being an outside chance, of going against the stream--that perspective appealed to me. At the core, is the universal experience of SHAME: on the negative side, 'it can stop you becoming who you really are'; on the positive, 'it makes you acknowledge when you've done wrong to someone'. You'd have to respect Tsiolkos' honesty--and his voice.
If I Tell You I’m Going to Have to Kill You, a discussion with Robert Gott, Emma Viskic, Jock Serong and Angela Savage wasn't going to be my bag. I thought. I was going to toddle off and have a break. I'll tell you straight: Crime fiction is NOT my genre...but no...that's not quite right. I am interested in historical settings, in place and in characters. It's the stereotypical 'gumshoe' that I don't 'get'. Boy, did I get it wrong. This session was an epiphany of sorts--am I the last person on the planet to have heard of 'Outback Noir'? Small problem: now I can't think where to start first.
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood again in conversation with Amanda Smith-- raised unsettling and compelling questions about aging and friendship. Can't wait to read it...but I'm just a tiny little bit afraid...
Your Own Kind of Girl closed the day--a D&M with Clare Bowditch in conversation with Eliza Henry-Jones. Bowditch's memoir, with its sassy photo cover of a dimpled little ball of energy, has immediate appeal. Appearances can be deceiving. Her story was heart-wrenching and is sure to resonate with many readers when they reflect on their own childhood. A solo musical performance only added to the impact.
And hats off to YVWF Ambassador and MC, Michael Veitch. After a ten-hour marathon, he didn't miss a beat.
I went to bed that night, my head bursting...but like an addict, I was back on the screen
the following day... on YouTube follow-up sessions, where you can unwind, review and
enjoy again. Hot tip: if you didn't make it to this year's YVWF, hop on and catch yourself
a taster selection.
Now I'm waiting for next year....so many books, so little time. Hopefully the YVWF will make the 2021 festival--and the local wines--accessible on-line for all those people who can't make it there in the flesh...
THE PURPOSE OF A WRITER IS TO KEEP CIVILIZATION FROM DESTROYING ITSELF―ALBERT CAMUS
A Welcome from Michael Veitch
Copyright: Magz Morgan 2020
Catch Yarra Valley Writers Festival Book Club events on-line, on YouTube:
An interactive and engaging monthly book club. Click here for bookings.
TIME: 6.30pm (Melb AEST)
DATE: The last Wednesday of the month
WHERE: YouTube under Yarra Valley Writers Festival
HOSTS: YVWF Director Brook Powell and Ambassador Michael Veitch...and joined by a variety of authors each session. There will be a small charge to view the talks--if you didn't buy a ticket to YVWF--which will enable the Festival to pay the authors, convenors and technicians--and not be another cancellation in their diaries too. Here's a few for starters:
Wed 27 May Tony Birch – The White Girl
Wed 24 Jun Chris Flynn - Mammoth
Wed 29 Jul Angela Savage – Mother of Pearl