Yarra Valley Writers Festival

There are some upsides to our COVID-19 isolation. For example, events turning into online affairs. Such was the case with today’s Yarra Valley Writers Festival – had it been held as was intended (a weekend of author talks in the Yarra Valley), I would not have been able to attend, but with the cancellation of weekend sports and the Festival moved online, I was able to enjoy the full program.

The Festival was live-streamed over ten hours. I ‘attended’ eight sessions, which covered topics ranging from bushfires and nature, to grief, families and religion. Too much to recap, so instead some soundbites:

Julia Baird on wonder, nature, and a sense of awe – “Awe is often about being dwarfed. I think it is sometimes good to feel small.”

On reporting on a crisis, such as bushfire, Tony Birch commented on the media’s ‘uncomfortable spot’ between – “…alarmist headlines and ‘let’s tell the human interest story’…”. He added, “What right do we (as writers) have to prise open the lives of people who have experienced these things… It has to be the people who have experienced it, to detail it.”

Vicki Hastrich, in reference to her spot on an inlet, resonated very deeply with me – “Place is about people for me.”

On writing, Vicki Hastrich said, “I’m not a fluid writer…those patches of flow are rare. Writing is a process of ‘making’ writing rather than ‘writing’ writing…I tinker.” She went on to say that her writing “…is a roving lens, and the essay form allows that… There are things I see around me that are undervalued or not looked at properly, so I put a setting around it, to hold it up.”

Lia Hills described the surprising result of using voice recognition software when writing (it ‘translates’ sounds from nature) – “The process became part of the book, and gave new meaning to ‘listening to country’.” She also began to observe “How long after you arrive in a space, does it take for the conversation (of nature) to resume?”

Playwright David Williamson gave a tour of his house and garden, then recounted his surprising career path (starting with engineering) – “I regard myself less as a playwright, and more as a social psychologist on stage.”

Rick Morton on his memoir, One Hundred Years of Dirt – “The worst thing you can do in the Morton family is talk about what troubles you… I broke that.”

Richard Glover on the ‘narrative of maternal love’ (because it turns out not everyone gets that love) – “Once you talk about families you realise how dysfunctional they are.”

“Expectations of you to marry and have children dictates how you are in the world” – Christos Tsiolkas said that when he was able to move beyond this, life changed in terms of understanding sexuality, relationships, shame.

Although I’ve heard Charlotte Wood speak about The Weekend before, there were new insights. Of the ‘usefulness’ of houses in stories, she said “They’re representative of a sense of self but also turf and territory.”

Wood also spoke about the important role of Finn, the dog, in The Weekend – “Everyone who looks at Finn in the book has their own response to his decay.” Those responses reveal vulnerabilities.

I have recently finished Clare Bowditch’s memoir, Your Own Kind of Girl, so was keen to hear her in conversation with Eliza Henry Jones. On children’s experience of grief, Bowditch said, “You can look at a kid (for clues) but you can’t know what’s going on in their heart.”

On writing, music and her anxiety, Bowditch said, “Every single bit of my creative passion lies in these moments of awkwardness.” And then – “I’ve tried to tuck myself in emotionally for most of my life but it’s just getting harder and harder. It all gets worse from here!”

Lastly, as the authors were speaking from their own homes, the audience caught glimpses of where they write, the art on the walls, the books on their shelves. The highlight? Christos Tsiolkas’s magnificent vinyl collection. When it was noted, he said “…there’s a spirituality in records – you can’t skip forward easily… You’re hearing what the musician wanted you to hear.” Yes, this.

10 responses

  1. I have really been enjoying the online BigBookWeekend these last couple of days, and can’t wait for the online Hay Festival at the end of the month. Such a mega bonus to have access to these amazing events in these sad and difficult times.

  2. This is so great! How nice to still be able to connect writers and readers. Our town’s literary festival has also been cancelled but I hope they can do something like this.

  3. It was great, wasn’t it? I do hope it was successful enough for them to repeat it next year:)
    BTW I must change something in my post about Vicki Hastrich, I’ve quoted her as saying ‘fluent’ but it should be ‘fluid’. Off to do that now…

    • I really enjoyed it. I missed a couple of sessions – had to eat and had to get some fresh air! Vicki was the draw card for me – I really loved her book. I’m halfway through Julia Baird’s book and, like Night Fishing, it explores topics in a way that seem like the authors are writing just for me 🙂

    • Yes, there is a particular joy in records and cassette tapes because you do have to listen! I’m often moaning to my kids that the art of creating a whole album is gone – people just ‘cherry-pick’ the songs they want, without listening to the narrative arc of an A Side and a B Side.

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