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What We’re Reading: Pt 2

Two weeks to go until BBWF2015!! Winter is officially here and we’re not complaining…it’s a nice reason to rug up and tuck in to a good book. So much is happening in the Bay at this time of the year, with Splendour in the Grass on this weekend, and the town is buzzing with excitement.

Here’s what we have been reading:

imagePrayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement

– I devoured this book; it kept me up all night. It is a shocking account of life as an impoverished female in rural Mexico. A place where young girls are dressed as boys and mothers dig holes in the ground for their daughters to hide in when the drug gangs come in search of girls to steal. It is told from the point of view of Ladydi over the course of her childhood years. Jennifer Clement is a poet and this is reflected in the beauty of each sentence; her imagery is startlingly rich. I can’t wait to re-read it.

Edwina Johnson – Festival Director

IMG_3995Harry Mac, Russell Eldrigde

– Right now I have Harry Mac on my bedside table.  Russell Eldridge writing makes you feel like you are in the story…I don’t want it to end.

Sarah Ma – Operations Manager

imageShining: The Story of a Lucky Man, Abdi Aden and Robert Hillman

– The story of Abdi’s journey from a regular fifteen year old living in Kenya to arriving in Australia as a scarred sixteen year old, having evaded death by only a sliver of a chance. Abdi creates his own luck and his book is an inspiring read.

Penny Leonard – Program Coordinator

Our feature events and workshops are selling out fast, so don’t miss out! If you haven’t got your tickets for Byron Bay Writers Festival go to our website We cannot wait to see everyone there!

What We’re Reading: Pt 1

With only three weeks to go until Byron Bay Writers Festival kicks off with the first workshop on Monday 3rd August, our team is hard at work! As busy as we all are, there’s always time for at least one chapter (or even a couple of pages). We preordered our copy of Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set a Watchman, and we cannot wait to read it! We can assume that it will be the most read new book this week around the world.

Here’s what we have been reading this week:


Surrender: A Journal for my daughter, Joshua Yeldham (self published)

– This is more than a book – it is an object to treasure – a meditation on creativity and art and I love having it near me. Everyone who sees it on my desk or in my home seems to have the same attraction to it. With the recent ABC TV screening of ‘The Secret River’, I find Yeldham’s art practice on the Hawkesbury all the more intriguing.

Edwina Johnson – Festival Director

Book Cover

Looking West, Griffith REVIEW 47

– I’m reading Looking West, Griffith Review and really enjoying the history and the way people thrive and survive on the other side of this vast country.

Cherrie Sheldrick – Travel & Ticketing Manager

Let us know what you’re reading too, we all like a good book tip. We are in serious count down mode for the festival, and cannot wait to see everyone who attends! If you haven’t got your tickets yet, or want to check out the program, visit our website


‘Read widely and a lot': a profile on Emma Ashmere


Emma Ashmere’s short stories have appeared in various publications including The Age, Griffith Review, Sleepers Almanac, Etchings and Mud Map: Australian Women’s Experimental Writing. She has worked in kitchens, as a bookseller, in the arts and universities, and as a researcher on two Australian gardening history books.

She moved to the Northern Rivers in 2007 after completing her PhD on the use of history in fiction at La Trobe University. In 2010 she participated in the NRWC Emerging Writers Mentorship Scheme. Her first novel The Floating Garden is published by Spinifex Press.

Why do you write? 

Because I can’t not.

Do you have a routine for writing? 

Admittedly, it can be a bit of a moveable feast, as I tend to write in isolated bursts. If for some reason I can’t get to the keyboard, a few minutes of doing something towards the project helps keep me connected to it – even if it’s just looking up what hats were all the rage in 1920s Sydney, ordering a book from the library, deciding on a character’s name, or scribbling illegible midnight notes.

How has writing your second novel been different to writing your first? 

It feels a bit like leaping into the void again – but a friendly void. I’m far less precious about what stays and what goes. Even if a sentence seems tight, it’s likely a thread will be pulled, all will unravel, and need to be knitted back together again.


Do your novels change a lot between first draft and later drafts? 

Yes, thankfully. The story I initially wanted to write is still there in the final draft. But some of the themes, plot lines, points of view, and characters might have expanded, while others will have fallen by the wayside. There have been several instances when it’s been necessary to cut whole chunks either because they were dead ends, overwritten, obsolete, or suddenly belonged in another book. This was daunting at the time, but it instantly opened up new space for fresh approaches and ideas.

What are some common mistakes you see among emerging novel writers? 

Because the best learning about writing happens when you write, mistakes are a necessary part of the apprenticeship. Perhaps some people underestimate the time, patience, and resilience needed during the long and hilly path of writing, rewriting, and (hopefully) feeling your way through the publication process. I think it’s also very helpful and heartening to go to writing events, festivals, workshops, writing groups, book clubs and launches, so you can meet other writers and forge supportive connections with a wide range of people in the writing world.

What do you find rewarding about teaching writing? 

When I tutored Life Writing at an outer Melbourne university campus, the continual reward was hearing about other people’s lives, which was always surprising, sometimes shocking and often inspiring. My aim was to be encouraging but realistic, to encourage constructive feedback of other students’ writing and their own, while passing on techniques to help people articulate what they wanted to say as clearly as possible – and in their own way. The learning was very much a two way street.

Who are some writers you admire? 

There are too many to mention here – but some perennial favourites are: Ali Smith, Janet Frame, Toni Morrison, Virginia Woolf, Patrick White, Hilary Mantel, Donna Tartt, Eleanor Dark and Deborah Levy because they somehow alchemise history, poetry, theory, absurdity, tragedy, politics and dream into fiction. And also Elizabeth Harrower because her studies of seemingly ordinary people doing seemingly ordinary things arrive as sharply and stealthily as paper cuts.

If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone about to embark on writing a novel, what would it be? 

Read widely and a lot.

Find out more about Emma at Emma will feature at Byron Bay Writers Festival 2015 which runs from 7-9 August, with workshops starting from August 3rd. Don’t miss it!

A Novel Idea – Interview with Author and Thinker Krissy Kneen by Ahliya Farebrother

Ahead of Byron Bay Writers Festival in August we’ve been talking with Krissy Kneen about writing, blocks, and respecting your work.


Photo: Krissy Kneen. Credit: Anthony Mullins


Krissy, what is your favourite section of the bookshop and why?

 I love fiction. It calms me. I don’t have children so I suppose looking at novels that have been reprinted throughout the ages gives me some hope that my book babies will proliferate into the future.

What do you consider to be people’s most common blocks to writing?

 I think the major block is our own fear of failure. I am tempted to say that is our only block. We are afraid that it will not be good enough, we are afraid we will never finish the book or that it will feel like every other book written this year. We are afraid that the reality will not match our mental picture of what the book could be.  And you know. That will always be the case. The book is never as good as our image of it and that is ok.

What first led you to write?

 Reading was my first passion. Good books make a reader work. They make you bring your imagination and ideas to the story and when I read very good books as a child they demanded so much of me that I had too many ideas in my head and I had to put them on the page. Ray Bradbury was the first person to really make me want to be a writer. His books are a total collaboration with the reader.

When was the moment you really acknowledged that you are a writer?

 I felt odd calling myself a writer for many years even though I was one. I didn’t have anything major published and that made me shy of the title. The first time I felt I could use it was when I got a QWC residential mentorship to work with editor Judith Lukin Amundsen. She taught me that I should have been using the term all along. I was writing very seriously and regularly from the time I was 15 and I could have adopted the label back then. I felt I needed permission from a respected member of the literary community, which is crazy. I just needed to be brave enough to believe in what I was doing.

Finishing a novel in a year would be many people’s ideals, what is one ingredient of that secret recipe?

 Committing to it is the only real trick. It is hard work and the first draft is going to be awful. When you admit that to yourself and stop judging the work as you go along then you can set goals and stick to it.

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes I am a feminist. I think any woman who cares about equality must be a feminist. The world is not yet an equal place for all and the gender divide has a massive impact on women. Till people stop asking for a ‘book for a boy’ or a ‘book for a girl’ we have a lot of work to do.


When confronting so many taboo subjects in your writing, what are some things you hope to achieve in writing?

 I really want people to question the taboos they accept blindly. We all have social taboos that we just assume are the way things should be, but taboos are completely socially agreed upon lines we do not cross. Sometimes we are blind to how arbitrary they are. I want people to think about our knee jerk reactions to taboos and to constantly question.

What does the landscape of and surrounding Byron Bay inspire in you?

 Byron Bay is astonishingly beautiful. I have gone there to have writing retreats and they have been incredibly productive. The ocean is such a force for change and inspiration. If I could I would have a writing place by the ocean. Those who live in Byron are incredibly lucky they have this.


Krissy will be presenting her workshop ‘Writing Your Novel in a Year’ on Thursday 6 August. BYRON BAY WRITERS FESTIVAL RUNS AUGUST 7-9 2015.