Author: Marian Edmunds

Recollections of a good festival

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard  was the most anticipated writer at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2015. Tickets for the day of her appearance sold out and the rush for seats resembled pre-dawn summer swoops on Mediterranean sun lounges. Luckily the previous sessions were entertaining … Malcolm Knox, Richard McHugh, Sarah Armstrong, Mia Freedman, and I was fortunate in that my neighbour in the marquee, accidentally bought an extra coffee. But it was all worth it. We remain curious about Julia. Claire Wright was a thoughtful interviewer and a refreshing alternative from the media mainstays whom we’d heard interview Gillard many times before. There is also something to be said for giving people the space to speak without a pressing need for ‘gotcha’ journalism. We may actually learn something. We certainly learned about Gillard’s passion for her current roles, particularly as Chair of The Global Partnership for Education (GPE). I was struck when Gillard spoke of girls education in sub-Saharan Africa where girls will only start to be educated at early high school level well into the next …

Stories of our wide brown land: Alex Miller, Inga Simpson and Tony Birch

In The Wide Brown Land panel of Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, Tony Birch, Inga Simpson and Alex Miller spoke of their return to places where they each spent formative years, and of the every day things at the heart of their stories. The Yarra has been an obsession for Tony Birch whose latest book is highly-acclaimed short story collection, The Promise. Although he lived in the inner city, he never saw the beach until he was 10, and saw the Yarra at Moomba. When his family moved to Richmond, he would spend his time swimming at the river and stealing cars. He would stay at the river all day, there was nowhere else to go and be himself. “I couldn’t have understood it better than I did then in an emotional sense. It taught me to understand environment,” Birch said. When the Eastern Freeway was built and took the swimming spot away, he was distraught and had no language to write about it. Birch does a lot of “field work” where he sees the stories …

Susie Orbach: What’s going on with girl’s bodies?

Young girls are being primed to look at their bodies as a site they have to change from as young as five, warned Susie Orbach, academic, activist, author and one of the editors of Fifty Shades of Feminism. The author of many books including Fat Is A Feminist Issue and Bodies at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, Orbach said that so much “work” is being done on children’ that, “by the time kids enter school we are seeing massive body disturbances.” “The woman’s body becomes a calling, the body becomes the thing you work on.” This extends even to have surgery on the labia because they hate the way it looks, said Orbach. “It doesn’t matter what age a girl or women is, there are always procedures.” In the past bulimia arose in late adolescence and now we are seeing at age five, said Orbach. “The women’s body has become a calling. The body has becomes the thing you work on.” “It’s starting earlier with baby photos being photo-shopped to add dimples. “You are supposed to have …

Can Writing Be Taught?: The case for and against creative writing courses and workshops

Can Writing Be Taught? was a session by writers for writers at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival with a panel of writers who teach writing. Robin Hemley is Writer-in-Residence and Director of the Writing Program at Yale-NUS. His memoir, Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, has recently been reissued. Reading is one of the best teachers and for Hemley it started with the books he found at home when he was 19. Writing can be taught, he said. He has seen many writers who seemed unable to craft things “then something clicked. I have seen too many examples of this happening to say otherwise.” He teaches workshops but thinks one-on-one teaching is best. It allows him to enter much more deeply into creative relationship with the student. Hemley studied at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop: “That [workshop] method is only as good as facilitator and the group,” he said. He taught there too, running the non-fiction workshop until recently. The students learned as much from each other as from him, he said. An internet chat …