Sunday, August 09, 2020

Sunday Salon: Melbourne Writers Festival: Digital - week 1

A few weeks ago I shared a list of just some of the authors that I have seen over the years at Melbourne Writers Festival. This weekend this year's festival has commenced, albeit in a fully digital version, so I am getting the opportunity to add to that list.

Over the years, my coverage of MWF events has ranged from a very detailed summary of every session that I attended to not even mentioning that I went! This year, my aim is to end up somewhere in the middle of that scale.

Like so many other events around the world, there was no choice but to move this festival into the digital realm. One of the interesting aspects of this festival is that we could choose to pay what we like for sessions. There were multiple options ranging from free to $50 per session.

When I looked at the program for this year, I selected a number of sessions, but none of them were this weekend. It really was only as the daily email came out that I realised that there were actually a couple of sessions I wanted to attend. I am not sure why it was that I didn't notice them when I initially looked at the program.

The first session that I watched was Australian indigenous author Tara June Winch, author of the Miles Franklin winning book The Yield, interviewing Ngāi Tahu author and journalist Becky Manawatu, about her book Auē. This book won one of the biggest prizes in New Zealand, the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction.

This conversation was incredibly interesting to me from the aspect of how much these two indigenous authors had in common. Neither of them was a formally trained writer when they started writing their prize books, they both live outside their country while in the process of writing very Australian and New Zealand books, and they shared similar feelings about being successful with stories that are their own, but are also so much the stories of their peoples and the burden that brings.

There was a lot of conversation about the legacy of colonisation, about the role of "curdled masculinity" in the ongoing violence in Maori society, how writing a painful story helps with personal pain, the need for mentoring and support of indigenous writers and so much more. It was thought provoking session.

Today I attended a session with Singaporean author Jing-Jing Lee whose book How We Disappeared was long listed for both the Women's Fiction Prize and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The book tells the story of the Singaporean women who were forced to become comfort women for the Japanese army after the invade the city during WWII.

I have long been fascinated by the story of how seemingly impregnable Singapore fell, so this book is one that I am drawn to straight away. In addition, this is a dual timeline story as we follow Wang Di, the main character, during her life in WWII and also in the early 2000s where she lives life as a "cardboard woman", a hoarder who makes a living selling recycled cardboard. There is also a third perspective which was interesting as it provided the author a break from the intense story that she was telling, and also assists in showing what Singapore is like today.

One of the interesting things that tied both of these sessions together was the idea of shame and the role it plays in our lives. For the comfort women, it was taboo to talk about their experiences, and it forever shaped their lives.

I definitely want to read this book.

I also listened to the podcast of the opening session which featured well known Australian author Kate Grenville talking about the stories we tell ourselves, particularly in times like those that we are experiencing right now. This is also available on podcast so I think that anyone can listen to it, so if you are interested check it out here.

During the week, I am intending a session featuring former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and then I have a full weekend next weekend, so expect to hear more about MWF Digital!

I am sharing this post with Sunday Salon, which is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz


  1. These both sound like difficult stories, but I suppose the best stories usually are. Thanks for highlighting them- I wasn't aware of either!

    1. I think they are both quite intense stories!

  2. Over the years I've heard so much from Australian bloggers about the Melbourne Writers Festival. How lovely that you are able to participate this year. Thank you for sharing the link, too. It's interesting to me that they offer a range of prices. That is a nice option.

    I've not heard of Aue, but I've seen a bit about How We Disappeared. Local psychologist Brene Brown talks a lot about shame and how it damages us. I think it's fascinating that writing a painful story can help us heal. I wonder if that is also true for reading.

    I hope you have a good week.

    1. I like listening to Brene Brown. She's a very good speaker.

  3. I've heard so many good things about conferences now being held online. I think it's great that so many organizations are doing it that way instead of just waiting until we can do things in person - who knows when that will be? Have a great week!

    1. Who knows when that will be! I am planning to attend a couple of Edinburgh Festival events too Yvonne

  4. Our State Book festival has also gone virtual so I'm really excited about that. Of course not the same as in person but glad they have found a way to still host it. Both the books you mentioned sound interesting but in particular How We Disappeared. I need to add that one to my list. Hope you are having a great week!

  5. thanks for the podcast link. I will check it out. Also the jing-jing Lee novel looks good.



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