Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sunday Salon: Melbourne Writers Festival:Digital - week 2

On attending some Melbourne Writers Festival sessions many years ago, I described it as feeding my soul, and this week I have been dining in on some truly interesting and delicious morsels.

After the two sessions I attended last weekend, which weren't originally part of my plan, this week I have attended several more sessions which were part of the plan.

The first session I attended this week featured former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard talking about the book she has recently co-authored called Women and Leadership. In it, she and her co-author Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala talked to 8 leaders around the world and asked them all the same questions about being a woman leader. The subjects included Hilary Clinton, Jacinda Ardern, Theresa May and more.

By asking each of them the same questions the authors were able to look at what the impact of gender is, but also the differences that are caused by culture. There are many obvious differences between a male and female lead, from the role of appearance and how a male would rarely be asked questions about who's looking after the kids. What is the difference between the qualities of a female leader compared to a male's leader, bearing in mind that every woman, and every man, doesn't have the same style of leadership. It is as individual as each person in the role.

Other topics that were covered during the talk included commentary on the fact that it is easier for Jacinda Ardern to be the third female Prime Minister compared to how it was for Julia Gillard who was our first, and still only, female Prime Minister.

There was so much to digest in this session, and lead to quite robust conversations in my house about feminism, and what are the roadblocks for women in the workplace, even now.

It was interesting to see a much more relaxed version of Julia Gillard, compared to the more formal version we were so used to seeing.

For a complete change of pace, yesterday morning I attended a session with Casey McQuiston, author of the hugely successful YA book, Red, White and Royal Blue which won the 2019 Best Romance on Goodreads. I haven't read the book yet, but I do have it on my library request list and I do know lots of people who loved it.

This was such a fun session, although I didn't take a lot of notes because my breakfast arrived part way through the session so I mainly watched this one because it is hard  to write and eat at the same time!

The story takes a Prince Charming trope and turns it on it's head by making it a gay romance between a royal and a member of an American political dynasty. The idea came from the idea that we see everything that royals do, but also very little, as well as the American electoral coverage a few years ago. Combine the two and is the germ of the idea.

There was a conversation about reading this kind of book being an antidote to the current environment, especially the idea that in order to be part of ongoing conversations such as gay rights, Black Lives Matter and so many other pressing issues, it is important to refresh yourself including with escapist books like this before going back out into the fight.

The other session I attended yesterday was An Evening with Elizabeth Strout. Again, this is another author I haven't read yet Olive Kitteridge is a book that I have had on my radar for the long time.

Olive Kitteridge is a character who appeared to the author many years ago, but once the first book was done, the author never really intended to write more about her. The character, however, had other ideas. Olive is a very particular character, not necessarily relatable at all but she is getting softer as she gets older, and the author has taken the opportunity to give an honest reflection on ageing.

One interesting concept that the author spoke about is the idea that as people can either get bigger or bitter as they get older. I love this idea. I like to think that I have gotten bigger rather than get bitter, but I can name some people in my life that have gone the other way.

I was a bit surprised to see that this session only went for about 35 minutes because I could quite easily have listened to Elizabeth Strout talk for much longer.

Today my first session was listening to winner of the Readings YA Prize 2020 Lisa Fuller speak about her book Ghost Bird. Lisa Fuller is an indigenous woman who started writing this book for her PHD. At the time she didn't realise she was writing Young Adult fiction, or that her book had such strong horror themes. Originally the author intended to write her PHD about her grandfather, but when he passed she had to present her supervisor with some other ideas, and he chose the most difficult story which turned into this book.

This session was interesting in many ways, not least of all because of the way the author spoke of how her community shaped her as a writer. She talked of growing up and not being able to find on the pages of the books. It was interesting to hear about how she needed to get permission from her family and elders to be able to tell the stories. Storytelling permeates the indigenous culture so fully and is one of Lisa Fuller's earliest memories, and she is now continuing the tradition, albeit in a different way.

One of the delightful aspects of this session was listening to Fuller speak about what she is working on next, which is a book that she is writing about and for her two nieces. She sends them parts of the story and they then draw pictures for her about what they think happens next, and then she tries to make it completely different.

On the author's website you can listen to the first three chapters of the book, and I am intending to listen to it maybe before going to sleep. Actually, maybe that's not such a good idea given that there are horror themes.

My final session today was listening to Charlotte Wood and Tegan Bennett Daylight speak about reading and books and the role of reading in times such of these. These two authors have been friends for many years and have been part of a kind of writing group. Tegan is one of Charlotte Wood's first readers,and they are very honest in their feedback to each other.

For me, one of interesting questions to come out of this session is why do we read? I am not sure that I read for the same reasons as those that were given by these two authors, who I suspect read a lot more literature with a capital L than i do. That question of why do I read is one that I am still contemplating. I may explore it a bit further later in the week.

Charlotte Wood spoke about how she read for the joy of individual sentences, about how a single sentence can wake you up, and about reading quiet character driven books for absorption more than anything. Tegan Bennett Daylight said that she started the lockdown period thinking this was the perfect time to tackle a big book like Wolf Hall, but that was too grim, and she seeks solace during periods such as this by reading the books of Lawrence Durrell, because of the pure joy that the books exude.

There was an interesting conversation about the importance of relatability in books with Wood talking about not being interested in being able to relate to the characters as she doesn't need to find a friend in a book but rather looking for what feels like truth.

It is always interesting to both talk about books, and also to listen to other people talk about them. I do think that the moderator on this panel did a great job with the way that she directed the conversation.

I always find it fascinating when you see the ways that seemingly completely different authors from a variety of genres come up with similarities. Last week it was the concept of shame that came up in both sessions I attended and this week it is the way that people write.

For Casey McQuiston, Lisa Fuller and Elizabeth Strout who write in romance, YA horror and literature respectively, they all talked about writing in scenes and then piecing the book together rather than writing chronologically. Casey McQuiston talked about having to have quite a large portion of the book written before she can then try to put together. For Fuller, this means that she has multiple notebooks with ideas and parts of scenes in which is all well and good until you can't find what you are looking for.

And that's Melbourne Writers Festival over for another year. Let's hope that next year we are able to all be in the same place. Having said that, I have enjoyed this year's sessions and actually attended more than I would have because they were all online sessions. And now I think I am going to attend a few sessions from Edinburgh Writer's Festival, just because I can.

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


  1. I hadn't heard of that book on Women and Leadership. I will definitely check it out!

  2. I am also going to look for Women and Leadership. I just added a link to your review for my next week recap!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this event with us. I wanted to participate this year, but the time differences didn't work for me. I am especially interested in the discussion with Elizabeth Strout as our book group is reading and discussing Olive Kitteridge next Tuesday. I'm completely taken with the idea that people get bigger or they get bitter as they get older. I see that.

    I also think the discussion about reading escapist lit during this difficult time is correct. We need refreshment in order to keep on with the struggles we face.

    I hope you have a great week.

    1. Time differences can be problematic! I am planning to attend a few Edinburgh Festival sessions but they are starting at like 5 o'clock in the morning!

  4. Thanks for sharing your experience of MWF, unfortunately even online it was out of my budget to attend, so I appreciate the information.
    I read mostly I think because I’m generally curious about people and places and experiences.

    Wishing you a great reading week

    1. The question of why people read is always interesting.

  5. Women on Leadership looks fascinating, especially at this moment in time. I'm going to see if our library has it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. You are welcome. I am definitely intending to read it myself too.

  6. While it's not the same as in person, that is the one thing that now we can "attend" festivals from all over the world. This sounds like it was a lot of fun and I would have loved to hear the Elizabeth Strout session. The Lisa Fuller session sounds like it was really good too. I'm curious about her book.

    1. I hope you can at least listen to the first couple of chapters Iliana

  7. This sounds like a very informative event! I read Olive Kitteridge in grad school and loved it. Have a good week!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  8. I've got Lisa Fuller's book so I'm looking forward to reading it.
    Yes, I know what you mean about not having quite the same reasons for reading as authors... I need more than just delight in a sentence, that's for sure.

    1. I love it when you find a delightful sentence that makes you stop and reread it, but I do need more than that!