With writing events being held all over Australia, it’s difficult to make it up the coast or across the country to see your contemporaries talk about the thing you love most. In case you couldn’t make it to the Melbourne Writers Festival 2014, Writer’s Edit was there on Saturday 23rd August (somewhere in the middle scribbling notes and being totally inspired).
Global Short Stories
First up on the literary menu was ‘Global Short Stories’, a panel of authors from around the world, reading captivating extracts of their work and discussing the much-loved short story form. The panel was chaired by Australian poet Ali Alizadeh who was accompanied by New Zealand writer Nic Low, Welsh writer Rachel Tresize, and Singaporean Amanda Lee Koe; four creatives of different backgrounds tossing up what it means to write in a multicultural world.
We have multicultural lives. You have to step back and reflect it” – Amanda Lee Koe
Discussions moved from crossing boundaries, to a writer’s responsibility in representing their nation, to writing the ‘other’ and whether there are ethical implications in writing stories that explore cultures that aren’t yours.
To only write what you know is to refuse empathy” – Nic Low
Complications revolving around the ‘economical’ short story and the colossal form of a book were brought into question: how do we read a collection of short stories? Are they cohesively exploring a theme, or fragmented in stand-alone stories?
They feel to me like little novels; they only become fragmented when you put them together in a collection” – Rachel Tresize
Branch out into new territory with your writing (through culture, genre, technique, and perspective), and consider exploring large concepts in smaller forms.
Voice: Language in Literature
Next was a panel ‘giving voice to the diaspora’ and exploring linguistics and techniques to capture reality on the page. ‘Voice: Language in Literature’ was chaired by Melinda Harvey and accompanied by Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo and Australian writer Maxine Beneba Clarke; this panel proved the importance of voice within all mediums of writing.
Readings from the two authors captured the audience’s full attention, drawing us into awed silence while we listened to stories of crossing and challenging language barriers.
How do I do what I do on the microphone on the page? It’s about deconstructing language so the story doesn’t read like English. It’s written phonetically so you have no choice but to read in the voice of that person” – Maxine Beneba Clarke
The writers discussed the authorial complications of adopting the English language to tell stories about different cultures, and how they used voice in their works to force readers into different ways of communicating with the text.
My priority was giving myself flexibility on the page, to speak a language that felt like skin to me. I’d been force fed a stable diet of English literature and I just couldn’t pick the American accent. And I didn’t really want to” – NoViolet Bulawayo
Consider playing with phonetics in your dialogue and voice to give your characters authenticity while making a statement about language and culture.
Last on the agenda for the day was the ‘Sonnet-a-Thon’, squeezing into a packed room to listen to readings of ‘classic poetry’ and feel appropriately literary. Shakespeare’s sonnets were read aloud in crisp and heartfelt style by the Australian Book Review’s editor Peter Rose and poetry editor Lisa Gorton along with writer Jakob Zigarus.
What Shakespeare was doing that hardly anyone was doing at the time was taking images from the natural world and transforming them. The richness of his plays depend on the inwardness he explores in his sonnets” – Lisa Gorton
The three literaries gave academic and personal insights into Shakespeare’s poetry, reading their favourites and discussing the best lines with passion. Images and themes were described as ‘wonderfully masochistic’ and ‘pretty dark’, connecting with the audience on an intimate level.
Overall the session introduced readers and writers to the wider world of Shakespeare’s poetry, exploring less iconic works and wowing the audience with the poet’s literary prowess. Audible gasps came from the crowd at the conclusion of sonnet 65:
O, none, unless this miracle have might / That in black ink my love might still shine bright”
Shakespeare can be cool! Broaden your reading and try something new by trying something old.