In the Philharmonia Studio, reminiscent of the airy music classrooms of my past schools, sat three unique writers chatting amongst themselves with a laid-back grace that immediately let the room breathe a sigh of calm. We were here to listen to Grounded: Place in Writing, and this was a comfortable place to hear about it.\r\n\r\nMitchell S. Jackson is from The States, and his semi-autobiographical novel The Residue Years is about a young black man growing up in \u2018the whitest city in America\u2019. Latika Bourke is well known as a journalist for the ABC and Fairfax, with her memoir From India With Love being her first full-length work. Anson Cameron\u2019s latest book, The Last Pulse, is set in the Australian bush, using water (or lack thereof) as metaphor.\r\n\r\nThree very different writers, discussing what place and story means to them, makes it difficult to put into words all together. So here is a re-cap of each author and their best advice.\r\n\r\nOne of our favourite places, the Sydney Writers' Festival at Walsh Bay...\r\nMitchell S. Jackson\r\nOn Place\r\n\u201cI wrote about the world that I know, and it ended up being myopic,\u201d Jackson said. The Residue Years follows a young man, Champ, and his mother Grace, in the 1990s while they try to avoid the shadow of crack cocaine. Jackson grew up in Portland, a city known for being fundamentally white, though Jackson wasn\u2019t fully aware of this until moving to New York.\r\nSomeone said, \u2018You know that\u2019s the whitest city in America!\u2019\r\nHe went on to say that while he wasn\u2019t ignorant of the dichotomies of race, it wasn\u2019t something that affected him in his everyday life.\r\nOn Voice\r\nAn important piece of fiction for Jackson is John Edgar Wideman\u2019s short story \u2018Weight\u2019, in which the first lines say, 'My mother is a weightlifter. You know what I mean.' Jackson said reading those lines changed his mind about writing and voice. \u201cI thought, \u2018You can write like that? He\u2019s a lauded writer!\u2019 I had that voice, that voice was already there in me,\u201d he said.\r\nI had language but I didn\u2019t have the courage to use it.\r\nUntil Jackson was in a class with writer Gordon Lish, who had a rule of only reading one sentence at a time. Lish let Jackson read a whole three sentences before announcing, \u201cJackson, you got an ear\u201d.\r\nOn Being a Writer\r\nJackson\u2019s literary talent and speech is pulled off with authenticity, which makes it astounding that he \u2018never thought of himself as a writer\u2019. It was during his time in prison, when his friends told him he needed to stop playing so much basketball, that Jackson turned to writing his life story. \u201cI needed something to do that wasn\u2019t a waste of time. I didn\u2019t decide I wanted to be a writer until I was one year into a creative writing degree,\u201d he said, \u201cand I didn\u2019t have a purpose until I started writing.\u201d\r\nLatika Bourke\r\nOn Place\r\nBourke was born in India and adopted to a loving Australian family quite young. \u201cI grew up in an authentic childhood, being told to watch out for snakes and spiders,\u201d she said, \u201cI never had any interest in India.\u201d Despite Bourke feeling like every other school kid, she would be pestered by some about \u2018where she came from\u2019: \u201cI\u2019m from Bathurst!\u201d she exclaimed.\r\nI never struggled with my identity but I\u2019d always get this question. Every time they asked they were trying to make me different, make me Other. But now, it\u2019s an absolute privilege to tell you where I\u2019m from.\r\nBourke was born in Bihar, East India, and travelled there (now going once a year) to discover more about her heritage. \u201cHaving been there I felt larger as a person,\u201d Bourke said, \u201cwiser about my identity\u201d.\r\nOn Feminism\r\nBourke told a story about visiting Bihar, and the old orphanage run by nuns (now an establishment to teach the blind to read, or house those in need). Out in a field were young girls all moving, kicking, punching, in a flurry of colours. The nuns, Bourke explained, had been teaching them self defense for when the girls were to be married, in case they were abused.\r\nI thought, in Australia we talk about feminism and we fight about what feminism means. But this, this was living, kicking feminism!\r\nOn Being a Writer\r\nBeing a journalist, Bourke might have found the writing of her memoir From India With Love more difficult. \u201cIt took four years,\u201d she said, \u201cit was like there were all these strands in the air and it took me a long time to work out what strands went where. I still think my writing is very journalistic.\u201d\r\n\r\nBourke admits that putting her experiences about India on the page were tricky, saying that she could have described everything in detail, but instead, wanted to \u2018explain with meaning\u2019.\r\nAnson Cameron\r\nOn Place\r\nCameron admitted to taking our bushland for granted in the past, saying \u201cas a younger writer I felt jealous of Dickens, Twain, Shakespeare. But the great thing about getting old is that the place you grew up in becomes more exotic. Looking back, it was quite a fractured community.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe spoke about Australian landscape with pride, with wonder down to the smallest details, like insects buzzing around the base of Uluru. And it\u2019s these intimate details, he says, that are so important to writing.\r\nWriting is at its most powerful when it\u2019s intimate. It\u2019s the intimacies that make the world in a book, and you can only know them when you know the place you write about.\r\nOn Voice\r\nWhile listening to Cameron, one couldn\u2019t help but notice the utterly Australian language and tone of his own voice. It made me want to pick up his book and start reading about the rivers. So it\u2019s interesting to note that author voice and character voice are handled so differently:\r\nTo actually put words into a character\u2019s mouth was the most confronting thing. It takes a while to get to know your characters, until you can slip into them quickly.\r\nAdvice on Writing\r\nCameron has a column for The Age newspaper, where he can write about anything he likes (\u2018Where\u2019d you get a gig like that!\u2019 Bourke said). But he maintained that the columns which engage readers best are the ones with personal investment: \u201cI can write a letter to Tony Abbott from a priest in a Catholic school, but the ones with emotion, like about my father dying, those get a better response.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe also had advice for reaching the climax of your story, saying that it\u2019s always better \u2018to turn down the volume\u2019, and to write those strong scenes by quietening them to create a more powerful effect.\r\n***\r\nStay tuned for more Sydney Writers\u2019 Festival coverage from Writer\u2019s Edit.\r\nIn the meantime you can check out our Sydney Writers\u2019 Festival Profile as well as the\u00a05 Events You Can\u2019t Miss.