Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 18, 2018

2018 Williamstown Literary Festival

I’ve had a wonderful weekend at the 2018 WillyLitFest.

My first event on Saturday featured Josephine Wilson in conversation with Sherryl Clark, chatting about the Miles Franklin-winning Extinctions. As you know if you read my review, I loved this novel so it was a real treat to hear Josephine talk about it in depth, bringing my attention to aspects of it that I hadn’t picked up on in my reading.

Asked why (the infuriating) Fred became the central character, Josephine said for her, writing is partly intentional, and partly not.  But she was always going to write a book about masculinity and about engineering and the constructed world, exploring the literal mind and the metaphysical mind.  She comes from a family of engineers, you see, and she says that she and her mother were somewhat marginalised in the family because of the way that engineers look at the world.  (And amusingly, she found at a book group discussing Extinctions, that she was not alone in this!)  But for all his bombast, Fred is afraid of taking risks which is why he is a theoretical engineer not someone who has ever built anything.  (Though I have to take issue with this myself, because Fred is a migrant from the UK, and all migrants are risk-takers, even when they come from apparently similar and benign host-and-destination countries.)

Sherryl raised the contentious issue of appropriation, because Extinctions features a part-Aboriginal adopted daughter. This element of the story has an interesting genesis.  Doing the PhD for her novel coincided with adopting a child in the author’s own family, and so she knows at first hand that cultural identity can be an issue not only for indigenous people, but also for others if the children don’t resemble the parents, (especially if there is an opaque abandonment process which prevents knowing the birth parent, as there is sometimes with overseas adoptions).  She said that she doesn’t need anyone to absolve her for writing this character the way that she did, because she wrote the novel the way that she wanted to.  She wanted to show Martha learning that although her intentions were good, and she was wanting to ‘do the right thing’, she was actually a ‘blackbirder’ and ‘a thief’.  This is an ambiguity that is deliberately not resolved because of the ethical issues surrounding adoption and the reality that is different to the ‘good’, ‘kind’ deed.

There was much, much more to this session than I have space to recount, so I will content myself with saying that if you get a chance to hear Josephine talk about the novel in person, don’t hesitate.  And I would also say that Sherryl Clark is an excellent interviewer, who facilitated this conversation really well.

My next session was with Enza Gandolfo, in conversation with Demet Divaroren.  I will be hearing Enza talk about her new book The Bridge (see my review)later this week at an event hosted by Beaumaris Books, so I’ll combine my thoughts from both events in my post about that afterwards.  Suffice, for now, to say that this session was a highlight of the WLF for me.   If you haven’t read it yet, get yourself a copy, and put it on your book group schedule too…

After that, I went to an excellent session called Interviewing Techniques for Memoir and Family History with Anna Brasier.  Yes, I know.  You are wondering why I went to this when I have no intention of writing in either genre.  Well, the short answer is that I like to ‘eavesdrop’ on the things that authors do, and the longer answer is that I love writing at any time, and this was an enjoyable way to spend an hour.  I sat next to a wonderful young man called Russell who plays trombone with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra and it was our job to interview each other and then write each other’s story!

After that I went to a session with Barry Hill – poet, essayist, novelist, critic, editor and author of Reason and Lovelessness, in conversation with Professor Richard Tanter (who is a big noise in the Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).  The conversation ranged widely, but was, I have to say, a bit depressing, as it so often can be when discussing the state of the world today.

After that it was time to check in at the local Quest, and to get some dinner.  I was going to dine out, but the weather was looking ominous, so I contented myself with some takeaway from the Hellenic Hotel, and just as well, because that night a foul and filthy storm rolled in from the Antarctic and I was glad to be warm and dry indoors.  Off to bed with my new book Freshwater by Nigerian author Akwaeke Emezi, ready for an early start in the morning…

I hope the audience enjoyed my session on Sunday with Shokoofeh Azar, because I certainly did.  It’s such a treat to be able to ask an author all the questions you’ve wanted answers to!  I had re-read The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree in preparation for the session, and found all new aspects to it that I hadn’t explored previously in my review.  So we talked about themes of books and reading, about the effects of the Iranian diaspora, about the impact of the regime on family life, and about justice, as it is expressed in the novel.  And I also asked about the book’s journey to publication: it turns out that Shokoofeh wrote the novel in Farsi and a friend translated the first chapter – and that did the rounds of various silly publishers who rejected it – until finally Wild Dingo Press picked it up and paid for the rest of the book to be translated into English.  The rest, as they say, is history, and the book went on to be shortlisted for the Stella and named as one of the best books of 2017 by The Australian.  The audience asked really pertinent questions which added to the conversation so it really was a most enjoyable way to spend an hour.  (And it was a delight to meet in person some readers of my blog, including Mary Holmes who had won a Zola novel in a giveaway!)

Talking of meeting people, I will take the opportunity to drop names here with a shout out to authors I caught up with at the festival: Jane Rawson (From the Wreck); Michelle Scott Tucker (Elizabeth Macarthur), Jenny Ackland (Little Gods) and Georgina Arnott (whose book The Real Judith Wright I bought at the WLF last year but haven’t read yet).  And also Clare Saxby who writes brilliant children’s picture books and whose book Meet the Anzacs triggered the development of a whole school plan for teaching the topic of Anzac. (See my professional blog, LisaHillSchoolStuff if interested.  I couldn’t help ear-bashing Clare about the need for a picture book about the nurses of WW1, wouldn’t it be great if that bore some fruit!)

After my session with Shokoofeh I went to a beaut session with Michael Smith talking about his book Voyage of the Southern Sun with Rob Brown.  The book is the true story of a modern-day Boys Own Adventure, with Smith flying around the world in a little sea plane to make modern aviation history.  I bought the book for The Offspring (who’s just got his commercial pilot’s licence) … but I might not give it to him in case it gives him ideas…

I had lunch in ‘The Hub’ with The Spouse and good friends Carol and Bob who’d braved the elements to come along.  I didn’t get the name of the caterers, but their hot and spicy pumpkin soup is to die for.  They coped superbly with the crowd – obviously, just like us, most people took one look at the wind and rain and decided not to venture down Ferguson Street to the Williamstown eateries!

My last session was provocatively titled ‘Has Facebook killed Citizen Journalism?’ and was a discussion that ranged over fake news, the contraction of journalism generally and so on.  There were other sessions after that, but I didn’t fancy driving in the dark in such horrible weather so I it was time to go home.

My thanks to the committee and volunteers of this festival – it was an excellent festival and I feel privileged to have been part of it.




  1. Wow… what a busy weekend, and so inspiring! You must have come home and been shattered physically from all the concentration, yet your head will have been buzzing to get writing? 🌸


    • Hello Viola, thanks for dropping by:)
      Yes indeed, I was exhausted but the brain is always buzzing with thoughts to put to pen and paper.
      I am always amazed by the discipline that real writers bring to the writing of a book. Me, I just ramble on, as and when I feel like it. I don’t think I could ever steel myself to write 100,000 words in an organised way…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m precisely the same!
        I mean look at me now – I should be outside working, yet here I am on WordPress 🙄🌸


        • If you’re in Melbourne, I don’t blame you for staying indoors. I’m usually pretty stoic about our weather (I have London genes) but I’m just back from taking Amber for a walk, and my knees are frozen stiff!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Lisa, I am glad you had a great weekend despite the awful weather on Sunday. A good variety of authors. I do like Jane Rawson’s novels. They are different. Yes I agree, a ‘nurse’ picture book would be a great asset for children and their learning of ANZAC..I read The Real Judith Wright earlier this year, It was fascinating.


    • Yes, I must read it too. Have you read Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country about her relationship with Judith Wright… it’s beautiful:)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The festival had a real buzz about it, didn’t it? It was lovely to see you there and I’m sure you’ll enjoy Arnott’s book (The Unknown Judith Wright). I found it fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really like the WLF… I went last year too but I never imagined I’d be asked to do an interview myself, because you know, they have lots of people from Victoria University to ask…
      The hard part is choosing what to go to, it’s always a problem when there are clashes between favourite authors.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great write up Lisa – glad you enjoyed it and survived the wintry weather:)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Lisa, I have not read Fiona Capp’s book about her relationship with Judith Wright. I must check it out at my library when I return from Hobart.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds like a great festival Lisa. I really appreciate your write ups, particularly of Josephine’s discussion of the appropriation issue. I bet your session went well too because I know you would have been prepared AND you are a curious reader.

    And, it’s always wonderful to meet other readers, and bloggers. One issue I have with the Canberra festival is that there is a bit too much focus on politics. I understand why – our location, and because of that it’s an opportunity for the festival to position itself as something a bit different – but for we literary fiction readers it’s just a bit light on.


    • Yes, I have the same problem with the politics focus at the Byron Bay Festival – it’s a feast for journos, but there’s not enough LitFic for us to be bothered getting there.


      • Oh, I hadn’t really realised that about the Byron Bay Festival. I clearly haven’t looked closely at the program!


        • Well, we’ve only been once, but I looked at the program for a couple of years after that and then gave up on it.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Lovely to see you in person Lisa and to also have a chat. Enjoyed very much your interview with Shokoofeh Azar. Having visited Iran couple of years ago I was interested to hear her story and now look forward to reading her book. We must admire what people go through to gain safety in Australia.


    • Hello Mary, how lovely it is to put a face to a name:)
      Thank you for your kind comments, I do hope you enjoy the book!


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