Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 9, 2020

2020 Yarra Valley (digital) Writers Festival: Writing About The Natural World with Chris Flynn, Vicki Hastrich, Lia Hills & Robert Gott

Michael Cathcart introduced the next session, all writers I haven’t read yet: Chris Flynn, Vicki Hastrich, Lia Hills hosted by Robert Gott.

Gott began with Vicki Hastrich’s book: Night Fishing.  She talked about how she’s not a fluent fluid writer, and her painstaking efforts include using Roget’s Thesaurus, she says there is still a place for using the real thing. (Her copy is from 1964).  Roget offers great shades of meaning, and helps the writer to be accurate with the exact right word.  She was also asked about a remark she’d made that on her deathbed it would be place that she would miss, not people.  But she explained that for her place is embedded with people and memories of her interactions there.  She feels complete in a place called Woy Woy, in a way that she doesn’t anywhere else.

Gott thinks that Lia Hills’ YA novel is extraordinarily complex but also melancholy.  The Beginner’s Guide to Living, Lia says, takes place, like all stories, in a political environment: Tasmania’s place as a site of genocide and her characters awareness of that is a melancholy background to all that takes place.  She says that we cannot take the place of Indigenous people telling their own stories, but that the writing of non-Indigenous people can be informed by what they’ve learned from Indigenous people, and this was especially so with her own fascination with deserts.

Chris Flynn’s latest book is Mammoth.  Gott didn’t try to summarise it, and neither will I. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s read it.  Gott asked Flynn to talk about its theme about extinction as the loss of a repository, and he suggested that the way his fossils have consciousness is not unlike the way some people think that the body parts of humans may have consciousness too.

Interlude while I eat a scrumptious frittata provided by The Spouse to keep up my energy levels…

Vicki used the term ‘Colonial Baroque’ to describe a novel she’s abandoned, but she says it’s because she needs to learn more about what she wants to write, so that she has more authority to write about it.  She also talked about the tyranny of the frame because as soon as there’s a frame, that restricts what can be written, she wants to be a roving lens and that’s why she likes the form of an essay.  As a former camera operator for the ABC< she liked the way the camera could rove and settle on the frame that suited her best. She wants to zero in and focus on some small thing to draw attention to it.  Gott says that she’s used fishing to riff on many things such as Indigenous culture, and asked her about what she meant by her idea that if the environment was power, we would act differently.  [I’m not sure that I’ve grasped exactly what she’d said.  The limitations of my internet connection, thank you Malcolm Turnbull, are very evident today].  Fishing, she says, is like putting a line down to the unknown…

Gott asked Lia about her sentence: A story is like a river, it has its source, it has its tributaries, which may involve an influx of water or just thin trickles.  She thinks there are connections between Australia’s stories and waterways here.  She’s spent a lot of time in Indigenous communities, and has learned about how the long tradition to storytelling and its new storytellers are intimately connected to water.  Her process involved writing the first draft on the road, so she used voice recognition software, which gave her a sense of telling stories around the campfire feeling — and was very impressed by how accurate the software was and how it learned what she was saying, though LOL it tinkered with some of her poetic phrases.  It even turned birdsong into words, and this ended up being a talking bird in the book! This has changed her practice and now she’s using it for her new book.  Gott asked her how she negotiated engagement with Indigenous communities, because she’s heard others say it’s such a minefield, but she says it’s about listening, respecting and learning, and it ends up being collaborative because they’re interested in the story you want to tell, and you’re interested in what they are willing to share about that and how to be guided by that.  AT the moment she’s working in the Wimmera (which makes me think that Bill from The Australian Legend will be interested in it too because we’ve been talking about books set there.)

Chris Flynn talked about how stories just take on a life of their own, and how he had to stop trying to control his and just let it go.  Gott interrupted Flynn a couple of times which made him (and me) lose a train of thought, but it seems that the book involves real historical figures and some of them were not very likeable and are divisive.  (I’m not having a go at Gott.  I’ve chaired panels and I know how difficult it is, and it must be even harder when you can’t be face-to-face.)  I think this a book I might have to investigate…

Gott asked, off-piste, as he said: On the topic of issues and morality, what’s the most over-rated?  Vicki said ‘modesty’, especially for women, Lia said ‘consistency’ and Chris ‘detachment’.  But they were out of time and it had to stop there for questions!


  1. I have both Mammoth and Night Fishing on my review shelf! Must get to them…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let me know when you do and I’ll come back here and add your links.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did enjoy Night Fishing and Woy Woy is a lovely place. The home of Spike Milligan’s parents. I have fond memories of holidays with children and Scottish friends who made their new home there. I try to read Australian women writers and memoir is a favourite genre following V.Woolf’s recommendation that woman should write one.


    • I’m not super keen on memoir, but a well-written one will always overcome my reservations:)


  3. […] Continuing with the environmental theme, Writing About the Natural World featured Chris Flynn whose recent book Mammoth has been receiving quite a bit of coverage, Vicki Hastrich whose Night Fishing I reviewed here and Lia Hills who wrote The Crying Place, which I hadn’t heard of. The session was chaired by Robert Gott, who is almost intimidatingly articulate and intelligent. Apparently there is a huge amount of research in Mammoth, and although Flynn was guided by some historical facts, he gave up trying to direct the narrative along factual lines. Very different types of environments were dealt with by Hastrich (the sea) and Hills (the desert). Hastrich spoke about the landscape of the imagination, while Hills talked about the process of recording her narrative quickly and using voice recognition software that also picked up the sounds of the leaves, wind and birdsong, which she wrote into the book.  And here’s Lisa…. […]


  4. I have read Chris Flynn, and have Mammoth on my TBR as well as an earlier Lia Hills’ book. I bought Hastrich’s book for a Sydney friend last year – on spec, as it just caught my eye, so I have been interested to see it appearing in various places now.

    I may or may not write up this session! Or I may do a combined post for two or three sessions. Am still thinking. I usually post them quickly, but, well, you know the reason for not at present.


    • I had a little attack of spendyitis at Readings today, and bought Mammoth amongst some other interesting titles.
      I have no idea where I will put them. I’ve got a ‘little library’ out in my front garden now because I can’t recycle books at the op shop for the duration, but as fast as one of my books goes in, another one gets left there by somebody else. (Including one by Barbara Ewing, who I heard last Sunday at the Auckland Writers Festival’s Sunday Series, which might interest you. See


      • Haha, I like your spendyitis!

        Did you build or buy your little library?


        • Neither! We are part of an (invitation only) neighbourhood Facebook group which has been a great support to everyone during lockdown. I wanted to have one of these Little Libraries but they are about $300 to buy, and so I asked if there were any handymen in our group who’d like to make one as a community project. Within a week he was round at our place installing it!


          • Ah nice.

            I set up a neighbourhood only WhatsApp group at the start of the lockdown. It’s been lovely staying in contact and sharing information.


            • Our local real estate agent set it up. Of course, he knows everybody, either because he’s sold the new residents their house, or because he’s tried to persuade the old residents to sell theirs, or because he’s lured us to his auctions with a coffee van! (His big selling point is how neighbourly we all are, and it’s true.)

              Liked by 1 person

              • I’ve only seen a coffee van once at an auction, and that was when we were selling my aunt’s very plain little house in an expensive part of Sydney. I don’t go to many auctions except, occasionally, here in our street to support neighbours, but we’ve only been lured by flyers. We don’t always go. A coffee van might have made the difference.


                • Actually, I hate the whole thing: I don’t care what my house is worth, and as far as I’m concerned the better the housing market, the harder it is for young people to get into it, while people with multiple properties get richer than anybody needs to be. I feel sorry for people caught in the middle at the moment, that is, they’ve bought a house that will be their new home at a high price and now they’re selling their previous home at a lower price, but as for the rest of it, the sooner there’s an adjustment to inflated house prices, the better IMHO!


                • Yep, agree.

                  And I detest auctions. It was best to do for an estate, because then there’s no argument about what you got, but otherwise I hate them. We have no other properties. If we did, ever, it would be a Melbourne pad for obvious reasons, but currently it doesn’t seem worth it. We’re not able to get there often enough to make it a sensible option.

                  Liked by 1 person

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