Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 27, 2020

2020 Williamstown Literary Festival (online)

Today I’ve spent a lazy day doing digital jigsaws and listening to the 2020 Williamston Literary Festival.  The festival ran using Zoom, and I had digital fatigue by the time it was advertised, so — much as I’ve always loved the Willy LitFest — I skipped it.

However, the festival organisers have generously now made the sessions available to everyone, via this link. (Scroll down to where it says ‘Zoom back into our online events, and click the link that says Watch Now).

I began with Tim Watts talking about his book The Golden Country: Australia’s Changing Identity, which I reviewed here.  It was really nice to hear politicians who’ve contested the same seat as rivals talk respectfully and intelligently about these issues.

Then there was an interesting session called ‘Tapping the Zeitgeist’ which featured Angela Savage talking about her novel Mother of Pearl, (my review here); Alice Robinson and her cli-fi novel The Glad Shout, (my review here); and moderated by Kate Mildenhall, (whose forthcoming book is The Mother Fault.) The conversation ranged widely, and amongst other things, it was chastening to hear Angela say that she had thought that Australians were too independently minded to obey the COVID_19 restrictions and that she was glad to have been wrong about that.  The session was recorded just a short time ago but unfortunately she has turned out to be right after all: there are now pockets of COVID_19 outbreaks in our city which have been traced to gatherings of families who refuse to obey the rules, and even in my own law-abiding little community, we know from our neighbourhood Facebook group that one woman, emboldened by these events, has denounced COVID_19 as a scam.  This is a bit scary, to think that someone who shops in the same places as me, is not taking precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.

After that, it was books I didn’t know. I started with On the Street: A Melbourne anthology edited by Sarah Fraser and Susanna Nelson.  This session featured ‘flaneurs’ Michelle Finke, Rijn Collins and Thuy On.  Flaneurs are folks who just wander about, taking note of whatever comes their way. But Thuy On decided to approach the commission in a different way: as a literary critic she interrogated CBD streets that have featured in literary Melbourne. Michelle Finke OTOH is a journalist who lives in Yarraville, who tweaked a shorter piece that had been already published, about a neighbour in her street.  Rijn’s piece is a brief memoir about her angst over having to move to a different inner suburban postcode, i.e. from Richmond to Northcote…

It may have been that the speakers felt the need to focus on Melbourne’s inner west because they were presenting at the Willy LitFest, but I felt that the presentation, and the book (if the discussion was in fact representative of its content) was the same old limited conception of our city, completely ignoring the rich cultural and social life of the middle and outer suburbs (which is, of course where the vast majority of us live).  At one stage — ironically after a rant about not stereotyping by postcode — there came a characterisation of other parts of Melbourne as ‘snobby’. The constant repetition of ‘west is best’ was just inane. The best bit of this session was when Thuy On read from Meg Mundell’s Black Glass, which Thuy On characterised as a ‘cautionary tale’, but which I would call an early example of Cli-fi.  (See my review of it here.)

After a brief adjournment to take Amber for a walk, I listened to the session about the medico thriller Eight Lives by Susan Hurley by Susan Hurley. (I’m sorry, I may have missed it, but I didn’t catch the name of the interviewer.) Hurley talked about her career as a medical researcher which informs this novel and by the sound of it, gives it authenticity.  Apparently it’s based on a real case in the UK (but set here in Melbourne).  Susan Hurley has had an extraordinary career, doing all sorts of significant things, but she said that she had long had a dream of being a writer.  She said she wrote it as a thriller because that’s the kind of book she likes to read, and named John Le Carre as an influence.  Her story is about a doctor who has developed a wonder drug which is about to go into drug trial stage, and it’s written from eight perspectives.  This topic has extra resonance at the moment because of the race to develop a vaccine for the pandemic.  Thrillers are not my thing but this once piques my interest, and I’ve ordered it from Fishpond.  The book was shortlisted for the 2018 UK Caledonia Novel Award.

Chris Ringrose hosted the next session which featured the book Death of a Typographer by Nick Gadd.  This was fascinating, because — as I’ve confessed before — I know very little about how books are actually put together, and the discussions about fonts and kerns and other whatnots were really interesting, especially when they were talking about the obsessives who won’t venture into certain shops because they’re offended by the fonts they use!  Readers of crime novels will love it, I think.

This was a good way to spend a bleak day in Melbourne, where we are feeling very unhappy about being the only state in Australia to have a rising number of COVID_19 infections, and all due to the stupidity and arrogance of a small group of irresponsible people.  Everywhere else in Australia, they are relaxing the restrictions, but we are not.  I have never been clubbing but I felt envious last night when I saw footage of young people in Perth having a great time going to a nightclub.  Hopefully, firm and decisive action by our government will contain the outbreak and we will soon be back on track…

If you want to show your gratitude for the generosity behind the WillyLitFest organisers making these events accessible to everyone, click here to make a donation to next year’s festival.

Links on book titles are to Fishpond, where you can support the authors by buying the book…


Responses

  1. Lisa, is there any way you could alert us to festivals such as the one you’re talking about here, or where do I find out about them? I’d love to have listened to this (I’ll still try that link thank you).

    The idea Covid19 is a scam or plot is alive and well here too Lisa – I noticed a council notice on a free water cooler in a park here this morning that says it’s been shut off due to Covid19 and the notice has been defaced with graffiti declaring it’s a fake coronavirus & due to 5G (notice the “fake” term coming across here from Trump). I’ve had several people tell me that too. There’s no reasoning with them I’m afraid.

    Eight Lives sounds like it might interest me, I’ll check our wonderful library.

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    • Hi Sue, I don’t think there’s any way you can count on me for that kind of information because it just depends on whether I’ve signed up for a festival newsletter or not. But #MeaCulpa I could have advertised the Willy LitFest… I think I was just depressed at the time and didn’t do it.

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      • That’s understandable Lisa and bleak weather doesn’t help. I have friends in lockdown in the USA and they are frantic to get out and about, but are tearing their hair at the situation there. One is the son of a friend of mine & he and his wife have their just born twin boys in a tiny apartment in San Francisco – she was discharged two days after a caesarean due to fears of covid – I can’t imagine being a new Mum dealing with twin babies in an apartment with no help. I’m thankful I just have a small dog!

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        • I think the situation in many countries is just terrible, but what gets me about America is that it’s wealthy. We ought not to live in a world where your chances depend on your country’s wealth or not, but we do, and when a wealthy country fails its people by wilfully not providing the resources to contain a pandemic, it is deplorable.

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          • They are from Melbourne and over in the USA working there for a couple of years and got caught up in Covid19… I chat with a retired nurse friend over there – he’s in Chicago – the situation appals him – he always worked for charity hospitals so his patients never had to pay fees. He and I are both horrified at the possibility of another term of Trump at the helm. Have you travelled in the USA Lisa – I haven’t unfortunately, my brother worked there for some time and said he’d never seen a country with so much wealth and so much poverty.

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            • No, I’ve never been there. I was always going to, after I’d been to all the places I wanted to see in Europe, and then my heart specialist advised against it because I can’t get travel insurance for a pre-existing condition, and if anything happened, it would bankrupt me.

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  2. Thanks for this information. I won’t do zoom because I get too distracted looking at what everyone is doing in their little box and I spend time looking what else in each room. I think Tassie will open around 25 July so will be interesting to see what happens. But our premiere wants to make sure Tullamarine airport is safe before he lets Tasmanians travel out of state. I shook my head a couple days ago when we heard on a new report states in the U.S. that have democratic governors have less virus cases than those states who have Republican governors. My sister lives in Florida and I have nightmares as she travels around the state with friends doing touristy things now. I do enjoy podcasts as I try to go to sleep at night and not think of the world. So I might check out what you have posted. Thanks. Stay well!!💕💕

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    • I think, for me, it’s just a case of I get sick of doing things online, and so I’ll only do it when I’m in the mood. That’s why the Yarra Valley festival suited me, because I had a link that I could open any time I liked. Zoom and Skype mean that you have to do it when they say so, and you have to be bright eyed and bushy tailed because everyone can see you, even when you are really not enjoying it at all.
      I think the problem of people getting fed up with the restrictions won’t be confined to Victoria. All you need is just one case of someone being irresponsible, thinking ‘I don’t have it so I can do what I like’, and then it spreads because it’s so infectious.
      The situation in America is dreadful…

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  3. I love the word flâneur, whenever I hear it. You make a good point about culture in middle and outer suburbs, and how often they are overlooked. In our local area we have some great little cafes and restaurants, many of which did a great job through the main COVID lockdown at serving their communities with takeaway and home delivery. I was fascinated by their different “personalities” and the way they tackled the period.

    I’d love to have listened in to some of this. Like Sue I didn’t realise it was on. I wouldn’t have been able to go anyhow, so am glad of your write up.

    The Melbourne outbreaks are really irritating because we are so keen to get down there as soon as we feel a bit able to see our family, but this isn’t helping.

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    • It’s a lovely word. I discovered it years ago when I came across a book called The Flaneur, which featured the musings of a man wandering through Paris. Speaking for myself, I don’t do it often enough in my own city, though I do plenty of it in my own local community.
      I get really fed up with the pet topic of lazy journos, which is The Best #insert vanilla slice, coffee, croissants &c in Melbourne, and they never venture even as far as Prahran. And they rabbit on about the diversity of the inner suburbs, when clearly they have no idea that in schools like the one I taught at, 40+ from the CBD, there were 40+ ethnic groups and 25+ different languages.
      I like to think I’ve been pretty stoic so far, but this stupidity has made me realise that it’s just not realistic to expect everyone to behave well. And that, alas, has repercussions for all of us.

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      • Was that the Edmund White book? I think it was his about walking in Paris that taught me the word too.

        Nope, not realistic at all unfortunately. That’s one of the things age and experience have taught me: humans will always be humans, with a mix of the messy, irrational, selfish alongside the kind, sensible and generous. We will never not have conflict/war. It’s sad.

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        • LOL Sue, I thought I couldn’t answer your question about Edmund White, because my ‘Books Read’ Excel file has vanished into cyberspace along with everything else… but I strolled down to the other end of the house where my travel books are, and lo! there it was, one of the Writer in the City series. (Let no one ever tell me that hoarding books is a sin!!)
          I also have one about Florence, by David Leavitt, and when I checked out the series at Goodreads, I remembered that I’d read Peter Carey’s one about Sydney. I don’t have that one on my shelves so I must have borrowed it from the library…

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          • Yes, that’s th series I remember. I don’t have the book but I remembered it. I agree about hoarding books – and love going back to mine to check – but I am, I must say, seeing the end of the hoarding line looming. I’ve done too much clearing out of older relatives houses now not to see that I must face some big decisions soon. Sometimes, I wish I weren’t a hoarder!

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            • I hear you, but you know, clearing out doesn’t have to be a chore. There are companies which will come and do the lot for you. You can walk through and retrieve a few things first, or you can wave goodbye to the lot.

              Liked by 1 person

              • I had heard that, but haven’t checked them out. I think this one will be ok because Mum and Dad had already downsized massively when they moved to the retirement village.

                Liked by 1 person

  4. That was a smart idea to make the sessions available on demand. Even without exercise classes and volunteering sessions etc I struggle to make it to events that are on at specific times.

    I’m frustrated with some of the idiots who seem to think Covid is no longer an issue. This week we’ve had multiple examples of large crowds gathering in UK – none of them following social distancing or wearing masks. One was outside a football club to celebrate winning something or other (there wasn’t even a match); then Thursday night hundreds of youngsters gathered for a beach party and ended up fighting. On Friday 4 bus loads of people from 100 miles away drove to the beach near us for a day out (ignoring the rule that in Wales we are restricted to a 5 mile radius from our homes). And of course they just dumped all their litter behind.
    Am I angry – what do you reckon???

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    • It’s hard not to be angry. Like Sue, I am trying to be philosophical about the inevitability of it… people don’t change their natures just because there’s a pandemic, and there’s been generations of permissive parenting and fostering a sense of entitlement so we shouldn’t be surprised.
      Crowd gatherings (footy or protest, whatever) are the most problematic, because a person never sees the results of spreading it. Whereas here in Melbourne we have family clusters, and what will happen sooner or later is that someone infected by a member of their own family will get very sick and maybe die. That will be a hard lesson to learn, but it will have an impact on all the family members and make them change their behaviour. (That is, if social disapproval hasn’t influenced them first, because there’s plenty of that floating around).

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  5. Hi Lisa ,
    This is the first time Ive written to you but have been following your blog for some time. Until your blog on Williamstown Literary Festival I thought you were in New Zealand. So I felt connected when you wrote of our Melbourne lockdown and particularly as our daughter and our 3 year old granddaughter are in Spotswood and we rarely see them as we are still in self isolation over the other side of the bay. I’m a member of 2 book clubs but we havent met this year. Thanks for your blog

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    • Hello Patricia, and welcome!
      *Gasp* A Kiwi? Never. (I was once a Pom, but that was a very long time ago).
      This renewed self-isolation is very hard, because I think we were expecting to have eliminated the virus here and were going to be able to relax. Instead we feel that that Pandora has opened the box…
      I’m not a grandparent myself, but I do have some tips on how to make sure that you are a big part of your grand-daughter’s life even though you’re not in contact. I was only a granddaughter for a short while because we left England, and my grandfather died not long afterwards, and then my grandmother.
      But I had letters from her, which made her real to me, and I have most of them still. Even though your little one is only three, she will like having her *own* special letter, and will like having it read to her. (I know this because I am ‘penfriend’ to four children in my street, and they ‘write’ back to me. I’ve kept all those letters too, and my husband is enchanted by them.)
      A letter, unlike a phone call or Skype, is solid and permanent and can be revisited multiple times. It can include pictures of a garden, a dog, some knitting, and baking, which makes the letter writer even more real. Short and sweet and weekly is best. (One page, font size 16, and a picture. Add a question like ‘what is your favourite colour today?’ to make it interactive.) And don’t stress too much if no reply is forthcoming, your daughter may be very busy and not have time to invest in it. Just keep writing.
      My mother talked about my grandmother, just in an everyday way. I know that she made wonderful pastry, but when my mother asked her how, she replied that ‘any fool could make pastry’ so I know she was impatient too. She sang the songs my grandmother sang as she went about her day. She told us stories about my grandmother’s house, including the time my mother broke a vase over an intruder’s head, and he turned out to be a boarder. I know she hated Margaret Thatcher, so I know we would have bonded over that, but I also know that she went to church once a week so she would have disapproved of me!
      Hang in there, this cannot last forever.

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  6. Melbourne’s inner west does get a lot of attention, maybe because writers prefer living there. Most of them escape from the leafy eastern suburbs at the earliest opportunity – until they have kids. Once I had kids I couldn’t get back to Blackburn quickly enough.

    I wonder who does write about suburban life. Allan Wearne, Blackburn’s poet laureate, is hardly prolific. Sonya Hartnett is never specific about which city she’s in. Tsiolkas ventures briefly out to Burwood in Loaded. Murnane maybe

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    • Well, I can tell you that I know five published authors (including me) living just in my little patch of Melbourne, including bestseller Sally Hepworth, and SF writer Sue Parritt whose books I’ve reviewed on this blog. Mairi Neil ran a thriving writers group for over twenty years, with three that I know of who’ve been published, and one has won an award. That’s just me, and the people I know. There must be many more because our council used to keep a directory of creatives, and in the days when it was printed and posted out to us, it was quite a tome.
      Writers here in ‘burbs are the same as everyone else, they write about whatever interests them. But I did have a piece published in an anthology which was about driving home from the outer suburbs to ours in the middle ring…

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      • Well that’s 3 I know then. I reviewed a couple of Sue Parrit’s a few years ago.

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        • There you go….see… the burbs are full of interesting people and that includes writers!

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      • Where do I get to read your piece Lisa? I’d be most interested!

        Liked by 1 person

        • It was selected for publication in Holmesglen’s Professional Writing Diploma annual anthology, and I have a copy somewhere deep in my cupboards. but I can’t remember which issue it was in, or even what year …
          but fortunately when I had my computer disaster I was able to rescue the original from my last laptop but one. I’m not sure if it was the final after editing, I can see flaws in it, but still, it lives on!
          (I rescued some other short stories as well, they are mostly woeful.)

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    • Isn’t The slap set in suburbia? I have had an MM on suburbia in the wings for some time. One day.

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  7. Couldn’t agree more about the insular way many discuss the suburbs. It’s ridiculous, and annoying, and particularly bad in Melbourne.

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    • Yes, ridiculous is the right word.
      We may have to start a rebellion.

      Like


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