In Episode 273 of So you want to be a writer:We chat to Karen Viggers, author of the bestselling book The Lightkeeper’s Wife and The Orchardist’s Daughter. Allison goes surfing (yes, really). You’ll learn tips for doubling your freelance writing income. So you want to be a writer is going to be at Vivid Sydney 2019 and tickets are now available. Plus, we have a book pack to giveaway and more.
She writes contemporary realist fiction set in Australian landscapes, and her work explores connection with the bush, grief and loss, healing in nature, death, family, marriage and friendship. Her books tackle contentious issues including choices at the end of life, whale rescue, kangaroo culling, scientific research on animals and logging of native forests.
Karen is a wildlife veterinarian who has worked and traveled in many remote parts of Australia, from Antarctica to the Kimberley. Her novels are known for their evocative portrayal of Australian people and landscapes.
Karen’s books have been translated into French, Italian, Norwegian, Slovenian and Spanish. Her work has enjoyed great success in France, selling more than 800,000 copies to date.
Karen was a Bundanon Trust Artist-In-Residence in 2018.
(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)
Karen, congratulations on your latest book, The Orchardist’s Daughter. For those readers who haven’t read your book yet, can you tell them what it’s about?
Yes. It’s a story about three outsiders who are struggling to belong in a small Tasmanian timber town. A national parks ranger, a young woman who is being strictly controlled by her brother, and a ten year old boy being bullied at school. It’s set in the tall old growth eucalypt forests of southern Tasmania and the vast rugged mountains around there. And it’s about trees and secrets, friendship, oppression, and finding the strength to break free. That gives you a little outline.
Yeah, absolutely. Now there’s a real sense of place in this novel. You’ve chosen to set it, as you’ve said, in Tasmania. Why?
Well, I have long passionate connections with Tasmania stemming back a good 20 years ago when I went down twice to Antarctica from Hobart. And before going south as a volunteer vet, working on seals in the pack ice, and afterwards, I spent quite a lot of time in Hobart. And I have some strong friendships down there. I love Mount Wellington. I’ve spent a lot of time walking in Tasmania. Hiking. The natural environment really speaks to me. I’m a person whose whole psyche is embedded in nature and in wild places.
And I love the history, the fascinating history of Tasmania and the beautiful light. The long grey light. I don’t mind bad weather. Not that it’s bad weather all the time. It was obviously not the other day when it was very hot. But there’s very much that I love about Tasmania and I love to go back there.
You obviously don’t mind being cold, either!
Well, look, I think if you wear appropriate clothing, it’s really not an issue. So I’d rather be cold and rug up than be hot and try to cool down.
So tell us about how the idea for this book formed. The premise of this and the themes. What formed in your head first? That you were going to explore certain themes? Or you had an idea for the story?
Well, there were certain themes that I wanted to explore, which were belonging, really. And how loneliness develops if we feel like outsiders. And I think at various stages of our lives, we all have a sense of being an outsider. And we work through those things usually and find a way to fit in. Or later as we get older, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. We can accept ourselves as we are and be gregarious at times, and not at others, and not worry about it.
But I’m currently on the journey of shepherding my own teenage children through to adulthood, and I can see it’s quite an issue for them, trying to work out who they are and where they fit and how they belong and how to break from those ties of family. And how to define themselves.
And so these were themes that I wanted to explore in this novel. And I chose to centre it around young people in a small town. Firstly young people because, as I’ve said, I think it’s quite hard for them, harder for them often than adults to find that sense of belonging. And secondly because I think a small community offers you the opportunity to study human behaviour and human psyche with a really close lens.
In cities, there’s a certain degree of dilution. When there’s troubles that arise, in cities, people often don’t know that somebody is in trouble or having a struggle. But in a smaller community, where everybody knows each other, it’s harder to hide away from those things. And I wanted to ask, you know, if somebody is suffering from some sort of domestic abuse, not necessarily physical – in this novel I wanted to shine a light more on other types of more subtle types of abuse, like psychological oppression and bullying – if that’s happening to somebody in a country town, whose responsibility is it to reach out? What does it take for us to offer assistance to people in those circumstances? Or do we ignore, because it’s more uncomfortable, because we know people.
So these are things I wanted to explore.
And one of the things about that is the characterisations in this book. Can you talk a little bit as to how you developed the main characters? In terms of did you let them unfold on the page as you wrote? Or did you really flesh them out in your brain before putting pen to paper, so to speak?
I think it’s a little bit of both, Valerie. One of the main protagonists, who is the orchardist’s daughter herself, is Michaela. Micky, who is brought up isolated and home schooled on an orchard in Tasmania. And the idea for her came from having observed some friends of mine who I hadn’t seen for many years who had elected to home school their children for reasons of trying to protect them from the world. And then they layered religion over that. And when I met these children, they were in their late teens, not quite 18 and independent, but you could sense their desperation to engage with the world and to go out there and make friends. Like, they had no friends other than their immediate family. And I wanted to give voice to that restrictive life that they’d been experiencing and try to put myself in their head space and think about what they might want to say and what they’d like from the world. The ways they wanted to engage from the world.
So that came first. And then the character of Leon who emerged in The Lightkeeper’s Wife as a fully formed character with a strong voice. I wanted to take him leaving him home environment where he had stayed to protect his mother and moving to a country town where a parks ranger is not welcome because most of the community are loggers. And to see the ways in which he might try to fit in.
But Valerie, I wanted this to be a positive book, a book of hope. So it’s really a story of the ways in which each of those characters finds to be powerful and take steps towards acceptance and belonging.
So you mentioned that you were a vet. So you were a wildlife veterinarian – I’d rather just say vet. But you have written hit after hit after hit in terms of your novels. Can you just take us back to when you were being a vet and you thought, oh, I might write a novel now. How did that happen?
Well, Valerie, I still work part time as a vet. I think that’s really important to keep me in touch with the real world and it stimulates a different, the diagnostic and decision making side of my brain. And it keeps me in touch with humans and humanity and observing that important animal human bond, or human animal bond, that I explore in each of my novels.
So I was also working, I did a PhD in wildlife health and I have worked continuing, to a small degree in recent times, as a wildlife vet supporting other scientists in their field research. And what I like to do is work with animals in their natural habitat. I had the option to become a zoo vet, but that’s not where I wanted to work. I wanted to see animals where they belonged and help scientists to further their understanding of those animals.
And so it was really around that life changing time, when you have a young family, and it was difficult for me to compete as a female scientist working part time. So at that point I’d always loved writing and had always wanted to write novels. And my husband said, well, why don’t you – this always makes me laugh – why don’t you work part time as a vet, look after the family, and write in your spare time.
Because you’ve got so much time to do all of that! Because looking after your family doesn’t take much time at all!
Exactly. So what I normally do these days is I write four days a week. Just within school hours. And then I work a day, a big long day as a veterinarian in domestic animal practice. I look after the Governor General’s kangaroos and keep them healthy. A few times a year I go in and take care of them. And then if I get the opportunity, I accompany other scientists out into the field.
So I’m still fascinated about the transition. When you decided I’m going to try writing novels, had you done… You said you loved writing, but had you done much up until that point?
Well, I’d had a lifetime of jotting down ideas for novels and stories. And writing terrible poetry and keeping journals. So I kind of really figured that my training ground, though, was in the science writing field. Because when I did my PhD, a thesis is in some ways like a novel. And the important things I learned from doing that was how to complete a major project, how to edit my own work, and how to accept and work positively and constructively with criticism. Which has really helped me working with editors when I shifted to writing novels.
But I did have to make that shift from writing the really rigid structured way that you do for science.
Yes, it’s very different.
Yes. Into writing fiction. I mean, I think the fiction writer is the stronger part of my personality compared to the science writer. But I did spend six months just loosening up, doing stream of consciousness writing. Using in fact the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
That was really useful for me. And then crazily, after six months of that, I thought, right, now I’m going to dive in. And so I’ve always been a big project person. I’ve not ever really been a short story person.
Wow. Okay. So this book then, you’re generally writing these days about four days a week, combining it with your vet work. So on those four days, how structured – I suspect I know the answer here – but how structured are those days and what does that structure look like. And what do you aim for on each of those days or week or whatever?
Well, I tried… My children are now, I’ve just had one leave home, sorry, leave school, so things have shifted a little in that I have one that’s around though he’s working at the moment. But generally I would, as soon as my offspring leave in the morning for school, I do a quick whirlwind through the house, not aiming for perfection but for tolerably neat, hang a load of washing on the line. And then my office is down the end of the house. I would sit down there, disconnect the internet and try and go for it.
The internet is incredibly distracting and I am as susceptible to getting caught up in social media as anyone else. So what I like to do is have another computer on down the end of the house, so if I need to check my email, I have to think twice about it to get up and walk down the other end of the house.
And then I usually go for it. Often I get stuck and at that point I’ll take my little dog and go for a walk up in the bushland up behind our suburb. Which is funny that, how you get out walking and get out in some fresh air and nature and suddenly all those knots you’ve tied yourself in start to fall away and you can work out what you need to do to fix things.
But it’s taken me a long time between novels this time. It’s five years since my last novel came out. And it has been quite a journey. This novel, after I presented it to my publisher at Allen & Unwin, the wonderful Jane Palfreyman, who is the one who knows, I knew it wasn’t working. And I gave it to her and she said, yep, it’s not working. And these are the things that you need to focus on. And so I completely rewrote the novel.
But of course that original material wasn’t wasted. It was the foundation upon which I could start to rebuild the novel and redefine the characters in a more positive light and find the heart of the novel, which is so important if you want to connect with your readers.
So did you really disconnect the internet? That’s something that’s such a foreign concept to me! I need to clarify that. Do you really do that?
In my office, I do not connect to the internet. But the other end of the house, which is not a massive house, but I have to make a decision to stand up and walk down there.
It’s so easy to check your email, and see what somebody said in response to a comment that you made or a post that you put up. And you know, it’s easy to waste so much time that way. And I haven’t really got that much time.
So I try to be fairly strict with myself, yeah.
So with the five years between The Grass Castle, which was 2014, did you at any point feel anxious? Or the pressure of getting a book out?
Oh yes. What I did feel pressure about was in that interim time, my books had an amazing success in France. And that changed things in my head, as well. Because everyone was saying, oh, The Lightkeeper’s Wife, The Lightkeeper’s Wife, it’s gone crazy in France, sold 100,000 copies in the first month, sold now in excess of half a million copies in France. And it’s like, well, what did you do? How did you do that?
And even now when I look at The Orchardist’s Daughter, I open it and I think, how did I put that all together? It’s one of those mysteries. It’s a lot of hard work, obviously. But yeah, that was quite cramping. And the anxiety of needing to try and get something to fruition.
And it was the first time I’d understood writers block. Because usually I can sit down and write something. But for me, in the journey of this book, the real issue was working out how to unstick myself when I knew it wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it. And that was a form of block in itself. I just could not see the way through it.
And I tried all sorts of things like writing out the different scenes on bits of paper and trying to shift them around. And thinking more about the characters. And it really wasn’t until my publisher rapped me over the knuckles with a rod… Not that I wasn’t being lazy, I was just so stuck, you know? And then she said, start here, then go there, and make it more positive. Think about how you want your readers to feel at the end of the novel and rebuild it.
And once I… It’s funny that I sort of collapsed in a heap for about a month, six weeks. And then I pulled myself together and started again. And it came together. I think it’s a much stronger book.
So it was your publisher who gave you the clarity to get you unstuck, is that correct?
I think so. I think sometimes you have to descend to a certain depth of despair in order to recreate yourself, rebuild yourself, and find the way out. And I even came to the point of saying to her, is this idea worth pursuing? Or should I just throw it away and start something else. And she looked at me like I was crazy.
I kind of understand. I went to a talk by Alex Miller, and he was talking about Coal Creek and how that novel came to him in the space of ten weeks. He just – bang – wrote the whole thing. Six to ten weeks. And he said, though, at this talk that whether it takes ten weeks or ten years, there is just the work that needs to be done. And I found that really reassuring and really calming. Because great writers, greater writers than me have had difficult experiences as well and worked through them.
And I think sometimes that is the journey towards actually nailing it with a book is to do that hard work. And sometimes, I don’t know what the final answer is but little bits of distance, setting it aside and coming back to it, that does help as well. Suddenly the warts all appear in your previously perfect manuscript.
So until you got that clarity from your publisher and after you got over falling in a heap, because obviously it was a challenge and you were stuck, did you at any point in that period, even after three very successful books, one ridiculously successful, but three very successful books, did you at any point kind of go, can I do it?
Yep. I definitely did. And in fact before I wrote this novel, after The Grass Castle, I got 300 pages into another novel and then I just got to a point where I thought, it’s not working. I don’t know what to do. It’s funny. It was just a point I had to come to in my career. And I thought to myself, I’m done. I actually don’t have another book in me.
I don’t have another novel. I did.
You really thought that?
I did. And it was incredibly liberating. And I slept well for the first time in weeks and months. And you know how long that lasted?
About two or three nights. And then I woke up and I thought, oh, I have to go back and take Leon’s story and now I remember what I wanted to do with that home schooling thing. And I started again.
So now I’m going to gather the courage to go back to that other novel and see if I can fix it.
Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week you can count on us to spill the beans…
Q: Hi AWC, I have a secret to tell you.
A: Go on then, spill the beans.
Q: How did you know that was my secret?
Q: My secret was that I have no idea where the phrase “spill the beans” comes from. Please don’t tell anyone; it’s very embarrassing.
A: Um, sure. So, would you like to know?
Q: I would. Can you help?
A: Yes. Like many idioms, this one has a few theories. The first points to something that used to happen in Greece a long time ago.
Q: Oooh oooh, was it when Sandy dressed up in leather at the graduation fair and Danny sang that you’re the one that I want, ooh honey?
A: No, that was the movie Grease. We’re talking about ancient Greece.
Q: Tell me more, tell me more.
A: Well back then, people would vote for things by placing black or white coloured beans into an opaque container.
Q: Did they have people standing outside with flyers showing you how to apply your bean preferences?
A: Probably not.
A: Essentially, these were secret ballots. So if you tipped over the container – thus “spilling the beans” – everyone would know the votes.
Q: And the people counting the votes – they went on to become bean counters, right?
A: Most probably.
Q: And then the car flew up into the sky…
A: No, that’s Grease again…
Q: Ah yes. So it has also nothing to do with coffee beans and their effect on telling gossipy secrets at mothers groups?
Q: (But seriously though, did Kirsten tell you what happened to Libby?)
A: (Tell us after.)
Q: Okay. So, that’s it then? Greek origins and case closed!
A: Well that’s the main theory, but it remains a mystery as to why the phrase didn’t show itself in print until the start of the 20th century.
Q: Oh, that’s quite recent.
A: Yep. It actually first appeared in the US originally meaning to spoil or disrupt a situation, especially in horse racing or sporting contexts. For example, the unfavoured team “spilled the beans” by beating the home side. It wasn’t until a decade later that we finally saw it resemble the present-day meaning of revealing a secret.
Q: And it’s “bean” that way ever since! Haha!
A: That was terrible.
Q: Yeah, I’ve “bean” told that before.
A: Please stop.
Q: “Bean” nice chatting with ya…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!
If you’ve been playing along at home, you’ll know that recently we asked our community about their relationship with writing. In particular, “How did you first meet?”
We received hundreds of replies, and in the spirit of creative curiosity, we’ve been publishing our favourites every Thursday this month. Well done to those who wrote in and shared your stories – we love how different they all are! Enjoy…
It started as a crush, rather harmless. A puppy love if you will. I first noticed books when I was around 5, little Golden Books, and from there my crush grew and blossomed into something more. But I wasn’t satisfied just reading from a distance… No. I had to write up close. And I did, for years and years. I still do love writing. Admittedly, it is a forbidden romance, my family doesn’t take it seriously, doesn’t think it will provide for me. I’ll show them. Writing and me. We’ll be happy together. One day they’ll see… – Crystal Beaini
I was 22,
I just broke up with my girlfriend, it was my second time… breaking up with someone,
I suck at it, not that I want to be good at it… but, if I was… ya know?!
Anyway, I had trouble sleeping, I stumbled across this ‘sleep meditation’ on YouTube, turns out it was an ‘inner child, rediscovery’ thing, I left the meditation realising how much I loved creating stories, in fact! I had a story in my head right then…
Now, I capture those stories, and I found a love I never have to break up with. – Anthony Ivanov
Born a Chinese in Malaysia, Writing is not a priority, survival is. However, there is a mystery in Writing’s seduction, providing an escape to share my desires, dreams, doubts or fear without being judged. Like a pet, It loves without conditions.
I reciprocated loving Writing when I realised that my secrets were safe, It won’t tell if I don’t share with anyone else. And the more time I relax in Its company, the more It gives in return with insights, thoughts, reflections and just time to catch my breath. What is there not to love, Happy Valentine my beloved Writing! – May Chang
Our first kiss was fireworks. Not the kind of fireworks that struck awe; these fireworks sent a life of uncertainty soaring through the skies.
Fourteen is a hard age. Pen and paper had been my outlet through years of angst. But it all changed in one moment in class. I heard my words read out loud and saw the way they touched people. I suddenly knew why I’d always felt empty until that day.
It was our first date, our first touch, but more importantly, it was the last day that I was lost. We’ve been together ever since. – Sharday Hoppe
It began when I was 10. Mum gave me a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not only did I become an instant reader, but I immediately thought: “I can do this. Constructing words and sentences to make stories. I love this.” I began at once. I made my first serious effort at a novel when I was 19. I completed a novel, for the first time, when I was 22. I am still writing novels, still chasing the dream of being published and reaching people. But in the chase is the purest expression of love. – Joshua Beer
In primary school we were asked to write a story about Guy Fawkes Night. Mine was about the sadness of a firework that failed to go off on the night. But next morning two boys found the damp Catherine Wheel, dried it out, and that night, set it spinning. It was the much admired sole firework on the night after Guy Fawkes. The story won a prize and, writing won me. That was seventy years ago, and ever since, words have been spinning in my head, producing stories, plays, lyrics and copy; lighting up my life. Giving me a life. – Brian Young
I fell in love with writing accidentally. Actually – that’s not true, as it’s difficult to put pen to paper without concentrated, deliberate mental effort.
More accurately, I fell in love with writing by necessity. When you talk a million miles an hour, struggle to keep your mouth closed for the duration of an ad break, eventually that communication has to turn non-verbal.
I’m the kid who lived inside her head, who imagined worlds and stories barely capable of cohesive explanation. Asked, “What are you thinking about?”, 4-year-old-me replied “life”.
I fell in love with writing, to be heard. – Ruby Yeats
You weren’t my first love. I wish you had been now, but we got separated early by miles and miles of time and fear. You see you scared me back when I was sixteen. I wrote so deeply and intimately and put onto paper the pain in my heart and my soul that when I reread it I thought it best that my family and friends and teacher and the world not know of what blackened my life lest they also fear for me. So, I put you at a distance and shut you out. But here you are again my love. – Linda Sultmann
The book jacket was colourful. This surely meant, despite being over three hundred pages, with no illustrations, that it must be a children’s book.
“You’re too young,” said my mother.
I was five, and I was damned if I was ‘too young’.
Unfamiliar words and dense prose defeated me, but I kept coming back to struggle, sensing magic ahead – and each time I failed.
Months passed, and still I came back. A year.
And then, just like young Arthur pulling that blade, I pulled meaning from this rock of a book – and entered T.H. White’s The Sword in The Stone. – Ben Marshall
Frozen in fear for a vast many years I hid from my love. What if I was not good enough for his eloquent ways, the air of class and sophistication he wore as a sumptuous cape? I ignored his pleas for attention, turned away and lived a life full of other distractions. The full-time joy of motherhood; beautiful, fulfilling, now changing to allow time to think, to turn back to the one who had once captured my creative mind. Now, with excuses fading as with the end of day I run to that which I ran from in fear. – Lisa Cornish
We first met it in school, an arranged relationship, one that was an arduous struggle for me and frustrating for my new companion. You see, being creative and thespian, having wild dreams and lofty expectations didn’t necessarily equate to a lustful passionate coupling. There were nights of tedium and angst, followed by days of judgement and sometimes ridicule. It wasn’t until we were free from the constraints of conformity that we grew and took uninhibited risks. A warm friendship emerged and now the tentacles of love penetrate the neurons of my brain giving me reprieve from the seriousness of life. – Lisa Green
Year 7 English. Process writing. The freedom to write what I wanted. Teacher couldn’t be bothered. Puberty throbbed through me like a jungle beat.
“Who do you like Ashley?”
“I like Corey.”
“Really? Yeah, he’s so hot. What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I wanna be an astronaut.”
Nodding. I can work with that. The pen caresses the page. I detail a love affair between my friend, her crush and her dream life. A romance blossoms at NASA.
Little did I know that I was falling deeply in love myself.
“Who do you like?”
Not who. It’s a what. And it’s love. – Marnie Etheridge
We met in a room full of spotty schoolgirls. It was love at first sight. I was studying that year’s set reading material when writing gave me a nudge. “Together we could shake the world! Put this rubbish out of your life, dispose of it, we can do better!
I listened, I agreed. Writing was charming, alluring, I succumbed, I scribbled all over the boring pages. Shakespeare had never been so sullied, but I believed what writing said. I was lost.
I got an order mark and was sent to detention for ruining school property. – Isabel Wallace
“It was a dark and stormy night…”
Ah, the rubbish I read snuggled up in bed with my head under the covers with a torch, long after my parents had said “lights out.”
First came my love of escape to another world, then later, an overwhelming urge to create places of my own, stories with a twist, anecdotes with humour.
So reading was my first love, and I share him now with another love. A beautiful menage a trois and of course, a happy ending. – Astrid Thompson
The lady in her black-rimmed square glasses had her dark eyes glued to the clock hanging at the far end of the class.
The music started playing as the hour hand struck twelve.
My sweaty fingers reluctantly dropped the blue ballpoint pen onto the sheet of words.
An hour later, we had returned to our seats for the continuation of the descriptive writing class.
“So we have a writer amongst us”, she said, adjusting her conspicuous glasses which were too large an accessory for her small circular face.
And she starts reading out loud…
My heart skipped a beat. – Usha Amudan
We met as young children in the classroom, my teacher insisting we be friends. She said our play was imaginative, but parental influence targeting success and the mighty buck would see us grow distant. You lingered in hidden journals and poetry, but my focus was forced to technology and ties not constantly nurtured become undone.
After decades of a tenuous link, opportunity came knocking, or was it you? The rope of career severed, time to discover my passion was available. You pushed your way into my periphery until I couldn’t ignore you anymore. Our love is a work in progress. – Debbie Gravett
My writing is an extension of two parts of me: who I am and who I want to become. My first stories were about the future: a place that was better. I wrote about heroines who were perfected versions of me. They weren’t growing up in the midst of trauma and chaos like I was. I also wrote diary entries, poetry and songs to help me cope with the trauma and chaos of being black, poor, and having a mentally unstable parent. Somehow I’m still here. I even made it through school and University. Writing was therapy. Writing was love. – Bre A.
It all started when we got a massive desktop computer. I opened Word and the ideas started flowing to me. I would write not only on the computer but in exercise books I found anywhere and everywhere. Notepads. Journals. My arm. To this day I’ve been in love with writing. We’ve been sweethearts for years and it’ll stay that way forever. I can tell the stories I want to hear. I can experience things that would never happen to me in real life. It has a special place that is close to my heart. – Lauren Darcy
An outback childhood left me too shy to join discussions about boyfriends and clothes in university college. I looked up at stars and prayed for love.
At Australian Youth Orchestra, a handsome violinist signalled his interest by gazing open-mouthed at me during rehearsals. Antoni bought me an unaccustomed lunch cocktail. Before launching into the high clarinet solo, I winked at him. He lost his place in the music.
Before Skype and emails, “snail” letters cemented our long-distance romance. I waited weeks for Antoni’s first missive, which consisted of a cross word puzzle centred around my name. Who could resist that? – Ruth Bonetti
Green was not really green. Reds and Pinks were faded, colour drained out. Purple did not exist.
I unloaded a pencil, broke it down to a nub. Uncovered in led a new spectrum of colour.
My hearing returned. Ears ecstatic as they heard unnatural, alien things. The sound of other people’s voices! To every person and being I no longer felt apart. I no longer fell apart.
I had thought myself floating, partially submerged in a limitless ocean. Now I was in space on the moon, somersaulting and totally free in gravity. The ocean was not limitless, I was. – Alex Ternezis
One of my earliest and most treasured memories is irrevocably associated with strong aftershave. I was four years old, and a relative from Ireland was living with us. He’d stuck around for longer than planned, since he’d taken a shine to a young lady a few doors down, hence the aftershave. To compensate for outstaying his welcome, he had a habit of buying gifts for us children. One day, it was a paperback copy of The Hobbit. Later, he asked me if I wanted to read another story like it. I told him I wanted to create one. – Mark Aspinall
“Kaitlan, please see me after class about your paper.” I shuddered. My seventh-grade English teacher had a knack for intimidation and, despite my history as an exceptional student, I was a blithering idiot under her tip-top standards. “This story – superb. I read it out loud to my entire family last night and submitted it to a young writers’ competition. You have a real gift, I bet you’ll be an author one day.” With shock subsiding, I headed off to the next class with that warm fuzzy feeling that you’ve found something, a love, just for you. And so it began. – Kate Downes
Past bedtime, under torchlight, swallowing books whole, well into each night.
Dialogue next, in the relative safety of my head, then a secret exercise book for scenes and stories. Undercover.
Once, I vomited up a poison-poem, later lauded as some sort of songwriting. My name on my story, so I ran away.
Blink. Twenty years pass.
I think, perhaps I’ll write some things. Small things. Some small, good things made into small films.
And now? Finally! Homewards to my first love, petrified and thrilled and wide awake when I probably shouldn’t be.
Like a girl of three. – Sara Pensalfini
Shadowy words used to tiptoe around inside my head, keeping me awake until dawn, crying out for daylight and someone to tell their tale. Creative writing workshop advertised the local paper and so began a fifty year hunger only words could feed. Blank templates cried out for dreamtime glimmers to be nurtured and passion flowed through my now arthritic fingers as short stories materialised. Draft novels, playfully teased along chapter by chapter, provided ample opportunity for romance, although my husband was still willing. I’m mature now, never old, and writing is still the meaning of life. – Sue Clayton
After being cajoled into meeting my son at a writers’ retreat weekend, I arrived with a fist full of sharpened pencils and a gut full of butterflies. Surrounded by strangers who all seemed to know each other, I chose a seat beside the friendliest looking participant and kept the space to my left free for my son, and watched the door for his arrival. A text message informed me that he’d been held up and couldn’t make it. Despite wanting to run out in a panic I stayed and, five years later, I’m still writing. Thanks son! – Catherine Doris
I’ve always loved reading. “Precocious brat,” my brother would say, as I read “Squirrel Nutkin” over and over. I knew the story, some words were tricky. By the time I was four and starting school, I was a fluent reader.
I wanted to write similar stories, but it was difficult with baby fingers on large black pencils. As a lefthander, work would smudge.
With fast fingers and faster computers, I can now write a story as quickly as I can think it. To go faster, I can dictate. Lefthander, righthander, no longer matters. It’s all in the love of story… – Helen Armstrong
The first time we met you hit me like a ton of books, you were unique, funny and everyone loved you, but you didn’t stick around. I was young, just a teenager and I didn’t know what I had. As the years passed I saw you from time to time, popping in with a funny limerick or poem, but we both knew the time wasn’t right for us. Then it happened! I found my voice and realised we are meant to be. I filled with passion as words poured from my fingertips, we are finally together, and I love you. – Toni Austen
Writing can be a lot like doing the laundry. You put a jumble of ideas and words into the machine and then— actually, this simile isn’t doing it for us. Let’s just get to the winning Furious Fiction stories!
For March’s criteria, we sent many into a spin cycle by offering up a picture and a theme. There were tears, there were tantrums, but most of all, there were dirty clothes. Here’s what we asked for:
THE PICTURE (shown above) should inspire your story’s setting.
THE THEME of your story is to be ‘CURIOSITY’.
Many had to let this one soak a while. On the curiosity front, there were lots of cats or people named Cat/Kat (killing or being killed) and plenty of people-watching. Every piece of the image was picked clean – from stories featuring the plants, carpet, chair stain and even the real reason they’re closed Friday 21st. Of course, the image simply had to INSPIRE the story’s setting, so it was also okay to not take it too literally.
Which brings us to this month’s winner – big congratulations to J. Forrest of Victoria. Your ticket has indeed come up and won you $500! You can read her story and a selection of shortlisted others from this month below.
MARCH 2019 WINNER
TICKET 500 by J. Forrest
You’ve probably walked past me in the street. I’m just another nameless face. Truth is I don’t know you either. I’m a stranger too. But I am curious about you. I paint a picture in my mind after you’ve unknowingly let me in. I get up close to the fabric of your life. At the front you left an overflowing basket and garment bag needing separation and order. My effort in the back refreshes the uniform for each role you play and have played. I’m part of your life’s maintenance crew, from the mundane to the moments that define it.
Time to work.
So much lycra in the brightest of hues; their possibilities are endless. What do you use them for? Are you up before dawn pounding the pavement pushing your limits or is nirvana in your mind’s eye as you perfect each asana in a hot yoga studio? I admire your discipline for physical pursuits.
Green and white stripes tumble out one after the other. Some big and some small. The cup game was last week. They lost. The little stripes must have been sad. The big stripes made a trip for hamburgers and thick shakes at The Shack behind the stadium to cheer them up. The chocolate stains suggest they succeeded.
Prada’s label is stark among Target’s staples. All similar sleek, black suit pants. The Prada has better tailoring but is rather shabby after closer scrutiny. Obviously a favourite but why not replaced? Maybe the designer tag was enough to get you in the door but your stellar skills have kept you there. You know how to the play the game but made your own rules. I like your style.
Your wedding dress is exquisite. Time must have stopped when they saw you. When he saw you. I needed all of my expertise to handle the fabric and beading. The intricacies were a work of art. Did the train glide across golden sand as the sky burned from orange through to pink when you walked down the aisle? Or perhaps your groom stood in the drawing room of a stately manor on a winter morning waiting for your arrival. Was he handsome, your groom? I bet he was. I picture a man and woman excited on their big day transforming into husband and wife with enduring love. A smile spreads on my face at the thought of a strangers happy marriage.
And with that I am finished with Ticket 500.
Ticket No. 500
Annual Wedding Dress Preservation
Collection Date: Tuesday afternoon
On Tuesday afternoon I’ll stay behind the scenes. I would prefer not to know exactly who you are. I enjoy the anonymous narration of your life and look forward to dreaming up your latest endeavours with the material you provide me.
What we loved:
Beautifully paced and charmingly voyeuristic (no murder weapon in sight!), this story has curiosity at its core – taking the picture as inspiration and adding a dry cleaning business on the side. Our anonymous narrator’s theories about the clothing is a version of a game we all play – conjuring up entire stories for people based solely on fleeting observations. Here, each of ticket 500’s items tells a nuanced and personal story – and whether they’re true or not is irrelevant. We loved the line, “I’m part of your life’s maintenance crew” and the insight we get from one of these “behind the scenes” players in all our lives is wonderfully expressed. (We also realised working there would be a great job for a budding writer – so much material to work with!)
POLY-BLEND by Rosie Double
“Don’t leave ya knickers unattended, luv.”
Ava jumped. “Sorry, what?”
“Ya knickers,” Jodie said, pointing to the washing machine. “If you leave ‘em in there too long, someone’ll nick ‘em.”
Jodie had a hard voice and fake red nails, both competing for most memorable feature.
“Ahh, right. Yeah sorry, just… daydreaming I guess. Do you want this machine?”
“Oh hunny. I don’t come here to wash… I come here to watch,” Jodie said, like it was the most normal thing in the world. Like Ava was the one who was actually a bit off to be doing laundry there on a Tuesday.
Sure, Ava was curious about what sort of person would say that. But not curious enough to ask why. She’d been thinking about being back in bed with Steve and a bottle of red. And what it would take to make him happy again. He’d seemed a bit tired since they’d moved in, bored even. She wanted to keep thinking on it. Or honestly, obsessing over it.
So she gave Jodie a funny little half-smile that she hoped would say ‘thank you but I don’t want to talk right now’.
But all it did was encourage Jodie more.
“You would not believe the kind of things you see in here,” she said. “You can tell a lot about a person by the way they do their washing, wouldn’t you agree? Do they soak? Separate? Fold even? … It’s very intimate,” she added.
“Mmmm,” Ava gave a non-committal kind of nod as she shuffled her clothes into the dryer. What was the shortest cycle she could get away with, she wondered. She hated damp socks, but did she hate this more?
Jodie went on.
“That’s how I found out that the woman in 2B was having something with the man in 23C. But he was also getting it on with both girls in 26A. He had very distinct poly-blend briefs, you see”.
Ava did not see. Did not want to see.
“I know what you’re thinking,” she continued breathlessly. “Maybe they were all dating different people with the same briefs. But the thing is, these were no ordinary undies. They were, almost shiny maybe. Definitely uncomfortable. Too tight to be of any good to anybody. Not my cup of tea really, but then again, it takes all sorts doesn’t it.”
Round and round Jodie’s words went, faster and louder, like she’d spent so much time in the place she was becoming a spin cycle herself.
But Ava wasn’t listening any more.
She’d always hated Steve’s bloody poly-blends.
What we liked: The first hilarious thing we learn about Jodie is that her hard voice and fake nails are competing to be her most memorable feature. This unwanted interruption to Ava’s day kicks off a scenario we’ve probably all been in with a talkative stranger. To call this a back-and-forth dialogue is perhaps misleading – after all Jodie’s word count here is 166 to Ava’s 16 (yep, we counted!). But we enjoyed the natural vibe and balance of this gossipy freight train with Ava’s body language. Jodie doesn’t come here to wash, she comes here to watch (love that line) – and she’s a fun “undie-sleuth” character to introduce, getting her kicks from airing others’ dirty laundry and ultimately bringing this story to its hilariously tragic end. Never trust a poly-blend.
A TALE OF LAUNDROMAT LOVE by Susannah Hardy
A pair of lacy knickers peers out through the side of the washing basket and sighs heavily, her spirit fading just as much as her once pretty peach-coloured skin.
‘There has to be more to life than this,’ she says to herself.
A row of washing machines churns energetically in front of her, while queues of overflowing bags and baskets wait patiently on the side table. Feeling hot and suffocated, she pushes her way to the top of the pile, squeezing through the crowd of t-shirts, random socks and floral skirts.
She finally reaches the peak and gasps for air. The room is thick with heat from the dryers, but she doesn’t care. She simply gazes dreamily through the smudgy glass door, wondering, not for the first time, what might lie beyond. What adventures are out there waiting to happen? If only there was a way to escape the endless spin cycles and the washing powder that makes her itch. If only she could find some excitement and glamour, the life that a pair of lacy peach knickers should be leading.
‘What’s the point of it all?’ she says to a nearby blouse, who merely grunts a non-committal reply.
Through the front window, the branch of a nearby tree captures her attention. As it sways in the wind, she closes her eyes and imagines the breeze against her sheer silky skin. Even hanging on a line in the hot summer sun would be better than this factory-like feel.
Suddenly the basket jerks, shaking her back to reality a moment too late. She feels herself sliding downwards, sailing through the air and landing gently on the garish and rarely vacuumed carpet. She lies as still as possible, while her basket is picked up and emptied into the next free washing machine. She watches from afar, waiting patiently until everything is pulled out, dried, folded and returned to the basket.
She can’t believe her luck! Tentatively, she creeps her way towards the glass door. Closer and closer, she can almost hear the chirp of birds in the nearby tree. Until suddenly, she is snatched from the floor and tossed into a different basket, surrounded by clothes that she doesn’t recognise. Boxer shorts, black t-shirts, sports socks and a weighty pair of jeans.
‘Are you okay?’ asks a pair of stretchy steel grey boxers.
‘Yes, I think so.’
She looks at the boxers, her slinky peachy skin tingling like never before.
‘Are you lost?’ he asks.
‘Yes,’ she says shyly. ‘But I don’t mind.’
He grins. ‘Me neither.’
Before they say another word, she’s picked up by a strong leathery hand and placed in another, a familiar one that’s softer and smells of roses. Back in her basket, she’s heading swiftly for the door.
‘See you next week, I hope,’ calls out Steel Grey Boxers.
‘Yes, see you then.’
She smiles happily, wishing it were next Saturday already. Maybe life isn’t too bad. Maybe there is a point to it after all.
What we liked:
The secret life of laundry – now there’s something we’d like to see explored more. This story grabbed us with this quirky, strong opening. Personifying the clothing items immediately made sense and gave us a new perspective on this banal location. (The non-committal grunt from the blouse was brilliant!) The concept of the wistful knickers longing for a more interesting life was intriguing and kept us interested throughout. Ultimately, this tale of fleeting love succeeded in using all the senses and humour well. Roll on next Saturday.
UNTITLED by Ian Orchard
Josh was loading dirty clothes into the middle machine of three in the laundry when a woman entered.
Which was surprising.
Not once in the six months Josh had been using the laundry had he encountered another person. And because he had come to believe he was the only person who used it (where did everyone else go?) Josh had begun using each machine in turn, so as not to wear one out before another.
Now here he was using the middle, which meant the woman would have to use one next to him, denying them both the space for modesty. The woman was stocky like him, young, wearing a pink T-shirt and grey sport leggings which emphasised her chunky muscularity. He continued loading, hoping she would not see his fraying jocks, stretched T-shirts, or socks with toe holes. And he made sure to unsee anything that came out of the bag she was carrying.
Josh was about to push coins into the slot to start the machine when the woman said: “Crap. I didn’t bring any change.”
There was silence, until, in a rash act of chivalry that arrived unbidden and was out of his mouth before he could stop it, Josh said: “Tell you what. I’ve only got a small load and these are big machines. Why don’t you put yours in with mine?”
The quick wash cycle took 55 minutes, or a lifetime if you were Josh, who spent the time thinking of something to say but rejecting all ideas at birth. Then they had to sort through the intimately intertwined damp clothes, Josh snatching at anything of his before she could examine it too closely.
They lived in the same block of flats, and as they got in the lift the woman said, “My name is Tasha, by the way. I live in number 20. In case you find any of my stuff with yours.”
“Okay,” said Josh, and managed to blurt out his own flat number just before he had to step out of the lift.
Inside his flat he tipped the damp laundry onto the bathroom floor while he set up the spindly drying rack from K-mart. He picked up a T-shirt, and a bright red garment fell out. Lacy. Flimsy. He picked it up, gingerly. A thong. He had often wondered about them. Why did women wear them? They didn’t look very comfortable, that thin piece of material between your buttocks. And what happened when you walked?
He impulsively dropped his shorts and slipped on the thong. It was light, a bit tight but the lace was not as rough as he had thought it would be. He lifted his shirt to examine his rear in the mirror. The front door opened, which it did sometimes because it was warped and did not latch properly. Josh stepped out of the bathroom to close it, and there was Tasha, with one of his socks in her hand.
What we liked:
Poor Josh. First his illusion of introvert-heaven is smashed when another person invades his laundry time, and now he’s left with a lot of lacy explaining to do. How we get from start to finish includes a quirky yet relatable ritual of sharing his laundry among each machine and a realistic internal thought process that showed effective insight into Josh’s character, without having to spell it out. At this point, we’ll say that yes, this month we read a lot of stories that featured red g-strings, but we liked how Josh explored his curiosity in this one!
THE CYCLE by Mary Griffiths
Your day always starts out the same way.
The worn plastic sign flips from “closed” to “open”. The fluorescent lights flicker on, one tube at a time. The machines sit silently, their doors hanging open in anticipation. You wait for the customers to arrive. At least, this is how it’s been for the last six months or so. It’s the longest you’ve stayed in the one place since you can remember. What is it about the coin laundry that keeps you here, you wonder.
At first, it was necessity. You recall the way the wind bit at your ankles the day you found it. It was the plants in the window that caught your eye, their bright green complexion defying the wintery conditions outside (later you would find out they are fake). As you stood with your fingers pressed to the glass, you felt the warmth radiating from the whirring machines inside and savoured the faint smell of soap. A sign on the door announced they were hiring.
Then, after a while, you started to recognise people coming and going. There is a couple that stops by often, their youthful skin covered in tattoos and piercings. They sit side by side on the red upholstered chairs while the machines spin, talking too softly for you to hear. There is an old woman with a stooped back wheeling her shopping cart behind her. She raises a brown paper bag to her lips frequently. They don’t acknowledge you but you feel a sense of familiarity, almost belonging.
Today is Saturday (the street is always busier on the weekend). A young boy approaches. He has blonde hair and walks with a bounce in his step. He’s alone, but you can tell by the way he’s dressed that he’s well cared for. His clothes are just the right size and the shoelaces on his sneakers are tied neatly in bows. He stops at the entrance, looking for reassurance. Looking straight at you.
His mother appears from around the corner, flustered. She looks more relaxed now that she’s spotted him. That is, until she sees you. He takes a step towards you. His nose wrinkles slightly at the smell but he doesn’t retreat. He’s about to say something when his mother grabs him by the hand and leads him away.
He’s too young to read the words scrawled in black marker on the cardboard propped in front of you. She chooses not to.
What we liked:
The set up here is simple enough. Worker in a laundromat reflecting on getting the job and making observations about the comings and goings during each shift. It’s only as the story unfolds we realise that this is a shift that doesn’t end and this narrator isn’t behind the counter but outside the store. While we did have a number of stories that dealt with the subject of homelessness and laundromats (the two apparently go hand in hand), this one told the story in the most efficient way. We liked the double play in the title too – some cycles stop after 30 minutes, others last years.
On that note, check out and maybe support Orange Sky – a charity that brings the concepts of homelessness, laundry and storytelling together. (We have no affiliation with them whatsoever; it just seemed like a nice place to end this month’s stories.)
Internationally published children’s author Allison Taitand national director of the Australian Writers’ Centre Valerie Khoohost the top-rating podcast So You Want To Be a Writer. For Vivid Ideas Exchange, they expand their dialogue into a panel discussion with audience participation to help aspiring writers determine the exact steps they need to take to get into their chosen writing field.
Award-winning authors Candice Fox and Pamela Freemanjoin proceedings. Candice is the Number 1 New York Times bestselling author of crime fiction. Pamela is author of over 30 books for adults and children. Together the panel share their experience and provide top tips for emerging writers. Find out how they’ve each evolved a passion for writing into a full-time career. The session is particularly relevant to those in roles they’d prefer to transition away from to become full-time creatives.
The panellists’ expert advice is invaluable. Bring your notebooks and scribble down those questions for the post-panel Q&A session. Anyone curious to explore the world of writing and publishing will gain insights into how to break into the industry. This is an ideal event for connecting with like-minded writers, discovering opportunities and getting inspired to achieve your writing goals.
“The Trust’s Creative Time Residential Fellowships aim to be a gift of time, enabling authors or illustrators to take up a one-month residency to concentrate intensively on the research, development and/or editing of new work for readers up to the age of 18.
“Fellowships are away from home at a time to suit you. The Trust provides travel to and from, and delightful rent-free accommodation and local support in one of our three host cities – Adelaide, Canberra or Brisbane.
“To be eligible to apply for a 2019 fellowship you must have had at least one title for children or young adults published by a trade publisher.
“Selection Committee members assess each application taking into consideration:
The clarity of the rationale for the proposed project(s)
The contribution the Fellowship is likely to make to the development of the applicant’s creative skills and career
The Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA) is hosting a series of national events in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to enable readers and writers of romance fiction to get together.
The guest speakers at the Romantic Rendezvous will be international bestselling authorsCeleste Bradley and Keri Arthur, who will attend all four events. They will be supported in each centre by a wide range of Australian writers, including winners of ARRA’s reader-determined annual awards and the RUBY (the Romance Writers of Australia’s awards), as well as nominees for the RITA awards, the Romance Writers of America’s annual awards and the Oscars of the romance world.
Romance novels are written mostly by women about women for women. This is because, as a genre, romance encompasses all the life-changing events people undergo, the highs and lows, from birth through marriage, divorce and death, as well as breakups, career highlights and disappointments, domestic abuse and other violence against women and myriad other life events.
The difference between romance and other genres is its focus on relationships and an upbeat, empowering ending. Reading a romance novel after a bad day or while going through a dark period uplifts, empowers and inspires readers to keep going.
Romance is the third biggest selling genre in print in Australia with annual sales of 1.4 million copies. However, it is in the ebook market that romance really comes into its own and it is believed ebook sales make romance the second or most likely bestselling genre overall. Figures are difficult to come by as they are not measured the way print books are. However, Harlequin Australia sold 300,000 ebooks in 2017 and a large number of independent (self-published) authors in the genre publish almost exclusively in ebook.
In America, figures provided by the Romance Writers of America, include:
The romance fiction industry is worth $1.08 billion dollars a year, which makes it about a third larger than the inspirational book market, and about the size mystery and science fiction/fantasy genre combined.
Thirty-nine percent of all romance novels are purchased in digital format, 32% in mass market paperback, 18% in trade paperback format and 9% in hardcover. Only 1% is currently purchased as an audiobook but this is a growing segment.
The circle of romance readers is huge and dedicated. The number 29 million in America of whom 84% are women and 41% between the ages of 30 and 54 years.
Romance novels regularly top the major bestseller lists (New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today)
The Australian market is significantly smaller than the American one but is otherwise similar in profile. Australian authors write smart, witty, sexy romance which is in demand all over the world. Sub-genres include contemporary, historical, romantic suspense, rural/small town, romantic comedies, paranormal, fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, military, m/m romance, LBGQTI, and erotic.
The full list of signing authors, including AWC alumnus Penelope Janu, who will attend the Sydney event, is available here.
Earlier this month The Australian Publishers Association announced the 2019 ABIA longlist.
This announcement marks the lead up to the premier event on the Australian book industry calendar. The ABIA Awards night will be held on Thursday 2 May 2019, right in the middle of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The red carpet event will be hosted by Casey Bennetto at Sydney’s International Convention Centre. Tickets are on sale now.
Celebrating the achievements of authors, publishers, editors, illustrators, designers, publicists and marketers, this award night is The Oscars for the bookish. The ABIAs showcase the collaborative efforts of authors and industry professionals who bring quality books to Australian and international markets.
The ABIA Academy – a group of more than 250 representatives drawn from across the industry – have selected books published in 2018 for awards across a range of categories including book and audiobook awards and awards that acknowledge the business of publishing and marketing Australian books to readers here and around the world.
It’s the time of the year where you look at that ambitious list of resolutions from January and wonder – where on earth have the days gone? Why haven’t I achieved anything? The good news is, there are still plenty of opportunities to get started on your writing and improve your craft! It’s never too late. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get along to some literary events.
Attending writers and readers festivals is a great way to find inspiration, hear from established authors, find great advice, and connect with other readers and writers. If you go in with the mentality of “I must make the most out of this!” then yes, it will be daunting. Take the pressure off yourself. Go with a relaxed attitude and just enjoy the events for what they are, and you’ll find that you learn a lot and hopefully make some new friends.
To that end, here’s a list of the best literary and writers festivals to look forward to for the rest of the year.
Newcastle Writers Festival – 5-7 April 2019 – Newcastle, NSW Offering workshops, masterclasses, seminars, book launches, concerts, and a tour of the regional library archives, the Newcastle Writers Festival really does have something for everyone. And there’s even a 1920s themed party in the museum on the Saturday night. There’s also a dedicated program for kids with authors presenting workshops for K-2, Years 3-4, and Years 5-6, so it really is a festival for the whole family.
Some of the confirmed guests include Chloe Hooper, Christian White, Clementine Ford, Gillian Triggs, Holly Throsby, Kerry O’Brien, Michael Robotham, Oliver Phommavanh, Serena Geddes, Zanni Louise, and many, many more. Topics cover everything from queer and feminist representation to artificial intelligence, the lure of small towns and writing plot twists. Best of all, many of the sessions are free!
Fitzroy Writers Festival – 6 April 2019 – Fitzroy, Vic Launching this year, the Fitzroy Writers Festival is promising a jam-packed line-up of authors, artists, booksellers, musicians and writers. Workshops and panels are free – but you need to register – and there will be plenty of activities for kids, too. Confirmed speakers include Catherine Deveny, Maxine Beneba Clarke, and Justin Heazlewood.
Australian Storytellers Festival – 7 April 2019 – Fremantle, WA This one is for lovers of children’s and YA stories. The free Australian Storytellers Festival offers a smorgasbord of Australian authors and illustrators with insightful talks, illustration demonstrations, hands-on activities, readings, book signings and music. The Festival is designed with kids in mind but sessions are suitable for adults as well.
Sydney Writers’ Festival – 29 April-5 May 2019 – Sydney, NSW The Sydney Writers’ Festival bills itself as Australia’s biggest celebration of writing and ideas, and it’s hard to disagree. During the week, more than 300 events will be held across Sydney, featuring both local and international writers.
Gusts include Man Booker Prize winner George Saunders, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Fatima Bhutto, Antony Beevor and Susan Orlean. Topics cover children’s literature, sport, multiculturalism, astrology, history and more. Most conversations and panels are ticketed at around $35, but there are also several free events, including Family Day which features a mobile reading bus and activities for littlies.
Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival – 3-5 May 2019 – Margaret River, WA The Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival is the biggest regional literary event in Western Australia, with local and international writers (and readers!) converging on Voyager Estate for a celebration of storytelling. A free shuttle bus runs between Margaret River Town to the estate twice each day.
This year’s guests include Anna Funder, Germaine Greer, Chris Hammer, Kylie Howarth, Michael Leunig, Kim Scott, and Holden Sheppard. As well as the usual vast array of discussions, there will also be workshops with handy topics such as “Write drunk, edit sober” and “Creating art with heart”.
Most talks are $10 each while workshops are either free, $25 or $50 per participant. There are also day passes available, however, Saturday is already sold out as is the three-day festival pass!
NT Writers’ Festival – 16-19 May 2019 – Alice Springs, NT The NT Writers’ Festival alternates each year between Darwin and Alice Springs and the changing landscapes each year lend a unique flavour to the festival. The full program will be released in April, but confirmed speakers so far include Morris Gleitzman, Patti Miller and Violet Wadrill. Previous festivals have focused on Indigenous and South-East Asian voices and this year’s theme is lyapirtneme/returning.
The four-day festival features ideas, culture, conversation, story walks, book launches, talks and more.
Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival – 16-19 May 2019 – Penola, SA Now in its 28th year, the Penola Coonawarra Festival covers all the arts but has a few events dedicated to readers and writers. Situated halfway between Adelaide and Melbourne, the region is renowned for its great food and wine – integral parts of the festival!
Willy Lit Fest – 15-16 June 2019 – Williamstown, VIC Williamstown Literary Festival – known affectionately as Willy Lit Fest – will be headlined this year by Kerry O’Brien and Andy Griffiths. Last year’s event featured every genre conceivable, with talks by picture book writer Jacqueline Harvey, and crime writers Sarah Bailey and James Phelan, as well as romance authors, sci-fi writers and everything in between. There are also practical workshops and kids events.
Sessions cost between $7.50 and $40 although early bird and concession rates are available. The full program will be released in early April.
Outback Writers’ Festival – 25-27 June 2019 – Winton, Qld For a truly unique setting, head along to the Outback Writers’ Festival in Winton, in the central west outback of Queensland. The draft program for this year includes popular romance authors Fiona McArthur and Janette Paul (aka Jaye Ford).
One of the aims of the festival is to encourage children of isolated and rural families and indigenous children to engage in more reading and writing of stories that they can associate with – so it’s well worth your support!
Canberra Writers Festival – 22-25 August 2019 – Canberra, ACT This year’s three-day celebration of literature, reading, writing and writers will be held all across Canberra, with most events costing around $35 (concessions available). Last year’s guests included Maggie Beer, Jack Heath, Karen Viggers, and Kathy Lette. The Canberra Writers Festival has a rich schedule of talks, events, and book launches, as well as workshops and family-friendly activities.
Brisbane Writers Festival – 5-8 September 2019 – Brisbane, Qld The Brisbane Writers Festival has a sterling pedigree, going now for 57 years! The event is held over four days at the State Library of Queensland and QAGOMA and features a dazzling array of events, talks and workshops. Last year’s event had a stellar lineup of special guests including Veronica Roth, Lauren Weisberger, Tim Rogers, Dr Karl, and Irvine Welsh.
Each year, a whole day is dedicated to YA literature and there’s also an education program for young readers, storytellers and illustrators.
Terror Australis – 31 Oct-3 Nov 2019 – Huon Valley, Tas And now one especially for crime and thriller writers! This year, the focus is on women writers, with the theme Murder She Wrote. Featuring Tara Moss, Kerry Greenwood and Sulari Gentill, the line up is definitely to die for.
According to the website, this will be “your chance to explore dangerous stories, expand your nefarious knowledge and connect through wicked words” over the course of one spooky Halloween weekend.
And if the idea of connecting with other readers and writers fills you with dread – check out our course How to Build Your Author Platform for advice on building your brand, creating an engaged community of followers, and figuring out which platforms are right for you. Writers at any stage of their career can benefit from building their network. Remember, networking is just communication! And if you’re a writer, you’re already a communicator. Find out more here.
This week we have a page-turning 3-BOOK PACK TO WIN. Books guaranteed to keep you reading until late into the night.
Close to Home by Alice Pung [non-fiction]
Close to Home brings together Alice Pung’s most loved writing, on topics such as migration, family, art, belonging and identity. Warm, funny, moving and unfailingly honest, this is Alice at her best – an irresistible pleasure for fans and new readers alike. In 2006, Alice Pung published Unpolished Gem, her award-winning memoir of growing up Chinese-Australian in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Listen to our fabulous interview with Alice Pung on So you want to be a writer podcast.
Sisters and Brothers by Fiona Palmer [contemporary fiction]
A poignant novel of heartbreak, adoption and a father’s love by beloved bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer. Five very different people – all connected but separated by secrets from the past – could be facing their futures together. After all, friends will come and go but sisters and brothers are forever…
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman [crime and thriller]
The perfect couple commit the perfect crime in this New York Times bestselling thriller, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick.
Mark and Erin seem to have it all until Mark loses his job and cracks start to appear in their perfect life.
They book their dream honeymoon and trust that things will work out – after all, they have each other. On the tropical island of Bora Bora Mark takes Erin scuba diving. Mark is with her – she knows he’ll keep her safe. Everything will be fine. Until they find something in the water…
Where do you like read? Do you have a special chair, or perhaps you love curling up in bed at the end of the day? To enter, tell us about your favourite reading nook in 25 words or fewer. The entry that we judge the best will win the prize pack.
ENTER USING THE FORM BELOW.
Entries close midday Monday 25 March 2019, Sydney/Melbourne time.
First Name *
Last Name *
Please select oneNSWVICQLDWAACTSANTTASOutside Australia
Competition entry *
(NOTE: If you win, we’ll contact you via email. Winners must acknowledge their win and provide a sending address within 7 days of notification or they will forfeit the prize and a new winner will be chosen.)