The Best of the Fest – MWF

When I think of way to describe last nights ‘The Best of the Fest’ session of the Melbourne Writers Festival all I can think of is fun. Sponsored by the University of Melbourne with some great local and international writers the session could have easily turned into a wanky lovefest. But with Catherine Deveny as the host the pace was set early, this was going to be a fast-paced and exciting show. It was advertised as a ‘an early evening, late-night-TV-chat-show-type of event’ and that is just how it felt.

The first guest was Bryce Courtenay. I had never seen Bryce Courtenay talk before, and I have’t read any of his books. I will admit that I had a very stereotyped view of how I expected him to be. But when he began to be interviewed I knew instantly that I was wrong.  He got up off his chair and walked around the stage, engaging the audience who hung on every word he said. Sometimes he even yelled at us. Some of the key things that I learned from him were:

  • That he uses an 18 word sentence to describe what his book is about while he writes it. E.g. ‘this book is about <insert 18 words>. Sometimes this takes him months.
  • He doesn’t apply excessive detail. He will write ‘a beautiful woman walks into the room’ and no more detail than that. According to him, it is up to the reader to imagine the rest because beauty is different for all people.
  • He begins with a character in mind first, the plot comes later.

Next was Ben Pobjie with some spoken words. By the end of his set I had tears streaming down my face from laughter with his spoken word poem based on Fleetwood Mac’s You Make Loving Fun. Ben used to write for the New Matilda and writes for The Drum.

I am a big fan of Alice Pung so it was great to hear her talk. Her autobiography, An Unpolished Gem was fantastic and since reading it 3 years ago I have recommended it to as many people as I can. Alice is a lawyer, so her approach to writing differs to Courtenay’s. She finds a story that needs to be told before she writes. According to her the best part of promoting her work is working with the school groups. When Deveny asked if she would rather be writing or reading, she replied that she would rather be ‘doing things’, like visiting country towns. She stated that you don’t have much to write about if you don’t experience new things. She ended by debunking the myth that when writers are not writing they are thinking about writing: “when I am at work I’m at work, when I’m writing I’m writing and when I am baking, I’m baking.”

Next we had two quick songs by Steve Kilby and then it was time for China Mieville. I’m not much of a science-fiction fan but it was interesting hearing that he doesn’t think that the science factor in a science fiction novel needs to be realistic or even ‘plausible’. He refers to the genre more as ‘weird fiction.’

It was interesting to see a group of writers at different stages of their careers and writers from different genres. Not to mention getting the chance to watch Melbourne get dark through the windows of ‘The Edge’ at Fed Square.

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