Posts by Melissa Watts

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Twilight Talk – Tonight

Twilight Talk, Art Gallery of Ballarat.

I’ll be talking tonight – Wednesday June 17, at 5.00pm (for a 5.30 start) at the Ballarat Art Gallery Twilight Talks.

I will be discussing women cartographers of WWII who were based at Villa Fortuna mansion in Bendigo. This is the topic of my PhD thesis. This is part of a larger series of talks at the gallery as part of their Australians at War exhibition.

Everyone is welcome.

Gold coin entry. Wine and cheese will be served.

The Beautiful Room is Empty – Edmund White  



On Genre expectations.

The Beautiful Room is Empty has sat on my bookshelf for years. I finally decided to read it when I was researching the genre of Künstlerroman. Künstlerroman means ‘artist’s novel’ in German and is closely related to the genre of bildungsroman, where a novel focuses on the growth of a protagonist usually through youth. In the case of künstlerroman the novel focuses on the development of the protagonist into an artist.

The Beautiful Room is Empty is a great novel that explores psychoanalysis and sexual repression within 1950s and 60s America. Themes of social class and gay experience predominate and the fact that the characters are artists seems to be secondary to that. I was hoping to learn about the development of the character as an artist, but the character arc was more about the protagonist’s changes in emotional and sexual maturity. I’m not entirely sure that it does meet the genre of kunstlerroman, given that most of the artistic successes outlined in the text are those of the unnamed protagonists friends, rather than the protagonist himself. I think the novel would be much better categorised as a bildungsroman.

So while it didn’t answer my question about the style of Künstlerroman it did teach me about fine writing. White has woven some really delicate expressions into many of the pages. He creates an image through personification and turning descriptive assumptions on their head. There is a  strong sense of place and atmosphere with descriptions like, ‘a senile radio would be muttering to itself,’ (p3) and ‘I remember running with him down the street one grey winter afternoon when the sun, discouraged by a cold reception, had withdrawn.’ (p28) One of my favourites is ‘In Evanston I stood in the old bay window and looked out at Lake Michigan beating itself up.’ (p29) And ‘ On the floor a bum, reeking of sweet red wine, is sleeping it off, snoring loudly, a sound that draws a red line under the conspicuous silence.’ (p143)

There is also a wonderful sense of how the narrator sees the world:

 ‘The streets had been cleared, traffic lights lidded in snow burned like mad eyes, Christmas shoppers submitted to their forced labour, there were other cars cruising around as old and as dirty as ours, everyone seemed busy and indifferent – the rich anonymity of the city.’(12)

Then summer:

 ‘On this hot July night the streets were thronged with people. Here a crowd circled a sidewalk artist sketching a solemn young man with waved hair and spotty skin. The sitter was posing as though his profile were about to go on the coin of the realm. He was the only one who could not see how the sketch was coming along, this disappointment being patiently prepared for him.’ (133)

I love this last image of disappointment being patiently prepared, a larger metaphor life in some ways with tragic/comedic elements.

Edumund White The Beautiful Room is Empty, Picador 1988.






Monica Lewinski – the price of shame

If you use the internet – in any capacity – read news online, tweet, comment on forums, you need to watch this.

Monica Lewinski gives a TED talk about the price of shame and it’s brilliant. I wanted to pull out standout quotes but there were so many that I couldn’t choose which one. But from now on I will think about public shaming as a bloodsport, it’s role in generating advertising dollars, and her brilliant quote of ‘ imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline’.

Please take the 22 minutes to watch, it’s amazing.

Manuscript Assessment

Last month I hit two scary milestones – my baby turned 1 and started childcare, and my novel went out on its own for a manuscript assessment. The first day of childcare happened to coincide with me dropping my manuscript off so of course I began drawing obvious parallels, things like recognising that my novel has been with me for the last seven years, in my thoughts daily as I work on it, helping it grow so it can go off one day on its own, just like a child. It’s kept me awake at night, and some days I’ve felt like all I’ve done is wipe excrement off it.

Of course you can’t really compare a manuscript to a child but I was equally as nervous dropping off my baby to his carer’s as I was dropping my novel off to the assessors. But I think manuscript assessment is an important step for a few reasons:

  • Writing is an insular activity. It’s important to share your work eventually, when the time’s right to make sure you are not heading down the wrong path with your editing and plot/character development.
  • It’s important to select an assessor that is right for your work. I’ve selected Jill Blee from Eureka House, as she has a background in Historical Fiction, including the era and location that my novel is set in.
  • I’ve done workshops will Jill before so I know that she will be blunt but honest. I want to know that I’m getting useful feedback, so that I can keep working on the novel to get it to its best stage.
  • I provided Jill with a range of questions that I’ve been wondering about for a few years. Is this character relevant? Is this character clear? Does anyone even care about the plot other than me? I’ve discussed some of the questions with my writing group but none of the other writers have read my novel. It’s important to get feedback on those questions by someone who has dedicated time to consider your work.

Will I take on all of the feedback that Jill provides? Well…I guess only time will tell. Will I be drinking champagne or gin? Probably both.

Please let me know about your experiences of manuscript assessment and how it has worked well (or not) for you.

Poetry Performances at Ballarat Bergonia Festival.

Ballarat Writers has once again teamed up with Federation Uni to create a wonderful ekphrastic poetry event. This time the Ballarat Council and Writers Victoria have also joined the group and have invited a group of poets to write and perform poetry this long weekend (March 7 – 9) at the Ballarat Bergonia Festival.

Writers have been asked to select an item in the Ballarat Botanic Gardens to write an ekphrastic poem about. I’ve selected the beautiful Eucalypt in the sensory garden.

I love these projects for a few reasons. Ekphrasis is such a rewarding style of writing. I enjoy focusing on the work of others and trying to capture that in a new light, then articulating it clear enough for an audience to understand my interpretation as well as the original work of art. In my case this year I am interested in the design of the gardens, in particular the sensory garden.

The poetry will be compiled into a book available for sale over the weekend, or at the visitor information centre after the weekend.

The readings will take place on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday at 11am and 3pm. I’ll be reading my work on the Monday.

You can read more about the other ekphrastic projects here and here.

Getting back to blogging

I have to admit that this blog has taken a little bit of a back seat over the last few years. There are a few reasons. Firstly, I have bought two wonderful little humans into the world. One of them turned one last week, and one of them is turning 3 next week. So as you can imagine that has taken a fair chunk of my time.

The second reason is that I have been thoroughly focused on getting my novel to the point of manuscript assessment. Spending more time at home to raise children has made me be thoroughly structured in my approach to my novel. Previously I would write on my way to and from work on the train. Now I snatch time during naps and after baby bedtimes.

I’m hoping to dedicate some time back to the blog in the coming year.

Although, if you have read my updated bio you will know that I’ve just commenced a PhD. More on that in later posts.

Writing and Loss

Melville Caves  - A favourite camping place with my grandparents
Melville Caves – A favourite camping place with my grandparents

Over these last few months I have experienced the death of two people who were close to me. In the more contemplative moments of my grief I have tried to piece fragments of my loss into words. And while I have had little success in putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard as the case may be) I’ve though a lot about the act of writing and the triggers of imagination.

I attended the funeral of my father’s best friend, Graeme Clement, in June. He was a man that I had known for twenty years. He regularly commented on my blog, or facebook account. He knew that I studied literature, wrote poetry, was working on a novel. But what I didn’t know about him, was that he wrote as well. At his funeral some of his poetry was shared.

I wish I had of had the chance to discuss poetry with him. I can imagine how it would have gone. Perhaps sipping a Central Victorian Shiraz somewhere near a fire – but more likely drinking beer in Dad’s lounge room during the footy, comments only allowed at half time.  The discussion would have been antagonistic. I would have introduced something feminist, he would have scoffed. I would have introduced something political, he would have compared me to Julia Gillard. We would have agreed to disagree on most poetry, but I think we would have shared a love of Australian poetry.

So while we never had the chance to ‘speak a bit of shit’ about poetry, Graeme has taught me that while some poetry is great to read alone, sharing poetry with others (like-minded or not) is worth the time, you never know what you might agree on. (I can’t help but think that he’d smile reading this – me admitting that he taught me something).

My grandmother, Norma Watts, also passed away this year. It was sudden and I had only seen her days before where I had the chance to tell her that I was returning to Uni to commence a PhD. I could tell that she was pretty proud of that but, as she watched my toddler and six month old climb over me, that she was calculating exactly how I’d do it.

What I didn’t get the chance to tell her was how much she has inspired my writing. She wasn’t a writer, not a big reader, but she had an interest in family history. Not the type of thing, but more making sure that we had an appreciation of our ancestors. Every school holiday my brother and I would visit and my grandparents often took us around various goldfields towns showing us significant sights like the houses they grew up in. At the time I likely rolled my eyes.

However, I have just spent the last 6 six years working on a novel set on the Victorian Goldfields in the 1880’s. I can honestly say that I would never have written a novel like that if it wasn’t for my grandparents.

Just before Nan passed I had been working on a poem about her. It is about collecting her old Fowlers Vacola bottling kit, brining it home and trying to use it. The poem ends with me calling Nan a few months later when I opened my first jar of preserved Apricots. I haven’t worked on it since, but I will get back to it and try to find a fitting home for it one day.

Unfortunately I never read her a draft. But I can just imagine her if I had of told her about it. She would have given me one of her very common responses:

‘Nan, I’m writing a poem about using the Fowlers Vacola.’

‘Are you darling?’ She’d reply, eyes wide, smiling and nodding. She was never any good at faking her response and her tone of voice and facial expression would indicate that inside she was thinking something along the line of ‘I don’t understand these kids, why on earth would you bother spending your time writing about preserving fruit?’ Then she’d go silent and let me fill in the gap with my own rambling that she’d nod along to.

Poetry, farm life, bottling fruit, whatever your inspiration… share it.

Writers Festival in July


I’m pleased to announce that while I have resigned from my duties at Ballarat Writers this year, I’ve agreed to help out with publicity for the fantastic upcoming Death in July Festival.

Ballarat Writers have a strong reputation for informative and industry specific writers festivals. This year is a break from the CYA and is focused on Australian Women’s Crime Writing. The event is partnered with Sisters in Crime and M.A.D.EContinue reading →