Big Stories at Brisbane Writers Festival 2017

Brisbane Writers Festival has had a new lease of life with the appointment of CEO and Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock for the festival’s 55th anniversary. The festival was about “The big stories – and the little ones in between” and the biggest story of them all was probably the recognition of Indigenous literature and creators, particularly the tenth anniversary of Alexis Wright’s novel Carpentaria, which won the Miles Franklin award. This was uniquely celebrated as an immersive dramatic and visual performance inside “Angel’s Palace”, a specially constructed “art-tent”, designed by Gordon Hookey.

The opening address was given by Alec Doomadgee, who spoke about “Indigenous knowledge creation”. He showed excerpts from his seminal film Zach’s Ceremony. Alec said that “reading books gives you a real history of the country you’re in”. He uses the arts and culture to tell stories and create change and urged us all to go away and do something for change. My family has something planned …

I was fortunate to moderate a panel session about “Connecting to Place” which explored how three authors create place as a character (or not – as we discovered) in their stories.

Melissa Lukashenko spoke about the significance of land in her beautifully written, award-winning novel Mullumbimby. Ashley Hay let us look inside a special Brisbane house, peopled over time by two vulnerable women whose lives interconnect. Her novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, has just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards. Kate Mildenhall’s debut novel, Skylarking, was one of my best books of 2016 for the Weekend Australian. It is set on a windswept, isolated cape and is a fine piece of writing about friendship between two young women. Kate is destined for big things in the literary world if she continues to write at such a high level.

I also attended a session about the Australian book industry, “Published in Oz”. It was exciting to hear how writing and reading is the biggest art form that people engage with in Australia. 20% of Australians attend a book event annually and Australia has the highest per capita attendance at writers’ festivals in the world. Reading books is the number 1 favourite leisure activity of Australians. Double the number of Australians enjoy reading books to attending sporting events, playing video games or other pursuits. Australia also has the world’s top independent bookseller market.

Another enlightening session was a workshop for adults on visual literacy by James Foley. He has illustrated Sigi Cohen’s, My Dead Bunny, The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen and other books.

The BWF also hosted “Word Play” an outstanding program for young people. My highlight was hearing Wendy Orr, author of the Nim’s Island series (the genesis of the movies), Peeling the Onion and the masterful historical fantasy based on the Minoan myths of bull-dancing, Dragonfly Song. This novel has also just been shortlisted for the Queensland Literary awards.

Thanks to the organisers of the 2017 BWF and to those involved. There was a very special buzz in Brisbane.

On My Bedside Table – # 3

Bedside Table books-lamp-diyBack by popular demand, the bedside table revelations of our literary heroes and heroines or as some of us like to address the towers of teetering titles yet to be tackled, the TBR List – To Be Read List. Be it on the bookshelf, coffee table, lounge room floor or humble little bedside cube like mine; where ever you stash your next-in-line-to-read reads, have a look through these. You might just have to make another pile.

Today we ask the burning question: Do illustrators make time to read? If so, who is it that these arty types curl up with and why…the answers are illuminating.

Sarah Davis SARAH DAVIS Multiple award winning children’s book illustrator who is as much at home drawing ghosts as bulldogs and is half the creative heart of the divine Violet Mackerel. A multitasking legend!

 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which is gripping – I can’t quite work out what her magic trick is for making her characters and situations so vivid and immediate.

Middlemarch by George Eliot for the third time, because I’d been thinking a lot about Mr Casaubon and Dorothea recently and wanted to go visit them again.

 Hiding in Plain Sight – Confessions of a Sociopath by M. E. Thomas, because I’m interested in abnormal psychology.Confessions of a sociopath

 Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer – set in the freaky crumbling surreal city of Ambergris beneath which lurk sentient fungi. (My upstairs book for when I take lunchbreaks)

I’m reading a chapter of To Kill A Mockingbird aloud to the kids every night, and usually listening to Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita on audio book while I work, although I’ll occasionally take a break to listen to podcasts.

I’ve got a story by Isobelle Carmody all lined up to listen to while I paint tomorrow.

And am dipping in and out of Pablo Neruda’s Residence on Earth.

When I’m stuck on the train or in a queue with nothing to read, I’m getting through The Count of Monte Cristo on my iPhone.

I don’t know what I’ll read after all that… I’ll just see what jumps off the shelf at me, I suppose. Whatever it is, hopefully it doesn’t hit me on the head.

James Foley  JAMES FOLEY Writer, illustrator, cartoonist, and part time Viking. A man with multiple awards to his name as well and a disparaging multiple-pile problem.

More Than This by Patrick Ness. Like the Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls, this is incredibly suspenseful storytelling. Mr Ness strings you along, throwing questions at you but only giving the barest slivers of answers each chapter. The ending felt unfinished and under defined, but I guess that’s par for the course in a book about the (possible) afterlife.

I got some great left-field comics for my birthday, both from Nobrow Comics: Adventures of A Japanese Businessman by Jose Domingo and Dockwood by Jon McNaught.Adventures of a Japanese Businessman

I also topped up my Hellboy collection with a new trade paperback, The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart – there’s some insanely good pen and wash technique in there.

One Soul by Ray Fawkes – The best graphic novel I’ve read this year – 18 separate characters living in different time periods have their life stories told in parallel. Each double page spread is arranged into 18 panels (6×3), with each character having their own panel.

But wait, there’s more! My recent picture book acquisitions: My Two Blankets by Irena Kobald and Freya Blackwood; I am Cow Hear Me Moo by Jill Esbaum and Gus Gordon.

Skullduggery Pleasant: Dying of the Light by Derek Landy; my current read.

There, done! Ooh! Ooh! On one of my bedside reading piles is Deb Fitzpatrick’s new one, The Break – it just came out last week

Christina Booth CHRISTINA BOOTH Enviable author illustrator whose latest picture book Welcome Home has just picked up the 2014 Environment Award for Children’s Literature. She hails from a small island to the south of Australia known as Tasmania and has a larger pile problem than James.

Christian explains: Well, to start with there are none on my table, you see, the pile became so large that I moved a big bookcase into my bedroom and that is where they now reside; my reading-to-do-pile, ever increasing,  those read and those in progress.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows highly recommended. As an author, I loved the banter between author and publisher and fans, and I learnt a lot about Guernsey, especially how they were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.

My Place Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins This picture book is part of my apprenticeship in writing a time line PB.The People Smuggler

The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny, following the life and journey of a man accused in Australia as a People Smuggler and how he was used as an example in the courts at great cost to the country only to be found innocent. Robin is an award winning script writer and this book is her first written as a biography but using the first person approach. It is a good read, though it is emotionally charged.

I have attempted to read Rohan Wilson’s The Roving Party, which seems to be a great story set in my home state of Tasmania. Alas, what does my head in is the lack of speech marks in the text. It requires more concentration to sort out who is saying what for my tired brain to deal with at present. It sits there, waiting….

Every night I (also) read my Bible, so much to contemplate along with words of wisdom from C.S. Lewis, and some other writers who refer to the passages I read. This is the most read of my books.

Maus is always close by as well by Art Spiegelman. Re-visited, browsed and remembered. One of the books that has changed me…. (Wonderfully tactile in hard cover with fabric spine).

There is a manuscript in varying stages in a folder that I review and reread, it’s almost there now; I’m starting to dream it instead.

On my ‘to get to ASAP’ list is Morris Gleitzman’s Loyal CreaturesJohn Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is next for book club. The Roald Dahl Biography and also one on Michael Morpurgo await my attention. They are so patient with me, I want to read them all right now but alas, time isn’t my friend.

Phew! Is there anything they are NOT reading?! So it turns out, illustrators are just as voracious readers as the next bibliophile. Makes my pile of seventeen or so pale in comparison under the amber glow of my bedside lamp. Do any of these feature on your bedside table? So many books, not enough nights to get through them all…

Be further inspired. More great titles you may not have thought about adding to you pile from more great authors and illustrators.

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