Tag Archives: Sydney Writers’ Festival

Weekend Coffee Share 18th March, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share! Please make yourself at home. What would you like to drink? I’ve become quite a tea drinker lately as coffee doesn’t agree with me. That said, I do risk it occasionally at a cafe. I still love a good coffee!

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My apologies once again for going off the grid. However, last Sunday was Mothers’ Day here in Australia and after the kids made me pancakes with Nutella and raspberries for breakfast here, we drove down to Sydney to see my Mum, Dad and brother for lunch and a rambling afternoon. Understandably, the weekend was swallowed up and I can’t remember what else happened. I’ve been a bit under the weather with a cold so I could well have been asleep.

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It’s not quite Winter here in Sydney but we’re getting a few cold mornings and a few chilly nights just to remind us that Winter isn’t far away. Yet, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside, which certainly begs the question what am I doing locked away inside? Why aren’t I out there soaking up all those precious rays before they disappear?

Well, I have the best of both worlds sitting here as the sun is streaming through the window and it’s really very pleasant. I’m still in my PJs at almost 3.00 pm and had a big sleep in after dropping my daughter at the dance studio at the crack of dawn (any time before 9.00 am on a Saturday morning but 7.30 was particularly cruel!!) Fortunately, we live just around the corner and if she didn’t have such a big day ahead, I’d be telling her to walk. However, please excuse the pun, but that could be just around the corner.

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My book project is coming along very well. It’s now shifted from biographical short fiction into short non-fiction with a series of biographical sketches of our ancestors and relatives put within their historical context and shaken up a bit. Both my husband and I come from huge families who arrived early on in terms of Australia’s European history and we’re just lucky that many of them were in the right or (actually from their perspective the wrong place) at the right time. Although most of the characters I’ve researched most are more recent, I’ve decided to start off with our first arrivals who I knew relatively little about. Moreover, they’ve taken me on a course I hadn’t researched much before as well. This means that while I set off on this book project thinking I was already well underway and it would take a lot to get a book out, the reality is very different. I guess it always is. The job takes longer and costs blow out. Just ask a builder.

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Yet, I’m exciting and researching and working on these stories is quite exhilarating. I’ve also had to think about why I’m doing this, other than needing to write and finish a book for my own sense of being able to see it through to the end and published. What attracted me to these characters? Why invest so much of my time, energy and my very self in telling their stories?

The answer is that these people are all great battlers. Many endured incredible hardships yet persevered and soldiered on. They didn’t give up. I find them so encouraging and they lift me up. A bad day doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

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These people are also incredibly human and I think it makes a huge difference that they’re real and that I haven’t transposed their stories into quasi-fictional stories. The reader knows this is true and has something real to hold onto. That said, truth always is a matter of perspective and how you source their particulars.

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I am having a pretty quiet day today. I’m about to head off to vote in the Australian Federal Election. I almost forgot to mention this and I’ve been doing my best to avoid just about anything to do with it. I am completely disenchanted with both major parties and don’t trust either of the main contenders for Prime Minister. However, our local member has done a great job and I question whether she should lose her seat based on her boss. We live in a marginal seat where our votes count and so I actually do need to take my vote seriously. I think I’ve fallen into the camp of voters going independent to send the major parties “a message”. Voting independent is a more civilized way of cracking an egg on the leaders’ heads, which has been quite a feature during this election campaign. You might’ve heard about Egg Boy who cracked an egg on a senator’s head after his dreadful remarks re the Christchurch Massacre. A woman also egged the Prime Minister.  The egg didn’t crack which also aroused some interest. Just to keep the campaign interesting, we’ve also had the appearance of chickenman, although he obviously isn’t responsible for laying any eggs. He’s apparently a young Liberal supporting former PM Tony Abbott. I’m not even going to touch on the intense fighting for the seat of Warringah held by Tony Abbott, except to say that I wish I could vote for his rival former Olympic skier, Zali Steggal. Tony Abbott is long past his expiry date.

Tomorrow, on the other hand, is going to be huge. Our daughter received a call back for an audition for a local ballet company which is putting on Swan Lake. This is such a huge opportunity, but I also need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. While I’m not auditioning on stage, I too will be under the microscope and most of my day will be going up in smoke waiting. I know I’m written about the benefits of waiting before but… I know. I know. I can get through another one of the unfinished books teetering on my bedside table. It would be incredible if she got in.

Before I head off, I just wanted to share with you that I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival two weeks ago. If you’d like to dip your toe into what was a fabulous day, please click Here.

Thank you for joining me and I look forward to hearing what you’ve been up to. By the way, the photos throughout this week’s post were taken at the local wetlands this afternoon during our daughter’s audition.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Our daughter was successful in her audition and will be appearing in Swan Lake locally later in the year.

PPS Australian Federal Election done and dusted. Biggest surprise of all. We still have the same Prime Minister.

 

 

My Sydney Writers’ Festival 2019

Ring the brass bell!!! Yesterday, I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which has long been my “me day” where I liberate myself from all other responsibilities and earthly shackles and return to my tribe.

That said, I must confess that I missed the last two years and wasn’t all that bothered about it at the time. I get frequent lung infections, and I suspect this was the greatest indication that I wasn’t firing on all cylinders. However, I made some adjustments. Now,  my energy levels have soared I’m swinging from the chandeliers again and going gang busters working on my book. Indeed, I’m back.

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While Sydney Writers sounds like  lot of fun, maximizing your experience takes a fair bit of organization. Moreover, for me that’s compounded by my disabilities, chronic health issues and also sorting out the kids.

Traditionally, the nitty gritty all began when the program appears as an insert in the Sydney Morning Herald. This arrives on a Saturday morning and you spread the program out across the kitchen table pen in hand while your drinking coffee and spilling your breakfast all over it. I always start off with a quick scan to see who’s on. Of course, there are the big name events, some years they appeal but just as often, they’re not my cup of tea. I’m usually there as a writer more than a reader and I’m not into political stuff. I mainly used to attend some of the workshops they put on, but I’m not sure if they’re available anymore. In the past, I’ve done workshops with some of Australia’s most successful writers including Jackie French of Diary of a Wombat fame and  Andy Griffiths who writes the Treehouse Books with  Terry Denton. I felt incredibly blessed and the cost was very reasonable.

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After you’ve identified what’s on, the next step is to choose which day or days you’re going to go and personally I try to squeeze as much as I can into that day. However, you still need to factor in those much needed meal and toilet stops and especially in my case, allow plenty of time for getting lost. I should know by now that I always set out in the diametrically opposed direction. Yet, strangely I still trust my gut and my folly continues.

It seems strange that a writers’ festival which conjures up visions of imagination, creativity and striving towards your writing dreams, requires so much left-brain thinking just to find your seat. However, finishing a book for publication is much the same.

My Sydney Writers’ experience is also impacted by my disabilities. My disabilities which can be quite invisible and unobtrusive of an ordinary day, but add travel, crowds, an unfamiliar environment and extensive walking and they come into play and can totally flare up like an enraged zit. There’s this cognitive and physical load and the more aware I am of how these come into play, the more I can prepare around it and have a better experience. I always use my walking stick in such situations and I have a companion card, which entitles me to a free companion. I often find some curly issues crops up and it’s helpful to have that person on hand. This year, I realized that I was needing to pick my tickets up from the box office and with queuing being difficult, I rang the night before and spoke with Emily who had my tickets waiting at the desk and I could just get a volunteer to pick them up for me instead. She also helped me with a few other issues and I really appreciated her understanding and compassion. It helped me feel more empowered and on top of things, rather than overwhelmed and incapable.

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So, yesterday Thursday 2nd May was my day at the Sydney Writers’ Festival for 2019. I’d initially flagged yesterday because I’d wanted to see Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark and his daughter, Meg was talking about her first solo novel, Fled . They both write historical fiction and this is the genre I’m heading towards with my book project so my interest was also personal and as a writer, as well as a reader. I attended a literary lunch at Pearl Beach a few years ago when Tom and Meg were promoting the first book of their Monserrat Series. Tom also writes about Irish History and wrote a very helpful book called Three Famines, which really helped me get my head around the Irish Famine, which affected many of my ancestors.

However, when I went back to book my tickets, I also noticed that crossword guru David Astle was speaking about his latest book Rewording the Brain. While this book was heavily weighted towards cryptic crosswords which are totally above my pay grade, given that I have hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain), I’m interested in serious neurological research and discussions. Indeed, in the past I’ve seen Dr Norman Doidge who wrote The Brain’s Way of Healing Itself and The Brain’s Way of Healing. So, after a very difficult choice, I went with David Astle.  Lastly, I was thrilled to find that Graeme Simsion author of the The Rosie Project which has evolved into a hilarious gripping series was talking about the final book The Rosie Result. Don Tillman, the lovable main character of the series,  has become a poster boy for the Autism community so life “on the spectrum” also featured during the session, which tied in very well with the morning’s session and my brain was nicely enriched by the time I arrived home.

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Before I touch on these sessions in more detail, I’d like to walk you around the venue because that’s a bit of a talking point as well. While the Sydney Writers as I know it, was at Walsh Bay on Sydney Harbour last year it moved to Carriageworks in Redfern, which is the refurbished Eveleigh Railway Workshops, which were constructed 1880-1889. By the 1900s several thousands worked here, building and maintaining locomotive engines and carriages for the expanding rail network. These are signs of its railway past everywhere, including the train tracks out the front.

David Astle, Rewording the Brain

Rowena & David Astle

We’re now heading into our first session with David Astle, Rewording the Brain. I’d actually planned ahead and had bought all three books the day before from my local bookshop and thanks to some late night swatting and the train trip, I’d managed to get through about a quarter of the book. Phew! This session was not one to go into half mast, especially when cryptic crosswords have personally remained forever true to name. Moreover, despite being something of a word smith myself, even I noticed the lexicon in this session was rather learned. Indeed, a dictionary might’ve been in order. However, at least they didn’t bring out the dreaded match sticks. These puzzles appear in the book swearing at me. Indeed, for seasoned crossword puzzlers David’s initials on a Puzzle” D.A. have often inspired terror. Even I had to think, which is a good thing and no doubt primed my brain for the day ahead.

Rewording the Brain addresses how crossword puzzles, and cryptic crosswords  in particular, help boost the power and agility of your brain. Recent studies have shown that puzzle-solving and wordplay are among the most effective ways to boost the power and agility of your brain. A cryptic crossword a day can help keep memory loss at bay.
Why? The answer lies in the art of teasing out a clue, a discipline that calls for logic, interpretation, intuition and deduction as well as the ability to filter nuance and connotation. All these challenges and more are found in the cryptic crossword. And all are invaluable in increasing your brainpower and improving your memory and cognitive capacity 1.

I can only live in hope. I took down pages of notes and before I knew it I was talking to DA himself as we walked towards the book signings.

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In addition to priming up my brain, I also had secret business. Yesterday, was also a close friend’s 50th Birthday. However, this was no ordinary, extraordinary birthday. Dr Kirsten Harley has been living with Motor Neurone Disease for about 6 years ago and crunch time came in December when her wishes to be resusitated were swung into action.  Kirsten had major surgery and has spent the last 5-6 months in intensive care at Macquarie University Hospital and will be heading home soon. Kirsten loves crosswords and while she’s asked family and friends to do 50 of something in honour of her birthday, I decided to do one thing. I thought I’d ask David Astle crossword guru to write her a birthday message. I also wanted to get a photo of David and I for the blog and as I was getting ready at the head of the queue my phone went rogue and I was struggling to get the password in and everything was backfiring. However, David kindly obliged and made my day. Well, that was until my next session began.

Well, before I was off to see Meg Keneally, I decided to cruise around actual carriageworks building and view it through the lens. That’s through my Nikon SLR…my third eye.

Evacuate…My Plans Go Off Script.

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However, my visions were suddenly disturbed by a robotic announcement to “evacuate”. It seemed like the scene of a movie and having not been in an office environment for some time, I’ve missed out on the joy of fire drills, false alarms but have become well-versed in terrorist attacks. In hindsight, there were no explosions, sounds of bullets, screams etc which would signal serious trouble, but I was taking the evacuation seriously, especially as the entire building was evacuated and sessions interrupted. I asked a volunteer about the cause, because the nature of the cause would determine my response but all too quickly a fire engine came and went and sessions were resumed.

Meg Keneally – Fled

Next, I was off to see Meg Keneally who was discussing her first solo novel: Fled. I am very keen to approach Meg as an author in her own right without leaving her in the shadow of her famous and very talented father, Tom. Yet, at the same time, she also grew up under his wing and Dad was not only a story writer, but also a storyteller. Meg spoke about going on an extended family road trip in the US when she was six or seven. “We were van-schooled and part of that was Dad constantly spinning yarns, and one of those was about Mary Bryant.” Not surprisingly, I’ll wait til I’ve read the book to review it. However, I just wanted to mention that I ran into Meg as her father was doing book signings next to David Astle. She was very down to earth and approachable and thoroughly lovely.

Graeme Simsion – The Rosie Result

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Looks like we had quite a spark, but a spark of what?

Now, we’re onto an old pal of mine, Graeme Simsion author of the Rosie Series. Graeme is no stranger at Beyond the Flow, even if I am a stranger to him. You see, with almost 3000 views, my post asking: Who Is Don Tillman?…The Rosie Project Uncovered. is my most viewed post by a country mile.

Anyway, as I arrive for our session, I spot Graeme Simsion chatting with the audience and said a big hello as though he was my long-lost best friend. After all, the Rosie Project keeps popping up in my list of favourite posts and my stats often include a couple of views. It’s always there like a good friend. So, he looks at me with a rather searching expression, and asks if he knows me because clearly, I know him! That’s when I say we went out for dinner. Or, was it more along the lines of I went to dinner with you and after I recovered from my awkwardness managed to mention Mandy from Book Bazaar who organized for him to speak over dinner. I’m not usually one to gush over celebrities, but I was really looking forward to meeting him. I’d not only loved the first two books in the series, they were very personal and approachable and drew me right inside the mind and life of Don Tillman to such an extent that I had to ask: Was Graeme Simsion actually Don? After all, the book was written in the first person and I found it really hard to divorce the author from his creation.

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However, that was then and this is now. We’re now up to the Rosie Result where Rosie and Don’s son, Hudson, is now eleven and in Grade 6 at school. This is the last year of primary school here in Australia. Hudson is struggling particularly after they move back to Australia and the teacher has a chat suggesting they get him assessed. He might be on the Autism Spectrum.

Much of this talk addressed the issues Simsion faced writing about a character, indeed, a family on the Autism Spectrum. Through this process, he decided to have himself assessed. This was quite a confronting process and what concerned him most about being diagnosed, was the people would think he didn’t care. Now, he didn’t say that with the voice of a robot, but rather a cry from the heart calling out to be accepted, understood and not written off without giving him a chance. Put the ruler on the page and emphatically cross Graeme Simpsion out. It really helped me realize how careful we have to be with all human beings and to treasure people for the complex creations which we are, without being blinded by what Google does or doesn’t day.He also addressed the issue of whether kids can grow out of Autism, which is said to be a lifelong condition and he was strongly on the side of making our communities more diverse and inclusive than making Autistic people change. That said, all of us go through a socialization process growing up and science has also discovered a lot about neuroplasticity and it seems on one hand we’re telling people on the Autism Spectrum that they can’t change and we’re telling everyone else how you can rewire your brain both in good and negative ways.

By the way, when I opened up the book on the train heading home, he’d written: “Be Yourself”. I know he probably wrote that in everybody’s book, but it really struck me in the heart in such a profound and emotional way. He obviously has a lot of interaction with the Autism community, but this is very true for me too. I was born with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain which was undiagnosed but not entirely inactive until I was 25. I’ve had a shunt put in and it’s made a huge difference but there are still residual quirks and I doubt I was ever going to be a regular sort anyway. “I’m creative”.

Lastly, as the session drew to a close we had question time and I stuck up my hand. After working on my series of Motivational Quotes for writers writing a book, I wanted to ask him for advice for someone writing their first novel. He basically said you have approach it like a neurosurgeon. I thought that was quite funny, because I’ve actually had brain surgery and have been on the receiving end of that.

Have you been to the Sydney Writers’ Festival? Who did you see? Or, perhaps you’ve been to a writers’ festival closer to home? How was it? I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin Continue reading

Blogging From Zero to Twenty Thousand Views

Just over three years ago on the 9th May, 2012 Beyond the Flow was launched into the blogosphere. While I would love to say that the launch was heralded by all the fanfare usually reserved for a royal birth, it was, however, more of a mild-mannered affair. Indeed, the only attention my incredible launch attracted was one measly comment:
Mr WordPress May 9, 2012 at 5:35 am
Hi, this is a comment.
To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.
Indeed, it wasn’t even a real comment. How disappointing!!
Just to compound my woes, to this day, that very first post still has no likes and is still saying:
“Be the first to like this”.
If you feel like being nice to this poor, neglected post, or even taking pity on it, you can visit it here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/hello-world/

Can you believe it? This is hardly how you’d expect your entry into the new world of blogging to start out, is it?!! After all, where were the legions of fans just hanging off my each and every word?
Evidently, they were some place else…going for a walk or even washing their hair perhaps? Who knows? Surely, it had to be something exceptionally important?!
Well, I guess not.

Photographed with best-selling Australian author Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writer's Festival in May 2012.

Photographed with best-selling Australian author Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in May 2012.

To read about my workshop at the Sydney Writer’s Festival with Andy Griffiths http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/ , click here: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/busting-for-real-a-postscript-to-the-sydney-writers-festival-2012-3/

Anyway, from that incredibly lackluster and humble beginning, Beyond the Flow has finally reached 20,000 views. Good thing I’m as persistent as a dog chasing a ball! I never gave up and for awhile there, I seriously began to wonder but slowly but surely, the tide changed and I have forged something solid, strong and meaningful.
So, if you have just started blogging and you’re wondering whether your blog is EVER going to take off, take heart. With persistence, perseverance and dedication, your world will definitely grow and without having to sell your soul in the process. It just might take a bit…or a lot…longer.
I started blogging after a friend told me about her craft blog and I thought I’d give it a whirl. It was all very tentative back then… getting my head around how to set it up more than thinking about the content. I’ve never really struggled with writer’s block. It’s been more of a case of writer’s diarrhoea. The words and ideas just keep gushing out. For me, it’s more a matter of trying to contain the flow and weeding words out. So, I’ve never really struggled with finding something to write about and I’ve been blogging about a smattering of our experiences ever since.

Back in these early days, my blog was an outlet. Somewhere for me to direct my thoughts and feelings as well as getting my writing out there. For so long, all those words had just been building up inside my computer like a volcano set to explode. These thoughts, feelings, experiences were never meant to be shut away, especially as I had an understanding of deep suffering which could reach out and help other people, at the very least, to feel they’re not alone. That some random stranger out there in cyberspace “get’s it” and may indeed “get” them. That most of us don’t wear our battle scars on the outside but they’re usually hidden away deep within and we can feel incredibly isolated, misunderstood and alone…until we reach out.

Footprints in the sand.

Footprints in the sand.


That is why I called my blog: Beyond the Flow. In the past people used to tell me just to “go with the flow”. These days they don’t even bother. They know I’m out there, somewhat off the grid but that’s what it means to be “creative” and I feel much more accepted than I was in the past.
When I started the blog back in 2012, I was just getting over the shock of finding out that I’d developed fibrosis in my lungs as a complication of my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. I’d gone into a sort of shut down out after the diagnosis as I waited to see the lung specialist for the prognosis. This actually turned out a lot better than I’d thought and I’d won a reprieve. I wasn’t going to die any time soon. Well, not now anyway. However, the shock had really taken its toll and I felt completely wiped out and almost corpse-like. The prospect of leaving behind my kids who were then 7 and 5, was simply way too much and short-circuited every bit of wiring I had. I very slowly had to crawl my way back to the start again and get moving.

However, as time went by and I gained a few likes and followers and also discovered blogs which I was following closely, blogging grew from being a personal, individual pursuit into becoming part of a thriving, supportive and really rather loving community. I found so many people out there who also wanted to make a difference to the world. Not just as an airy fairy ideal but were doing something about it. This has particularly been the case of a blogshare I belong to called #1000speak I have received so much love, support and encouragement through the bloggers I’ve met along the way and it really does go to show that we don’t have to be nasty, bitchy and stab people in the back to get ahead.
I can’t emphasise enough how much our community means to me. In addition to my family and closest friends, it means the world to me!!
20,002 enormous thank yous!

I’ve really appreciated my family’s support and inspiration for the blog, even when they haven’t appreciated my extended “absences” and late nights.

Through the next week or so I’m going to share some of the best5 of 0 to 20,000 views and some of the blogs, posts and friends I’ve found along the way. Please bear with me. We’ve had a Sydney cold snap and my computer is at the cold end of the house and the kids are currently home on school holidays you the blogging has slowed down to a crawl. I should also mention that I’ve developed a nasty cold with a ferocious cough and given my lung status, I am having to take things easy…not my usual, or preferred, modus operandi I can assure you.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Many thanks for your friendship, encouragements, words, thoughts and beautiful images. I am so much better through knowing each one of you!

Love and blessings,
Rowena

Two my most avid supporters: Bilbo and Lady

Two my most avid supporters: Bilbo and Lady

Almost Heaven: Sydney Writers’ Festival 2015

When the Sydney Writers’ Festival comes round each year, I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven. I’m like a starving dog salivating through a butcher shop window, yearning for that door to open.

Not only am I desperately hanging out to get into my booked sessions but I also want to soak up the incredible ambiance. The weather has been miserabnle before but today the surprisingly warm Autumn sunlight twinkles across the waters of Sydney Harbour as the Bridge seemingly peers over your shoulder. Yet, the view isn’t just about the landscape. It’s also about watching the crowds mill past and watching people deep in thought or discussion and wondering why each and every one of them are there. Are they all like me desperately hoping to hit the big time? Anyway, I soon spy Gleebooks and the four letter word I can never resist: SALE and my Santa’s sack fill to the brim is left behind the desk for later. It’s better than the Royal Easter Show.

Out on the town.

Out on the town.

Yes, indeed, like a scruffy little rabbit-chasing black dog rolling in a fresh cowpat until the stench has well and truly infiltrated the fur follicles (nameless, of course!!), I could roll in the Sydney Writers’ Festival until it was well and truly absorbed by each and every cell. I was definitely in my element.

It is easy to go a bit crazy at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in the same way people literally go mad at the Boxing Day sales. You’ve been waiting so long to get back especially if you, like me, have been counting down the days ever since the last one. Yes, indeed. I live from festival to festival. It is Mummy’s “Great Hurrah” every year when I run away from home and responsibility, flaunting my writer’s cap. Most other years, I’ve stayed in Sydney overnight although this year, I’m here for the day.

This year my programme looked like this:

1.30 Roger Woodward Concert Pianist with his autobiography: Beyond Black & White

3.00 Claire Tomalin: On Charles Dickens the Inimitable

6.30 Norman Doidge: The Brain’s Way of Healing

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Talking with Dr Noman Doidge who has put neuroplasticity on the map.

Although I was looking forward to each of the three sessions for different reasons, my focus was on the session with Norman Doidge. Actually, focus is quite the understatement. I was like a crazed fan trying to invade the Beatles’ hotel during their 1964 Australian Tour. I not only wanted to thank him for how much his books have changed my life but I also wanted to tell him how learning the violin had accidentally rewired my brain and that much of the process of learning the violin mimicked the ideas of Feldenkreis (These are ideas presented in his second book along with case studies)…..as did learning to ski. Indeed, learning the violin has rewired my “noisy brain” and enabled me to enjoy listening to music and even listen to the others in my vilin ensemble to pick my cue. This is a huge improvement.

Although playing the violin and learning to ski might appear very different on the surface, both involved that slow, conscious movement and intense repetition to improve. That is, at least the way I was learning them with my swag of physical disabilities or “issues”. This is what’s required to maximise rewiring the brain.

I managed to listen to Norman Doidge again today on Radio 702 with Richard Fidler and this really helped to cement in the concepts as Filder really probed the depths of his responses.

You see, while it’s all very well to have nitty gritty scientific discussions, what people really want to hear is: “What can this do for me or my loved one who is “blocked” in some way or another? How can you make it better? What can I do?

Meatloaf

 

After all, rewinding back to my darkest hours, I was moping round the house singing Meatloaf’s epic song: Anything For Love http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9X_ViIPA-Gc. I meant it too. I was prepared to do anything at that point to snatch back any time with my kids that I could. I even went off chocolate and cut back sugar for a few months, which was a huge achievement for me!!

However, how does an unknown contact a guru, even when they have a riveting story which shouts their findings from the mountain top?

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Autumn Leaves at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Winter is almost upon us.

Sadly, it just doesn’t happen. Tried reaching him via the festival beforehand and no success. Stood up in the queue with my walking stick and foot in boot to ask a question and I could barely stand up and they ran out of time. I guess I’ll have to get cracking with my own story.

By the way, I didn’t think about this at the time but just think of the neuroplastic implications of perpetual whinging?!! Yikes! It makes me shudder!!

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Portrait of Roger Woodward by portrait by Boris Eldagsen http://www.rogerwoodward.com

 

Anyway, rewinding to my session with Roger Woodward, concert pianist http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Woodward

You might recall that my grandmother, Eunice Gardiner, was an accomplished International concert pianist who’d not only attended the Royal Academy of Music in London but was appointed one of a handful of Fellows. Eunice taught at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music when Roger Woodward was a student and although I’d never met Roger Woodward, it seemed like he was something like a long lost member of the family. Not our family but my grandmother’s family of pianists. I met quite a few of her protege’s over the years and she had an affinity with them I could never even try to grasp. They were birds of a very exceptional feather and by nature, an exclusive club. The rest of us mere mortals simply didn’t get it. My mother had originally been in that family and had met my father at a soiree at my grandparents Lindfield home featuring pianist Gerard Willems and also attended by Australian authors Ruth Park and husband D’Arcy Niland. I’m not sure if Roger Woodward was there that night but until recently I’d thought he’d played that night and so he was very much enmeshed in my personal history.

While Woodward spoke about his time at the Sydney Conservatorium and took me into my grandmother’s world, what really gripped me from his talk was his belief in social justice and the need to take a stand. That as creatives we can stick our head in the sand and ignore it or stand up and fight. In 1965, he moved to Poland where he became strongly associated with the Solidarność movement. He remarked that while a lot of artists stood on the fence, in Australia, you stood up for your mates. He said: “I don’t feel comfortable sitting back as a human being and saying: “That’s not my business. Stand up for human rights. Australianness is standing up against a bully.”

On a lighter note, I must say that Woodward is the consumate performer. Not just at the piano but also in the way he delivered story after story and you were transported back in time into his shoes. You could sense each and every emotion as you sat riveted on the edge of your seat  I hadn’t expected that. Although I grew up with the classical music scene all around me, I was very much a foreigner….an alien so I was really pleasantly surprised to enjoy his session so much.

By the way, I just have to mention that he was waering these striking maroon and navy striped socks.To be they displayed a character, personality. Not quite sure what else socks say about a person but I was wearing a pair of navy “Happy Socks” with different coloured circles all over them. Yes, they were colourful and quirky, reflecting just a little of who I am too.

Charles Dickens

Next, I was off to Claire Tomalin: On Charles Dickens the Inimitable. At this point, I was joined by my friend Clare, who was my appendage for the afternoon (I have a companion card). Although I’m somewhat interested in Dickins, I must confess that I’ve filed him under “should read” rather than “must read”. While I love performances of his works, I don’t read a lot of novels and prefer shorter and more contemporary works. That said, I have been researching our family history and Dickens writes about that period of history and he does it exceptionally well. This was the carrot enticing me to explore Dickens further.

If you have attended writers’ festivals yourself, you, like me try and organise your sessions around a can’t miss and then sandwich something else in to fill the gaps in between. This was how I ended up at this session exploring Dickens. After booking the tickets, however, a friend had heard Claire Tomalin interviewed about the book on radio and then I was sold. I even bought the book beforehand. Suddenly, crusty old Dickens which I’d struggled through at school, had been metamorphosed into a character himself. A character I was intrigued to explore not just as a writer but as a student of people.

Tomalin, who has written many biographies in her time, said: “the best way to get to know a writer, is to hear their own voice” and she read out a letter Dickens had written to his sister. However, there were two anecdotes which truly appealed to me. Firstly, she mentioned that Dickens wrote with a quill. That somebody could write so prolically with such awkward equipment, is beyond me. Just think was his output would have been if he’d had a computer! He’d have filled a library all by himself!! Secondly, she talked about how Dickens loved walking and by walking we’re not just talking about a stroll to the local shops. Indeed, he walked 20 miles a day. This struck me as a kind of therapy.

However, the Sydney Writers’ Festival isn’t complete with a bit of indulgence. Clare and I ended up dining out at a fabulous restaurant the Ash Street Cellar. It was a thorough great meal and such a thrill to be back  in the city. I felt like a real person again…myself. I used to work and live in the city many lifetimes ago and it’s still in my veins. That said, I do prefer the more relaxed beachside, family lifestyle these days. I prefer to just visit the smog these days.

The Sydney Writers’ festival continues and the Vivid light festival starts tonight , I believe. We saw a few glimpses of it last night but I’ve seemn it in previous years and it is spectacular.

Are you a writers’ festival junkie? Do tell!

xx Rowena

DSC_1938

A Cappucino and chocolate Mouse at the Ash St Cellar after gnocchi for dinner.

 

 

Catching the Lift with Leunig

Sometimes I’m flapping my wings so much that I can’t even see what, or in this instance, who was standing right in front of me waiting to get into the very same lift. It was Michael Leunig…the cartoonist, poet, artistic visionary, philosopher, humourist. Of course, being my usually oblivious self, I had no idea. Fortunately, my friend tapped me on the shoulder and the next thing, I was boldly introducing myself and we shook hands. I actually shook hands with Leunig. Oh my goodness! I was never going to wash my hand again!!

Not only did I get the chance to shake Leunig’s hand, we talked. Even though I talk underwater, I somehow had to condense so much into just a sentence or two and managed to mumble something about him being a light bulb in the darkness when I had brain surgery. That was enough. After all, when you say you’ve survived brain surgery, people know that you’ve suffered. That you are a serious survivor and not some Mickey Mouse character who has simply stubbed their toe and had to write a tell-all book. I didn’t mention my subsequent battles with a very rare muscle wasting auto-immune with the unpronounceable very long name, dermatomyositis, or how that disease had spread to my lungs and I’d had chemo for Christmas. This collection of vicious diseases was too much to explain to anyone in a lift, even Leunig but I was using my walking stick and its presence alone spoke volumes.

I’m not sure how well Leunig is known overseas but in Australia, he has officially been cited as one of our greatest living treasures. Leunig is a man with such vision, that he can see through all those camouflaging layers we’ve so carefully wrapped round and round our fragile souls and he can put his finger on our broken hearts and heal the hurt…or at least offer a good dose of empathy and compassion.

In the introduction to The Prayer Tree, a gorgeously inspiring little book which is the perfect gift for anyone going through a hard time, Leunig writes:

It is difficult to accept that life is difficult; that love is not easy and that doubt and struggle, suffering and failure, are inevitable for each and every one of us.

We seek life’s ease. We yearn for joy and release, for flowers and the sun. And although we may find these in abundance we also find ourselves lying awake at night possessed by the terrible fear that life is impossible….

It is difficult indeed to accept that this darkness belongs naturally and importantly to our human condition and that we must live with it and bear it. It seems so unbearable.[1]

Leunig is absolutely superlatively amazing and yet, Leunig the man…the man you meet in person …is humble, seemingly ordinary and easily blends into the crowd. He is neither tall nor short with curlyish light grey hair and when he speaks, he is very natural and very down to earth. There are none of the airs and graces mere mortals expect of greatness or from the pseudo artiste! This is why we love Leunig. He is real…so very, very real and authentic. It is this authenticity which really stands out in what can be a very superficial world. As does his kindness and compassion.

Sydney Writers' Festival

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2013

Despite my many years of attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival, I have never been to a session with Leunig before and only recently I’d became aware of that gap, which was so much more than a missing notch on the bedpost. I really felt I could learn a lot not just about creativity, writing, art but also about life and being spiritual from Leunig. After all, aren’t so many of us desperately seeking that inner transformation and some way of overcoming our struggles and learning how to glow in the dark? This has been my journey…to suffer yet find happiness. Go through periods of light and dark and as a writer to share these experiences with others and help us all feel a little less alone. I want people to know that they can also live with shadows and still know happiness, joy…life!

At the end of the session, there was question time. They are pretty strict with this question time. It’s not the sort of place you can stick your hand up and tell your entire life story or even more pertinently ask Leunig about the colour his underpants. Definitely not! You need to sound smart and your questions also need to be succinct, to the point and as carefully crafted as that elusive first novel. There is even an official “keeper of the mike”, so you almost need to have the full dress rehearsal before you even stick up your hand.

Despite these very intimidating surrounds, I always ask questions at the SWF because I figure this is my only chance to plumb the depths of some incredibly successful writers and somehow perhaps actually launch my own small boat into that enormous sea. Last year, I was very proud of myself when I actually dragged my shaking self up to the mike to ask Hollywood actor and now writer Molly Ringwald of Breakfast Club fame a question in the equally intimidating Sydney Town Hall with its ginormous pipe organ towering overhead just to intimidate me even further. Yet, this was the chance of a life time for this little pipsqueak of an unpublished Australian writer to actually speak to Hollywood super-stardom and I couldn’t wimp out. I did it.

So there I was a year later in the middle of yet another potentially intimidating and erudite crowd along with the gate keeper of the mike, and I stuck up my hand. Not to stick to the rules and actually ask a question. Not to tell my life story either but I wanted to thank Leunig for being there for all of us who have been lost in the dark and Leunig has been that light. While the theatre erupted in applause, this was a little controversial and involved bending the rules. I can’t remember what I said but the words just came out. I was amazed at my own eloquence as I can stammer and stumble over basic sentences even at home, but I have a funny feeling that these words didn’t come from me but were something of a wind or spirit simply passing through. I was just the messenger.

Thanks to meeting up with Leunig in the lift prior to the session, I had arranged to meet his publicist afterwards so I didn’t have to queue up during the book signing. However, we somehow managed to arrive before the hoards and there was this ever so small gap while they were getting set up… you could say a very pregnant pause. While he was signing my books, Leunig and I exchanged a few words and a glance. I felt such warmth and compassion in his eyes. I knew that he knew. He knew all those thoughts and feelings of light and dark that even I with all my great love of words, can not truly express. Leunig and I had made a connection, which for me was an incredibly deep and penetrating connection…two fellow soul travellers. I immediately felt so much less alone.

You can’t encounter Leunig in any medium and not emerge a changed person. It is an old cliché about the butterfly emerging from its chrysalis but it is oh so true! Our modern world can be so fragmented and isolating and then there are horrific experiences which also isolate us, even from those we love and love us. That is possibly the greatest problem…those toxic private tears which drip one by one down the back of our throats and into our hearts because for whatever reason, we just can’t get them out. Sadness and an acute awareness of our own failings are not easy feelings to share and most of us can’t just go and paint these feelings on a t-shirt and show the world or even our nearest and dearest. Leunig does. He knows our humble feet of clay and is more than willing to walk with us through the abyss. He might draw us a nice little window to look outside into the sunshine or add a light. He might even lead us outside into the sun to walk with his duck through the flowers because he wants us to know that just as life isn’t all light, it isn’t all darkness either. That we can more than survive our hurdles. Indeed, we can thrive. Yet, if we’re still not thriving, that’s okay too. He seems to have a real understanding of that little person who never, ever makes it.

To experience more of Leunig, you can read his bio and check out some of his works on his web site at www.leunig.com.au

I’m sure you will more than understand why his works mean so much to me!

Love & blessings,

Rowena

[1] Michael Leunig: The Prayer Tree, Harper Collins, 1990 no page numbers.

Prelude to the Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014

Every year I live and breathe for the Sydney Writers’ Festival (SWF). It is my one big chance to glean the expertise of published writers and to meet and hang out with other writers in a suitably arty venue. You just look at this crowd and you can tell they know how to write… or they’re avid readers and certainly not the types to simply hoard books beside the bed. Oh no! They actually read them! That’s because most of them are wearing black or perhaps a vintage frock from some by-gone era be it the 50s, 60s, 70s but definitely not the 80s. You definitely don’t see 80’s gear out at the SWF. It’s still very out! Out! Out!

Each year, the SWF begins when the program appears in the Sydney Morning Herald. This is a massive call to action. The lift out is crammed full of events and workshops spread over something like a week .First, there’s the once over scan to see what’s on offer and circle anything of interest. Then I go back and choose the ones which really stand out and try to cram as many events as I can into the same day if at all possible. I also have to pace myself, especially this year. I haven’t been out and about all that much and I’m not really sure how far I can push myself without paying a terrible price for it later.

I usually have a near panic attack as I flick through the pages to see what’s on offer and to book in very , very quickly on the very same day that program appears, just to be sure. Last year, I left it til Monday and only just managed to get the very last ticket to attend a workshop with children’s book author Andy Griffiths. That was a very nerve wracking experience as that very last ticket somehow got stuck online and when I rang for assistance, I was told that the workshop had sold out. I had that last ticket stuck out there in cyberspace and the only way I could book it, was to let it go and start my transaction from scratch. I was a frazzled, nervous wreck. If you have ever read an Andy Griffiths book and he writes very dramatic books with very appropriate titles like: Just Doomed. Yes, I was feeling doomed. There was no other word for it. However, despite being more doomed than doomed at times, I also have good luck. Am in the right place at the right time. Yes, I did manage to get that last ticket.

 

When I’d read that Australian cartoonist and living legend Michael Leunig was appearing at the festival, I almost broke into some kind of electrified dance. I was over the moon. I’ve been going to the SWF for 6 years and I was only thinking recently that I’ve never heard him speak. He is probably my all time most favourite writer right up there alongside Keats and Kahlil Gibran who wrote: The Prophet. I really wanted to hear Leunig speak. I have heard so many fantastic Australian and overseas writers share their insights: Dr Anna Haebich (my aunty has to come top of the list), playwright David Williamson, children’s book author Jackie French who wrote The Diary of a Wombat, Andy Griffiths of Just Doomed fame, Morris Gleitzmann. I could be quite a show off except I have paid to meet and listen to all these fabulous writers, so it doesn’t really count.

After flicking the pages back and forth, I’m sorted. This is my program for the week:

Tuesday: 9.30 … Writing Historic Fiction with author Sulari Gentill.

Wednesday: 1.30… Mark Lamprell

Friday: 3.00PM …Michael Leunig

Friday: 4.30PM…Richard Flanagan

I decide to stay in Sydney Monday night and spend Monday researching Surry Hills for “my book”. Ha!

I will be spending almost a week in heaven. Can’t wait!

xx Rowena