Melbourne Writers Festival 2014

Reflections of MWF

I was lucky enough to have five gigs at the 2014 Melbourne Writers Festival and each of them proved memorable –all for good reasons.

The first two sessions were held at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka in Ballarat – a marvellous venue, rich in history, that includes a display of the Southern Cross flag raised at the Eureka Rebellion.

First up was an ‘in-conversation’ session with Jackie French, the Australian Children’s Writing Laureate for 2014/15. Titled Australian Stories, the session touched on ways to make Australian stories engaging; how Jackie conducts research (she doesn’t have to – she has an enormous capacity to remember what she has read and learnt); and many topics raised by the inquisitive audience.

Next was the Unlock Your Writing with Research Workshop which I delivered to a full house. Some of the points that I tried to impress on the participants were:

  • Take time to do your research. Take time to make decisions about which information to use. Your research informs the finished product.
  • The most important thing to note while you are researching is what I call the ‘wow’ factor. If something makes you go ‘wow’ – for whatever reason –m the chances are it will make others go ‘wow’.
  • Make sure to note all the sources you use. You will inevitably have to check something and in my experience it is usually something that you did not make enough notes re its source.
  • Keep all your research materials until after publication.

I then used my research work on my latest book, Horses in Australia: An Illustrated History as a case study – with plenty of examples of the ‘wow’ factor. Feedback was great!

The following morning it was off to Federation Square for two more sessions. The scene that I was met with on my arrival at Fed Square was the absolute highlight of the week: hundreds of mingling schoolchildren clutching books, rather than electronic devices.

My first session of the day involved chairing a session with Jackie French and the YA novelist, Kirsty Murray. It was titled Tales From Another Time and focussed on historical fiction and how these two great exponents of this genre are able to transport readers to the far gone times to give them a greater understanding of our past, history, myths and legends. I was particularly keen on exploring the relevance of historical fiction to today’s world; and Jackie and Kirsty make historical stories and characters that resonate with today’s readers. Again, input from the audience was a key to the success of the session.

The afternoon session was again just Jackie French and me. By this time (our third session), Jackie and I were developing a rapport. This session was titled Anzac Lives and was one of several sessions at the MWF dealing with WWI and writing about war.

My final session took place a couple of days later and was another of the sessions dealing with writing about war, Titled Words About War, the session was chaired by graphic novelist, Bernard Caleo, and involved Carole Wilkinson and me discussing how we have tackled writing about war for young audiences. We covered enormous ground and answered some penetrating questions from the audience.

The whole experience was enormously enjoyable and certainly makes one feel a part of a community. I think my favourite comment of the week came from Jackie French as we were engaged in book signings. Jackie, the Australian Children Laureate had a few keen fans line up for her autograph; I had far less of course; while nearby a queue that stretched about 200 metres ended at the table occupied by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.

‘Doing a book signing near Andy Griffiths is the best way to bring one back down to earth,’ exclaimed Jackie.


Nicolas Brasch

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