Blog

Postcard from Sydney Writers Festival 2019

Michelle Morgan - Sunday, May 05, 2019

Another brilliant Sydney Writers Festival has wrapped up. I thought it couldn't get any better than previous years, but it did. I took a different approach to selecting sessions to attend this year. As a writer, I've previously chosen sessions that related to my writing - historical fiction, YA fiction, playwriting / screenwriting. However, this year I decided to explore broader areas of interest from international relations to the mind of the octopus.

One of the most interesting panel discussions I attended was about Russia and whether it's the enemy the West has come to believe. Monica Attard, a former Russian correspondent and author of a book on the collapse of the Soviet Union, did a great job moderating the discussions between Emeritus Professor Graeme Gill (University of Sydney) and Tom Switzer, Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Studies. Both speakers agreed that Russiaphobia is alive and well, and they presented arguments from Russia's perspective, taking into account significant events of the 20th Century that had huge impacts on Russia, including the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Second World War and Stalinist regime, the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989. In view of these events, they argued it is understandable that Russia would see American influence in Georgia, the Ukraine and the Crimea as a threat to their national security. It was surprising to discover that Russia's economy is comparable in size to that of Australia's, even though Russia's nuclear capability is that of a superpower.

Another interesting panel discussion was "Can you spot a liar?" with crime reporter Matthew Condon, investigative journalist Kate McClymont and forensic psychiatrist Dr Calum Smith and moderated by Chris Taylor (broadcaster and former member of The Chaser). Discussions related more to why people lie and the relevant contexts rather than the behavioural cues to look for to spot when someone is lying. When politicians for example have a conflict between their party's policies and their own personal situation or beliefs, there is an increased likelihood they will lie to maintain party solidarity. But the truth usually emerges when there is no perception of personal or professional threat.

Janice Peterson (SBS TV) talked with Iraqi journalist Dunya Mikhail about growing up in Iraq as well as her compelling account of how a honey trader helped liberate Yazidi women enslaved by ISIS, also the subject of Dunya's latest book. It was fascinating to learn about Dunya's personal experiences before and after the wars in Iraq as well as the plight of the Yazidi women, a minority group in Iraq who were treated appallingly.

Although I have heard David Marr speak on several occasions, his lively repartee and views on Australian society and politics are always entertaining and insightful. Sally Warhaft, a broadcaster and anthropologist, managed to keep David's enthusiasm in check, like Dr Watson to Sherlock Holmes.

The panel discussion about living in the age of anxiety curiously included three UK writers - Marina Benjamin, William Davies and Olivia Sudjic - and was moderated by Australian author Sophie Cunningham. The panel discussed their personal perspectives on the causes of present day anxieties, with particular reference to the impact, both positive and negative, of social media. As a writer, I found the open discussion of their own anxieties as writers to be particularly interesting, although greater cultural diversity of the panel would have made the discussions more broadly relevant.

The discussion between Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad and hip-hop artist / political activist / public intellectual Akala about race and class in the ruins of Empire was electrifying. Self-educated, Akala has an extraordinary intellect and depth of understanding of racism and interrelated class and gender issues. His view on how ubiquitous racism is and how the experience of racism varies between cultures was backed up with many examples. The contrast between his experiences of racism in the UK compared to Jamaica were particularly interesting, and made more complex when class and gender were added to the mix. Dr Ahmad was an enthusiastic facilitator whose contrasting style and personality helped make this for me one of the highlights of this year's festival.

Peter Godfey Smith's talk on our mysterious cousin, the Octopus was fascinating. Peter is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney with a particular interest in the philosophy of biology and the mind. He explained very clearly how octopuses and other cephalopods such as squid are our distant cousins in an evolutionary sense and are the most intelligent of the invertebrates. The short videos he showed of octopuses interacting in their underwater habitats off the south coast of NSW were amazing. Each of an octopuses eight arms are alive with neurons and have the ability to act independently due to the complexity of the octopus's nervous system and distributed brain. Each sucker of an octopus's arm also has thousands of neurons for taste and touch. What magnificent creatures!

I look forward to discovering more wonderful writers and speakers at Sydney Writers Festival 2020!

» Share this post

Recent Posts

Tags

sydney mechanics school of arts library just write for kids tanika gupta children's / YA literature ubud, bali deb robins indigenous literacy day Kings Cross Theatre spark award 2017 bay of fires 12 curly questions playwriting playwrights retreat arielle gamble fran knight giveaway theatre illustrators self-publishing Waterstones sir charles kingsford smith reconciliation WritingNSW sydney all the buzz about books bookshops nsw writers' centre literary events lachlan philpott Bookshop Bowral bill condon bookstop[ readhowyouwant Gordon Library 19 March 1932 big book day out bradman museum State Library of NSW book tour kids' book review children's book council of australia barnes&noble australian federation of graduate women elizabeth gilbert writing workshops refugee week Spotlight On Port Macquarie Library sophie masson international children's book day 2014 mETAphor bushwalking MacLean's Booksellers ainslie + gorman arts centre southern highlands writers' festival storytellers festival writers' festivals Quirindi Library children's book council of australia national conference eBooks.com plays awards indigenous literacy foundation NAIDOC week kobo middle grade fiction 14 february 1966 tom keneally centre chloe mauger Magpies festivals goodreads copyediting frankfurt book fair scbwi iTunes author videos skylight books writing process blog hop ubud writers & readers festival atyp griffin press Tamworth Country Music Festival romy sharp dymocks smsa library indie publishing karma canberra berkelouw books Grafton Library decimal currency Tamworth City Library Dymocks Brisbane kate gordon michelle morgan combined book exhibit coming-of-age fiction children's book council of australia NSW branch blog tour scbwi australia historical novel society australasia reviews literary lunch valentine's day libraries festival of golden words ANZAC Day Anniversary Day eBook holidays barbara braxton Reader's Companion Armidale australian standing orders di bates nook nowra library smashwords read3r'zrevu refugees mabo day captain tobias furneaux school visits ulladulla library bookworld teachers' notes Mitchell Library mother's day eBook mall CBCA book of the year awards act writers centre hnsa gorman arts centre griffin theatre songs sandy fussell books author talks kindle bologna children's book fair festival of dangerous ideas allen & unwin goodbye frankie southern highland news Newcastle writers' festival Paperchain Manuka jackie french sharon mcguinness sydney opera house ReadPlus Australia Day jump for jordan gerringong historical society museum elaine ousten australian reading hour autumn revel paperback better read than dead believing Woollahra Library lovereading4kids amazon kindle Muswellbrook Library berkelouw book barn Bowral Art Gallery children's book council of australia illawarra south coast australian literature tasmania jamberoo public school Taree Library deep sky YA fiction KXT sally odgers byron writers festival bookloons authors too late for love interviews alexander mccall smith historical fiction spark award older readers 2017 sydney writers festival 2019 teen fiction Abbey's Bookshop Moss Vale Campus Library Historical Novel Society telopea park school ann harth book fairs seven mile beach highlife magazine shoalhaven libraries Dymock's Canberra good reading magazine CBCA Children's Book Week fishpond goodreads giveaway flying through clouds national simultaneous storytime playwriting festival amazon society of children's book writers and illustrators racing the moon heart of australia Broadbeach Library martin luther king, jr book launch book cover design Reading Time QBD Books + Publishing booktopia buzz words potts point bookshop Lismore Library Good Reading narrabundah college book trailer luke johnson hans christian andersen southern cross clancy tucker lyn linning Sydney Harbour Bridge book depository St Paul's Primary School

Archive