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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!

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Two days to the Southern Highlands Writers' Festival

Michelle Morgan - Thursday, July 10, 2014

It's only two days to the Southern Highlands Writers’ Festival at the Bradman Museum in beautiful Bowral. Although some of the sessions have been booked out there are still some tickets available. There are also three FREE sessions (including mine) and you don't need to book!

In "Young at Heart" on Saturday at 11.15, I'll be talking about some of the things I've learnt about writing for the teen market. The bookshop will also have copies of Racing the Moon available for purchase.

The two other free sessions at the festival are:

"Conversations to have with your kids" on Saturday at 1.15pm - Michael Parker (Headmaster at Oxley College) will be discussing how to develop the next generation of ethical thinkers, a topic covered in his two books, which will also be available in the bookshop.

"Finding inspiration" on Sunday at 12.45pm - Samantha Tidy will discuss how her life journey is reflected in her writing and her latest book, The Happiness Jar, which will also be available.

Check out the Festival program for Saturday and Sunday.

Hope to see you there!

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Newcastle Writers' Festival

Michelle Morgan - Sunday, April 06, 2014

Even the rain couldn't keep the crowds away from the Newcastle Writers' Festival this weekend. It was a fantastic program with many highlights including the panel discussion on Radical Newcastle that looked at inspirational aspects of Newcastle's colourful history, the high-energy seminar by Kathryn Heyman on the art and craft of writing fiction, and the thought-provoking discussions about crime fiction and anti-heroes with Garry DisherAngela Savage and Adrian McKinty.

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Festival of Golden Words

Michelle Morgan - Monday, March 17, 2014

I've just spent an amazing three days at the Festival of Golden Words in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. On day one, I brushed up on my writing skills at a children's writing workshop run by Lian Tanner and listened to some very entertaining talks by Andy Griffiths and Nick Earls in a program that included other fine Australian children's and YA authors.

As well as the children's program, there were two days of concurrent author talks and panel discussions in the marquees set up next to the community centre. There were so many interesting talks, not only by fiction writers, but by food, wine, comedy, historical and biographical writers. it was hard to choose which sessions to go to. My personal favourites were the interviews with Carrie Tiffany, Alex Miller and Hannah Kent as well as the panel discussions that included professors Henry Reynolds and Peter Stanley on the topics of the celebration of war and ANZAC in Australia as well as the neglect of Aboriginal history. It was refreshing to listen to informed arguments being discussed empathetically and respectfully. Every session that I went to also allowed plenty of time for questions from the audience.

There was also a fantastic session called "The Pitch" where budding authors were able to pitch their manuscript or ideas for a book to a panel of publishing experts. It was so interesting listening to the range of stories being pitched in different and engaging ways. Irina Dunn did a great job of chairing this session, which could have easily gone on much longer.

To lighten things up, there were also some very amusing sessions, such as the one chaired by Wendy Harmer to discuss comedy that included Nikki Gemmell and Rachel Treasure. For the foodies and wine connoisseurs there were tastings and talks with Maggie Beer, Max Allen and many other food and wine writers at local wineries.

It was a very inspiring and entertaining way to spend 3 days in the beautiful Tamar Valley. If you plan on going to Beaconsfield, you should allow a couple of hours at least to visit the fabulous Mine & Heritage Centre, which is not only at the site of the Beaconsfield mine disaster, but has fascinating exhibits throughout the historical buildings:

Goodbye Tassie and many thanks to the organisers of the Festival of Golden Words!

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Weekend in Sydney

Michelle Morgan - Sunday, March 09, 2014

I had a wonderful weekend in Sydney, listening to author talks at the City Recital Hall on Friday night and enjoying another great Australian play at the Griffin Theatre on Saturday.

Alexander McCall Smith gave an hilarious talk about his life, books and characters that had me crying with laughter. Like many of his characters, he is witty, delightful and charming. I even managed to have a short chat with him after getting my books signed. Having travelled to Botswana in 2010, I can really relate to and appreciate the characters in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. 

I then had the pleasure of listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about her life, writing and the creative process. It was a very thoughtful and personal talk that was very inspiring. I really enjoyed reading Eat, pray, love and look forward to reading her latest book, The signature of all things, a story that revolves around the world of botany and is set in the nineteenth century.

I've never been disappointed with any of the plays that I've seen at Griffin Theatre and Jump for Jordan was no exception. So much energy and so many fine performances in the one play! It was funny, moving, thought-provoking and overall, very entertaining.

A perfect weekend!

 

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