Melbourne Writers Festival

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Hey gang! How are you? I’ve just had an excellent week helping out at the Melbourne Writers Festival. How cool is my t-shirt and lanyard? Any fellow Melburnians, did you manage to get along? Are festivals your thing? I’ve been to the MWF the last few years and have heard some wonderfully entertaining and informative chats. When I saw the call for volunteers this year, I thought “why not?”

I had four shifts over the week. Two were full days with kids workshops in the morning and afternoon, one school group workshop, and the other was a session at my local library where Hannah Kent discussed her new book, The Good People. Gosh, she has a lovely speaking voice! It was interesting hearing her speak about her writing process – she writes from 7.30am to 2pm everyday, with defined breaks. She said she started this practice after she read that this was Sarah Waters’s writing routine. She figured that since Sarah was a writer of historical fiction maybe it would work for her too!

The workshops with the kids were great too. One of the nice things about these was that because they were small and pretty informal, we (me and my volunteer buddy for the day) had the chance to have a chat to the authors whilst we were wandering around and helping the kids with the activity.

My first session was with Asphyxia, author and illustrator of The Grimstones, a junior fiction series. She ran a creative art journalling workshop. She brought along some of her journals and, oh my, they were DIVINE! So inspiring! You can get a little taste of them here. The kids were totally focussed on creating their own journals. It was lovely seeing them working away so freely, without anyone judging their work and just embracing their creativity.

Ben McKenzie ran a games workshop based on Dungeons and Dragons. One session was for younger kids where they worked at creating their own story by themselves, or with their parents, and the second session was with older kids who worked in a group creating their game of rescuing their best friend from the monster they had created. Some of their ideas were very inventive.  They had to create an obstacle that needed to be overcome before they could save their friend. One boy’s obstacle was a ‘meme wall’ because encountering the memes would be so distracting it would be impassable!  I heard the same boy, with a big grin on his face, saying to his pal, “Do you think everyone here is a super geek?”!

One of my favourite authors is Maxine Beneba Clarke and I was lucky enough to score a place helping out at her workshop focussed around her new children’s book, The Patchwork Bike. She talked to the kids about how she came up with the idea for the book, how she thought about choosing her words, and how she chose the illustrator of the book, Van T Rudd. Van then helped the kids collage their own patchwork bike using cardboard, scraps of paper and textas. He chatted to the kids about how mistakes can be used to create different ideas and not to be scared of them.

Helping out with with these warmed the cockles of my heart! It was lovely to see the kids exploring their creativity with pens, paper, paints, pencils and words.  And they were all super engaged without a piece of technology in sight!

Alice Pung’s school workshop was at the Immigration Museum and centred around identity. Are you shaped by where you come from? It skewed a little more to the assumptions others make about you because of the way you look, or your ethnicity or religion. She shared stories with the kids about how she has received comments that indicate she is assumed to be a mail order bride when she’s been out with her Caucasian hubby (“How much did she cost?”), and how as a kid she didn’t understand what some boys meant when she was told to ‘go home’ because ‘home’ was the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook, and her house was only thirty metres away! The kids who were attending were from a variety of schools – Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic – and they shared some of their stories too. Lots of gasps and laughs as they told their stories.

I think one of my favourite moments was at the free Hannah Kent library session. A lady barrelled in, breathless, “I’ve just flown in from Sydney and my friend told me this session was on. I don’t have a booking but she said I should try and see if there was a space free.” We assured her there was and that she didn’t need to pay any money and her voice raised excitedly in pitch, “It’s free! Oh my goodness! And there’s tea inside!”. She was a joy!

Everyone was so lovely at the festival – the staff, the volunteers and the  patrons (well, there was one grumpy one but think we managed to assuage her!). And the 10% off at the Readings pop up book shop was an added bonus – added The Choke and Ache to my reading pile! I’ll definitely be putting my hand up again next year!

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The Sketchbook Project update!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about taking part in The Sketchbook Project. So. Have I been brave enough to put pen/pencil/paint to paper! Indeedy, I have! Here’s how it’s coming along!

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I’m pleased with how it’s coming along so far. It’s been really nice taking time creating an image rather than just banging out a quick sketch ‘to keep the eye in’. And it’s made me think about trying out different mediums. Maybe they won’t all make their way into the sketchbook but it will be fun playing!

The pages aren’t very thick so I avoided watercolour at first but then had the light bulb moment – my dimmer switch was on way too long! – that I could paint on watercolour paper and simply stick it into the sketchbook! My theme is Long Stories, Short so I’ve decided to use one page for words that tell the story of my picture. There’s not really a link between each page, other than they are little snapshots of a scene or thought that has stoked my imagination.

Do you have a favourite pic? I’d love to hear what you think!

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Take a breath, my little introvert!

I loved reading this post by Dani of eat my street.  Her seven point plan for making friends as an introvert really resonated with me. Being an introvert can make finding friends a bit tricky sometimes, not because of shyness – although that may be in there – but because the prospect of falling into a gregarious, group environment can be intimidating and make us a little fearful. The introvert may hold back and not venture out into friend making territory (gosh, sounded a bit David Attenborough there!). This is a bit sad because then we can end up a little lonely. An introvert still needs friends! It’s just that we need time away from them to recharge and stay our friendly, sparkly selves! And so, in the spirit of introvert camaraderie,  I thought I’d share a piece I wrote last weekend for Pip Lincolne‘s fabulous online storytelling course.

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‘Do you think they’ll come?’ I asked my husband.

‘Of course! Why wouldn’t they?’

I had agonised over the invitation for way too long. Somehow this reserved, wallflower, non-party girl had volunteered to be on the kindergarten social committee and I felt way outside my comfort zone! So why did I do it?

When you are at school and work, social contact is like a smorgasbord. Every day you head to the same place, the same people show up and you pick and choose who you want to spend time with. You don’t have to make the effort to find friends, they’re just laid out for you. The world of the stay-at-home mum is different. There’s no one but you and the baby or toddler. Whilst I might be an introvert and love to have the space of my own time in my own home, I also like having some buddies. I’m not a recluse! So I had to take steps to create social contact by myself. Scary! When the call came out that a volunteer for Blue Group was needed, my reserve collided with my conscience and sense of responsibility. I took a breath and made the call to the ‘President of the Social Committee’!   Now, here I was, organising my very own social function!

Well, they did come! It was lovely and friendly and everyone was very grateful that I had been so kind to invite them to my home so we could all have a cuppa and get to know each other. Wow! They thought I was the bees knees! With everyone gone and my house mine once more, a little swell of pride fluttered in my heart. I had done it! I had stepped outside my comfort zone and created something people liked! Pat on the back, me! (Added bonus, one of the mums was a dentist and I was on the search for a new one. She has provided us with stellar care for the last 15 years!)

So with that little bit of confidence, I started to put my hand up for a few more things. I tackled enrolment officer (that’s a great way to get to know people!), parent committees, class reps, ball committees (how did THAT happen??) and then spread my wings a bit further into community volunteer programs, all the while gathering more people into my circle. I found babysitters, fellow taxi drivers, friends to laugh with, friends to cry with. Then the circles started overlapping and it seemed wherever I went the six degrees (or less!) of separation kicked in. It made making conversation and more buddies so much easier! My deep breath had delivered me the oxygen of friendship.

A few years ago, when I was doing a yoga course, our teacher told us that when you are ice-skating, it feels really safe skating around holding on to the edge of the rink. But the rink is large, with lots to explore. If you want to experience that, you have to let go of the safety of the rail. That’s something I try to keep in mind. I’m so pleased I let go of the rail. It has enabled me to write this today and has made my life so much richer. If you’re thinking about doing something, don’t let your introvert fears hold you back. Take a breath and go for it. The worst thing that will happen is you’ll fall and get a wet bum but everyone else is so busy skating they won’t even notice!

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How about you?  Have you had to step out of your comfort zone to break the confines of introversion?