Newcastle Writers Festival Recap: Part Two

The Newcastle Writer’s Festival is always packed with amazing sessions and my Saturday was no different. I attended five sessions on Saturday and while I covered my first three in Part One, I’m covering my other two and my Sunday session in this second part.

Chris Hammer and Holly Throsby with Suzanne Leal

My fourth session on Saturday was Creating Memorable Characters with Chris Hammer, Holly Throsby. They spoke with Suzanne Leal about how they create characters who feel real and the development of their books and writing.

Suzi asked Holly if her towns Goodwood and Cedar Valley were real places but Holly explained they were made up but were similar to many other towns of that kind. She also explained that the reason she set her stories in the 90’s is because that was when she was a teenager and it felt natural to write about when she was a teenager herself.

Chris told us all about his book Scrublands and where the inspiration for Martin came from. There was no journalistic skill needed but he told us that his inspiration was that he had done journalistic stories like that before. Chris explained many people assume he is a war correspondent when they find out he was a foreign correspondent but he wasn’t.

Getting into character creation Suzi asked if Chris had an image of his character in mind or was he based one someone real. Chris explained he chose to keep Martin’s description broad, he isn’t vividly described in the book at all despite being written in third person. Holly worked on instinct, she initially had a couple main characters but nothing definitive, mainly an outline.

Chris said that while there is truth in writing what you know, there is also truth in imagination. He also spoke about how writing a novel is liberating compared to being a journalist. As a journalist you need to fact-check and protect sources, as a writer you can write the big stories first and fact-check it later. His story isn’t based on real events but are similar to stories he’s covered in the past.  Holly is also a songwriter and she spoke about how writing music and novels are different. She can’t write novels the same way she writes songs but there is a melody in her writing.

The audience asked insightful questions and one question was how both authors write distinctive voices, especially with so many different characters. Chris said since his story is through Martin’s perspective he must drag out different characters through their dialogue. Holly said it was a matter of imbuing the sense of the person to the page. Having heard of but not having read any of their books before I came away from the session with some fascinating insight and intrigue, and certainly with renewed interest in checking out their books for myself.

Clementine Ford with Amy Sambrooke

My next session was an evening session with Clementine Ford to discuss her latest book Boys Will Be Boys with Amy Sambrooke. Amy started off the session by asking why Clementine wrote her book to which Clementine explained that there were words and then there was actions. She felt there was a need to have these conversations about the things that came up in the book. It is the perfect companion to Fight Like A Girl and Clementine felt that you couldn’t tell the whole story without telling both sides. The second reason was the Clementine had a baby boy and become even more invested in creating a world where he won’t perpetuate harm nor be subjected to harm by others.

Amy asked Clementine to explain toxic masculinity, something Clementine said was a great term but one that is often misunderstood. Toxic masculinity isn’t all masculinity. She explained that men want to maintain the standard power, men also won’t get told off for being feminists unlike women. She said that men continue to be surprised by the #metoo stories which shows how they don’t understand the women in their lives. She said men don’t ask women about their experiences, a comment which resulted in an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience. She summed it up that toxic masculinity is that men can behave how they like until they have to say sorry and we’re meant to accept it and forget the pain it’s caused.

Amy brought up the concept of consent and why it is so contested. Clementine told a story of a friend of a friend who had GHB put in her drink at a club and how lucky she was to have nothing come from it. She questioned what could possibly be so broken about someone for them to do that, and just because this one woman was saved, who else wasn’t that night. She made the point that is isn’t just the perpetrators but those around them enabling them. People don’t want to acknowledge it’s people they know doing these kinds of things.

The conversation moved onto sex and morality and Clementine said it was never too early to teach consent. Not sexual consent but consent for kissing, touching, hugging; teaching children they don’t have to be hugged by people if they don’t want to. If they don’t want cuddles then they should be respected.

Male bonding was also brought up and this too has suffered, Clementine saying that the patriarchy breaks men in different ways. Not being able to have strong emotional male friendships was something that was causing suffering to men.

It was not all hopeless because Clementine left us with hope that things can change. She told us we need to raise kids in a way that doesn’t make this normal. Make it unacceptable to tell sexists jokes, racist slurs. She reminded us smoking was once so commonplace and people thought it would never change but if someone tried to smoke in a hospital now people would not only look on horrified but would berate whoever had lit up. She said humans are malleable and it will take time but we are capable of changing the behaviour of those in society. One thing that was a great conclusion to the session as the reminder that “power is not gained by taking it from someone else”.

This was a great session to end my Saturday with and one that was enlightening, intense, and fascinating all at once. I came back Sunday with vigour to see Clementine speak again on the panel Why Women’s Stories Matter with Kate Lilley, and Alison Whittaker. Trisha Pender spoke with these amazing women about their stories and why it was important that they were told.

Trisha Pender with Kate Lilley, Alison Whittaker, and Clementine Ford

Kate’s work Reckoning emerged after the #metoo movement but it was a work long in the making. Alison entered into a conversation she hadn’t entered into before. She had hoped to address a specific audience with Blakwork but it turned out to be a small percentage of the audience she received. The book she wrote was an entirely different book in the hands of a white woman than it was in the hands of a queer aboriginal woman. Clementine’s book is a companion piece to her first book telling the other half, Fight Like A Girl isn’t a universal story but the things explored in Boys Will Be Boys harms everyone.

Each woman read from their books and I was fascinated by Alison’s poem “A Love Like Dorothea”, a reworking of the poem My Country by Dorothea Mackellar which is a love letter to 19th century Australia but which ignores the Aboriginal presence entirely.

Amy asked the panel how the political climate influence their books, especially the 2018 NAIDOC theme “Because of her, we can!”. Kate said there is now a cultural shift to take these stories seriously which has moved her to write things with very personal motives. Alison said it was rematriation as a resolution to colonialism, while Clementine said nothing political changed her view, she was always going to write this story. She did say though that the public conscious shifted to have an eagerness to learn about things outside of themselves and while there is still resistance, people are having the conversations.

Clementine read a passage from her chapter Girls on Film and why women’s stories matter. She brought up the Captain Marvel and Ghostbusters backlash and said there is an (incorrect) insistence from people that no one wants to see these stories because they don’t want to see these stories. If we’re only told one story then we think only one story counts.

Trisha said that they always have sessions like this at festivals but they’re still needed. Women’s stories aren’t reviewed as often as men’s. Kate said that literary reviewing in Australia is terrible and not taken seriously. On the subject of diversity Alison worried what it means to be put in the diverse box. The weight of expectation is there even for not important works as people are asked to bear that and think that presence is enough when it isn’t.

The whole panel spoke about the use of humour in their writing and how it is a necessity because the writing can be dark. Clementine said that men are easy to joke about but they are not very good at laughing at themselves. She said that women are extremely funny, our use of sarcasm and in the matters of our lives. The humour is not understood by the people who the joke is about because they don’t understand our stories.

It is always such a thrill listening to these kinds of sessions because not only do you get to hear from people you may never have discovered, but the conversation is so captivating and broad and enlightening. No matter what the session was about I often come out of these festivals with inspiration whether for my own work or simple to change the world. It is a wonderful feeling and one of the reasons I love coming to these festivals. I cannot wait until the next Newcastle Writers Festival next year and I have no doubt Rosemarie Milsom and her team will excel once more.

 

Top Five of 2018

I made a good decision last year to add all the books I thought worthy of my top five into a list as I finished them. It worked out well because I didn’t have to scramble and try and remember anything I had read or try to recall plot points and emotional responses come December. I ended the year with 5 books on that list, perfect, easy, ready to go and then there came an 11th hour addition on 31st December which made me rethink the entire thing and kick one of my books out. In the end, I think I chose the right books.

This year I have brought back the Honourable Mentions because a couple really do need mentioning. I have also started a Top Five Picture Books because they were remarkable as well and didn’t want to crowd my list. If I was really enthusiastic I might make it a top ten and just merge them together but that is a lot of pressure for next time. This way I can highlight some amazing picture books as well. Click the title to read my review.

 

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

This was the first book I added to my list as soon as I finished it back in May. I patiently waited for this to publish and was not disappointed at how spectacular it was.

 

 

 

 

 

Ready Player One (#1) by Ernest Cline

I adored this book. If you love cleverness, video games and are forgiving about having the 80s shoved down your throat then you will love this. There is a sequel coming after the popularity of the movie. I’m not sure I agree but I am willing to give it a go.

 

 

 

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I could not put this book down. I listened to the audio and literally had it in my ears from dawn till dusk. It is amazing and so well planned out.

 

 

 

 

Loving Lakyn by Charlotte Reagan

Technically a prequel, technically a sequel but it can be read on its own. Either way, it is amazing and I fell hard and fast for these characters. The emotional journey I went on with these boys was incredible and heartbreaking. If I could read about them forever I would.

 

 

 

What If? by Randall Munroe

I had been reading this book on and off for weeks, piece by piece at night before I went to sleep. I finally finished it on NYE and something about it made me instantly decide to add it to my list. It was clever, funny, creative, fascinating. All of these wonderful things the entire time but it was upon finishing it I realised how much I genuinely loved this book. Therefore I had to bump another contender and rise this up the ranks.

 

 

Top Five Picture Books

A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins

Eric the Postie by Matt Shanks

Naughty Kitty by Adam Stower

A Boy, a Bear, and a Balloon by Brittany Rubiano

What’s Up Top? by Marc Martin

 

Honourable Mentions

Soulless (#1) by Gail Carriger

Truly Devious (#1) by Maureen Johnson

Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford

What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear by P. Crumble

Penguin Problems by Jory John

 

Top Five of 2017

Top 5 2014There were some books that immediately made their way on this list and some that I had to think about whether they made the cut. The problem is if it’s months later the emotional experience lessons and I’m not sure how I felt about a book. This is why reviews are very handy when I actually write them! It also helps to create a list through the year, which normally I am very good at, but while three books stuck out as clear winners, it was hard finding the other two books to add to the list. I think I have chosen well though,  there is a mixture of non-fiction, YA, and different genres. It’s a nice little diverse list actually which was a surprise.

La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

I HAVE to include this because this has been on my TBR pile for about 5 years while I waited for it to even be written and I am so excited that I have had a chance to read it finally! Not that I wouldn’t include it otherwise this book was 100% worth the wait of the last few years, it was beautiful, important, magical and all the things that make HDM brilliant 20 years before. If you are going to read it, I suggest you have read the original three first. The surprises in HDM aren’t surprises in this book and it will ruin your experience.

The Martian by Andy Weir

I have been planning on reading this book ever since it came out, I had a feeling I would love it and I was totally right. Ever since I read it I find myself thinking about it all the time. I could easily reread it and I would love it all over again. I want to give it to people and make them read it. Also, while the book is super hilarious and amazing, the movie is actually very close, but not nearly as funny.

Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford

I don’t normally read a lot of non-fiction but this is a book we all need to read: women, men, all genders and all ages. There are so many moments in this book where you realise the same thing has happened in your life or someone you know, or even just when Ford opens your eyes to things you already knew but now have confirmation. It’s an amazing read as a female and it is important to read for men.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

I was so surprised by this book. It draws you in, it’s fascinating, engaging, then Watson turns it on its head and throws another twist at you. I implore that if you love thrillers, and love to be surprised and enthralled, that you should read this book.  This also has a movie adaptation, which is very good, but the book is still a better experience in my opinion.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

I have been reading Maureen Johnson’s books for a few years and I have to say this one might be my favourite. This series anyway. It is a mystery and a ghost story wrapped up together and it has you not only enthralled by these characters and Johnson’s writing, but it will have you on the edge of your seat, frantically turning pages and immediately making you pick up the second book upon completion.

Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford

Published: 28th September 2016 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Allen & Unwin
Pages: 294
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Online sensation, fearless feminist heroine and scourge of trolls and misogynists everywhere, Clementine Ford is a beacon of hope and inspiration to thousands of Australian women and girls. Her incendiary debut Fight Like A Girl is an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Crucially, it is a call to arms for all women to rediscover the fury that has been suppressed by a society that still considers feminism a threat.

Fight Like A Girl will make you laugh, cry and scream. But above all it will make you demand and fight for a world in which women have real equality and not merely the illusion of it.

I had been hearing so much about this book when it was published and I was eager to get my hands on it and experience it for myself. Reading it was all I hoped it would be and more, I filled its pages with Post It’s marking of important and wonderful quotes. I also got to meet Ford at the Newcastle Writers’ Festival which was amazing, as was listening to her in her sessions.

Fight Like A Girl is a book that everyone should read, every girl and every woman, but also every man. So many of my own experiences are laid out in this book. The fact that I can agree with so much of Ford’s words should be worrying, but it’s not. They’re a comfort because it reminds me that I’m not being paranoid or silly when I hold me keys in my fingers walking back to my car late at night, it reminds me I’m not overreacting when I feel uncomfortable having a stranger talk to me at the bus stop when he’s a little drunk, worried what he’ll say and what I’m safe to respond with. It makes me think of all the times I’ve placated a thought to save hurting a man’s feelings and not stood up for something out of fear of personal verbal attack. It’s reminded me that the passion and the fight I feel inside me is one that many women out there are feeling and that it’s ok to feel this way.

Ford addresses many issues and “societal norms” I suppose we could call them through her chapters and she is unapologetic in her words and opinions. Mixed in with her own experiences it’s actually a humorous and enlightening book at times that looks at how society has been constructed to see women as the lesser and the weaker, the one in need of defending and the one who is not only walked over and shut down by the patriarchy, but happy to have it happen.

It’s not all agreement and scoffs at how men are and how childish they can be when their ways of life are challenged. Parts of this book made me sick to my stomach and it makes me angry and sad, but more importantly, it flames the fire I’ve been stoking for the past few years. The feminist I’ve been since my second year of uni and the one who’s gradually doing a little more than fuming internally and sharing Tumblr posts, cheering in the tags.

This is a book for everyone. To quote Ford, it “is a love letter to the girls”. There are some tough topics being discussed in here, but they’re important, and this book is important because if someone doesn’t want to listen to (or believe) a women’s experience from her own mouth, you can always throw this book at them instead.

You can purchase Fight Like A Girl via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Dymocks | Allen & Unwin

Angus and Robinson’s Bookworld | Fishpond

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