peach with blue cheese

peach with blue cheese

I’ve been visiting over at my friend Phillipa Fiortetti’s blog, where she’s doing a series on writers talking about cooking.
I did Peaches with Blue cheese and Honey. Sounds a bit weird but tastes divine!

Phillipa and I met in 2008 at the Hachette/QWC manuscript development program. Pip then published The Book of Love and Fragment of Dreams and now her latest For One Night Only.

Favel Parrett was part of our group too. She’s published the beautiful Past The Shallows with the second book due any moment now.

Last night I went to the launch of another of our alumni, Azra Alagic. Her book Not Like My Mother is a creative non-fiction retelling of the horrors her family endured living through the Balkan wars and how this trauma has been passed down through the generations.

And that’s just a few of our number.
So proud of them all!

WHY WE WRITE – Thoughts after the Brisbane Writers Festival

This year’s festival  was the busiest I’ve ever seen, despite the hike in ticket prices to a number of sessions. So much for 47% of Queenslanders being unable to read, Germaine! It was obvious that people in Brisbane care deeply about reading and writing. But why? Why were we all there? Why do readers keep searching for the perfect book? Why do writers continue to write despite the lack of financial, or other, rewards?

The first session I attended was French Writing in The Pacific with authors from New Caledonia and Tahiti. Chantal Spitz, the first indigenous Tahitian ever published, explained why she writes,”because if I can’t write, I would die.” And I think this rings true for a number of writers. Perhaps we wouldn’t die, but we wouldn’t “Be”to the fullest extent of our being. We write because we can’t stop. Because writing somehow IS who we are.

Chantal Spitz    photo © Marie-Hélène Villierme

Chantal Spitz photo © Marie-Hélène Villierme

Chantal writes in  poetic langauge with strength and courage to bear witness to the truth of the lives of Tahitians and refute the mythologised version of Mutiny on The Bounty babes and lazy fools. Her book Island of Shattered Dreams  brings to life the harsh reality of a colonised people.

A small group “conversation” with Susan Johnson, one of my favourite Australian authors, was next. Susan has published nine books, including Life in Seven Mistakes, The Broken Book, A Better Woman, her powerful memoir of motherhood, and most recently, My Hundred Lovers. Despite being shortlisted for several awards over her career as a writer, she’s never managed to crack a major prize. And she could have done with the money, she said. She needed that money. Her husband was demanding she contribute to the family coffers. “Was she crazy,” she asked, “to keep on writing?”

I, for one, am glad she did. She’s recently returned to full-time work as a journalist to support her family, but I hope that soon some big prize money will come her way and give her the time she needs to keep writing her beautiful prose. Not many writers can do what she does with words, going deep into universal truths, the deeply buried secrets of the heart and body.

In response to the lack of awards for women, Susan and a group of other Australian women writers have banded together to create The Stella Prize, with the inaugural competition running next year.

In a session on Mothers and Their Families I met Claire Bidwell Smith a young American writer whose first book, The Rules of Inheritance, a memoir about the loss of both her parents to cancer, has recently been released in Australia by Text. Grief is a subject close to my heart, it has been a shaping force in my life and I’ve written my own “Guide to Grief”(currently looking for a good home), so I was interested to hear her speak. Like me, the stories of her loss were the first ones she had to tell. The old adage,”write what you know”comes down to this for me. It’s not about what you know out in the world, but what you know about your heart’s inner workings.

I stumbled into Indigenous Story Tellers next and was very glad I did. When Witi Ihamaera sang a welcome in Maori we all knew it was going to be a special session. Boori Monty Pryor, a born showman from far north Queensland, read us a poem that had us laughing and crying at the same time. Chantal again moved us with her words of struggle and Witi showed us how his wise grandmother taught him to question and subvert the ways of the white fella through nursery rhymes. It was a session that had the audience in tears, moved by the plight of these brave people who had the grace to still sit before us, to accept us and let us learn from them. It was humbling to be in their presence.

The last session I attended was Black and Write, celebrating  the success of a program to discover and encourage indigenous writers and editors. Sue McPherson, author of Grace Beside Me won us all over with her wicked sense of humour and stories of battling with her inner-critic called Ethel. But it was Michael Heyward, editor at Text Publishing who encapsulated what the festival taught me this time around.

Books matter. Writing matters. Because books have the power to change people’s lives.


Queensland Literary Awards: Queensland Book of the Year winner Simon Cleary, Fiction Book Award winner Frank Moorhouse and Non-Fiction Book Award winner Robin De Crespigny. Picture: Liam Kidston

Queensland Literary Awards: Queensland Book of the Year winner Simon Cleary, Fiction Book Award winner Frank Moorhouse and Non-Fiction Book Award winner Robin De Crespigny. Picture: Liam Kidston


Last night I had the great pleasure of attending the inaugural Queensland Literary Awards. And what a wonderful night it was. After the heinous axing of the Premier’s awards by the new conservative government, the power of the people and the hard work of a few like Krissy Kneen, Claire Booth and Matthew Condon, made these awards the “most noble”of the literary calendar this year as Fiction Book winner Frank Moorhouse noted in his acceptance speech.

Not a politician in sight, which meant the speeches were entertaining and the room was filled with laughter and feel-good vibes. Richard Fidler, host of Conversations on ABC radio, hosted the event and set the tone for the evening by saying that by sacrificing our literary prize money we writers had saved Queensland from certain Apocalypse.

With fifteen awards in all, there are too many to list here. The event made the front page of The COurier Mail however so click here for  a complete list.

Highlights for me were the emerging writer prize, won by Catherine Titasey for her manuscript, “Islands of the Unexpected”. She’d flown all the way from Thursday Island where she lives, and the book is set, to accept the award and accompanying bottle of coins collected by literary buskers. She had never met another writer.

Winner of the David Unaipon Award, SivParker, moved the audience when she told of how her mother had taught herself to read using Anne of Green Gables! Without the efforts of volunteers and donors, there would have been no award this year for her to win.

I’d entered Thrill Seekers in the Young Adult section but was up against some fierce competiton. I was happy to cheer for Neil Grant’s book about a young refugee from Afghanistan and an Australian boy, The Ink Bridge.

When the award for best Non-Fiction book was announced and the winner stood up, I got a shiver down my spine, because from the back she looked so much like my best writing buddy Helena Pastor who I imagined one day also winning the award. Robin De Crespigny won with The People Smuggler, humanising the face that many demonise.

The party after the event was a hoot. Spirits were high and the drinks were free. It felt like we’d all achieved something quite grand, together. We’d stood up for the importance of writing and reading. The strength of the winners was that they all, in their different ways, showed how the power of story helps change the way we think.

Congratulations to all the winners and most especially to those who worked so hard to ensure that Queensland’s vibrant literary scene retained its awards. 



Veny Armanno

Veny Armanno

In 2002 , the year I first decided to take my writing seriously and  pursue the long-held dream, I attended lots of courses at the Queensland Writers Centre. One of the first I went to was taught by Veny Armanno. He made the world of writing sound so exciting, difficult yet rewarding, that I was inspired to apply for a Masters degree at the University of Queensland where he taught in the creative writing programme. I was lucky enough to be accepted and have him as my supervisor/advisor. It was from Veny that I learnt the importance of each sentence, the power of good strong prose. It was also from him I learned that discipline and persistence are as essential to the writing business as creativity.

I was already a fan of his work, especially Romeo of the Underworld and Firehead, where he infused laid back Queensland with a deeply sensitive Sicilian sensibility. Then he won the QLD Premier’s award for best novel for his epic The Volcano. I loved his recent release, The Dirty Beat and in a few weeks his new novel Black Mountain will be launched at Avid Reader Bookstore in West End. Time to go along and cheer!

Somehow Veny manages to keep on producing work of combined power and beauty, all while continuing to teach writing to upstarts like me.

I was honoured to have Veny launch Thrill Seekers earlier this year and am very grateful for all he’s taught me. He’s running a workshop at the QLD Writers Centre later this year, “Show Don’t ‘Tell” and I recommend that if you’re serious about improving your writing or just need a kick start, this is one workshop not to miss.

I’m looking forward to reading Black Mountain and seeing what he’s come up with this time. It looks fabulous!

Black Mountain by Venero Armanno

Black Mountain by Venero Armanno

Three cheers for Veny Armanno, one of this country’s most exciting, yet under-recognised, writers.

You’re recognised by me Veny, and by all those readers and writers whose lives you’ve touched.

Thank you.

With lots of love,