Thursday, September 4, 2008

Goodbye Melbourne Writers Festival, hello cowboy!

Gruel, Fay Weldon and Mark Sarvas

Some good information was picked up during my recent foray into the world of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Tutor and first time novelist, Mark Sarvas, was particularly good value. This author of Harry, Revised ran a workshop about getting started for would-be writers. It was a very practical class which I think is crucial when you’ve shelled out $200 and are not just there to hear someone’s life story. If you want that you go to a panel discussion or a reading but sometimes people don’t really seem to ‘get’ that.

Mr Sarvas has a website – - and is the man behind a respected literary blog called ELEGANT VARIATION. I’m going to beam in and give him some feedback as he requested during class. Although he did work in LA as a scriptwriter in the past I think novels were his real passion and he’s attended a lot of workshops and classes himself, making it easier for him to distil what’s required to actually make them useful.

A newcomer to the festival scene, I think he also enjoyed meeting other authors and slipping into that world. I took it as a sign of how social and engaging he is that he was able to tempt a few other authors to drop by our 10am to 4pm session to share a few pearls of their wisdom with us also. Or he could have bribed them ...

Nam Le (, from Melbourne, sat in for a brief while. His is a name on a lot of lips currently. The hosts were raving about him and his short story collection – The Boat – on 3RRR’s Aural Text programme (Wednesdays 12pm - 2pm) this week. By the sounds of things this Vietnam born Australian chap has an international career ahead of him. Funny to hear the 3RRR gals mention that he was good looking too. I am thinking launching a new magazine – don’t tell anyone – called Literary Hotties.

Hannah Tinti from the USA also visited us. Her new (first) novel is called The Good Thief. She was interviewed on 'The Book Show 'on Radio National this week. I purchased her book at the Festival bookstore at Fed Square (I also picked up Harry, Revised which is burning a hole next to the bed but, unfortunately, the library emailed to say Fay Weldon’s Spa Decameron had arrived so I just HAD to swoop on that first. Eeeek and I still haven’t finished Salman’s Enchantress of Florence. Ah the reading joy of it all!).

Hannah's particularly interesting because she’s one of the founders of the US literary magazine called One-Story. Every three weeks one short story is published in this tiny, lovely publication. I won’t go into details. Check out if you’re interested. Suffice to say a) I think they have around 8000 submissions a year and can publish only 18 stories and b) the mag is getting some serious attention from editors around the world looking for new writers.

As you can see I’ve been enveloped in bookish thinking. I’m surprised I’m not dreaming of reams of words, scribbled on blue-lined paper, swirling around me at night. Instead I’m dreaming of creatures like those hideous monstrosities from M. Night Shyamalan’s film, 'The Village'. Go figure!

Anyway, I digress in a monumental way … great advice picked up from Mr Sarvas included reading like a writer. This involves being aware, as one reads novels day in day out, of the mechanics being employed by the author … the construction of the book and the way the story is being moved along and so forth. Part of me always thinks such examination or analysis takes the fun out of activities such as this but, committed to a home made 'Mrs Underhill Masters of Creative Writing in the sunroom' for the remainder of this year, I am going to knuckle down and give this a bash. Mr Sarvas also gave EVERT student a copy of his favourite novel, The Great Gatsby. Bless!

In the spirit of “thinking like a writer” as was also discussed in class, I am going to buy a specific tiny notebook to record all manner of intriguing dialogue I hear between airports and luggage carousels between here and Nashville, New Orleans and Austin in October. I will probably end up using it to write lists of perfumes and booze that I want to purchase but, hell, it’ll come in handy either way. Maybe when Mr Underhill’s not looking I can get down a few cowboy’s phone numbers too.

Of course I am also going to put the finishing touches on my big bank job, write the double issue of the magazine that is hovering before me and pull off a terribly chic and amusing Melbourne travel piece for one of the editors of Tatler or some UK website. I’ve been commissioned, accepted the price, floated a deadline and still am not sure who I am writing for. Crazy!

But, as everyone who has shared insights into writing with me in the past months has said, life just cannot get in the way of the writing. There are, apparently, no excuses – save death – which can be accepted. And, if I am going to us Ms Weldon as even a token role model – she has four bloody sons and I think step-kids as well – she probably had a spot of ironing and plenty of gruel cooking to distract her. Didn’t stop her from pushing out something like 30 novels. Bitch!