Westerly looks forward to Perth Festival Writers Week; we feel privileged to hear from many wonderful writers. 2019 was very special for us: we were given a marquee space that allowed us to connect with our readers. We saw old friends and met many new and wonderful people, and we’d like to thank everyone that stopped by to talk. Along with our magazines and review books, we were running our online exquisite cadaver; more on this below.
Today we’d like to share two reviews of the festival from our special reporters who gave us a steady stream of live tweets. We’re very grateful to Elaine Mead and Rachel Watts for their careful listening and their willingness to share their insights.
Identity, memory and navigating the challenges of the present were the recurring themes at this year’s Perth Festival Perth Writers Week.
The big weekend of speakers, readers, writers and conversations nestled in and around the University of Western Australia and this year encouraged us to consider ‘Our Imagined Selves’. It was the interplay of identity and how they might express themselves across our past, present and real or imagined futures that provided the highlights of the weekend’s discussions.
Starting at ‘The Edge of Memory’, a discussion with author and climate scientist Patrick Nunn and the links between memory, oral storytelling and geological record. Nunn describes Aboriginal stories that describe the rapid sea level rise at the end of the last ice age, and the responses of the people to what was an existential threat. Learning from the deep past could inform local responses of the future, he argued.
Nunn also contributed to ‘The Great Moral Challenge of Our Generation’ in the Amphitheatre, along with climate scientist Joële Gergis and novelist Deepak Unnikrishnan. Gergis gave an impassioned plea for audience members to put pressure on politicians and governments to ensure policy was created to deal with climate change head-on. Refreshingly, Nunn stressed that the future need not be as bleak as the apocalyptic predictions. Humans were a resilient species, he said, having dealt with ice-ages and sea level rises in the past it would do so again and would survive.
Standout panels included Chloe Hooper’s discussion of The Arsonist, the Stella Prize longlistee that left the audience reflecting on the spectacle of politicians bringing coal into parliament even as the country suffers through what she termed a ‘pyrocene’.
On Sunday it was a delight to watch children take on the role of young curators, and ably manage a series of interviews with authors and illustrators in the courtyard. Young adult author Lucy Christopher spoke passionately about place, while Alison Evans discussed identity, gender and combining difficult teenage experiences with the zombie apocalypse.
While superstar authors Trent Dalton, Markus Zusak and Heather Morris drew sold-out crowds, there were also precious gems to be found in quiet auditoriums including the Westerly Magazine hosted panel ‘The Politics of Memory’ as the weekend drew to a close. Writers discussed their approach to writing memory ethically, identifying the challenges of raising the past to conscious attention, and making amends. Perth writer Cassie Lynch described the ‘ocean of memory’ currently being experienced and the difficulty of navigating it in a wearying 24-hour news cycle.
Bookended by reflections on deep memory, and filled with insight and creativity, this year’s Perth Festival Writers Week will be one to keep us reading, thinking and remembering.
Rachel Watts is a writer of literary and speculative fiction. Her work has been published by Westerly, Island, Kill Your Darlings, Tincture and more. Her climate change novella Survival was released in March 2018. You can find her online at www.wattswrites.com or @watts_writes.
This was my third time attending the Perth Writers Festival and it is always a hotly anticipated weekend in my calendar. I’ve attended writers festivals in a few different cities but Perth always stands out for me for its strong sense of community, and the new people I get to indulge in literary conversations with.
My first session set the scene well, with Jane Caro in conversation with Meri Fatin on her new book Accidental Feminists. Caro is an excellent speaker, who is able to bring her points home for the audience without being sensationalist or explicit. I loved her approach to the contemporary issues within feminism while maintaining ‘We need to focus more on becoming people. We are all people first.’
Keeping up with the feminist vibe, my next session was Ara Jansen in conversation with Balli Kaur Jaswel, author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, which shot to popularity after being picked for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Bookclub. Jaswel describes herself as a third culture kid and says her book is a nod to her experiences growing up in mixed culture settings, as well as the dual discrimination often encountered by mature women. A rallying cry to ‘talk to your female friends more about sex!’ from both Jansen and Jaswel rounded out the session, to merriment from all in attendance.
Saturday ended with the calming tones of Andrew Lynch, delivering The Randolph Stow Memorial Lecture, presented by Westerly. Full disclosure, I have not read any of Stow’s work before, but Lynch’s lecture was a compelling introduction and one that I felt even long-term fans of Stow deeply enjoyed. A heartwarming quote from one of Stow’s final letters was the perfect end to a day of literary feasting: ‘The act of writing is a sense of settling in, a sense of pioneering and a sense of coming home.’
I attended a number of sessions on Sunday, but a stand out by far was the delightful Carly Findlay in conversation with Tess Woods on her debut book Say Hello. Findlay describes herself as an appearance activist and seeks to raise disability awareness in positive ways. Findlay’s audacious sense of humour and obvious joy at being a writer in this space is irresistible. It was the session that had me deep belly laughing the most. Pearls of wisdom abound with Findlay offering ‘Just start. Be confident. And connect with other writers. That’s the best thing’ to an audience member asking for her advice on getting started as a writer with a disability.
My weekend ended with a hefty tote bag of books, a heavily extended to-be-read list, and a mind buzzing with motivation to pursue the advice offered by so many authors I saw to just start writing! The perfect things to walk away from a writers festival with.
Elaine is a sometimes writer and often over caffeinated Londoner, currently residing in Perth. When not soaking up the atmosphere at a writers festival, you can find her hiking in the hills, nose deep in a good book or on twitter (if you like): @_elainemead
And finally, we’d again like to thank everyone that stopped by the Westerly desk at the festival weekend. We have some great responses to our exquisite cadaver game—anyone who’s ever written a collaborative poem on paper folded to reveal the last line will know how it works—and we’d pleased to share this excerpt:
From whose slack jaws bleed lapis beetles?
taking secrets from the grave
the watery grave to the sea
formed in the eye of the
last bird left that flew north it
circled around twice before lifting
the air tinged with myrrh and juniper
Crows wheeled across th e sky yelling their raucous noise
Black like the darkest hour before the first thread of dawn
Within the darkness the light of imagination
Flamed as a lighting bolt into the parched land
Ruby red and glossy green
Radiant pigments glint and gleam
Sun scream drizzles
Rituals remind red remnants of riverslea road
He seems nice but I don't trust him
There is just something about the way he stares at me.
It's a bit unnerving
I like being happy