I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival since its inception in 2012, and I’m pleased to report that the 2016 iteration was the best yet. For the first time, the AVRWF stretched across York, Northam and Toodyay, with each Wheatbelt town spending a day in the spotlight. The festival kicked off for me on Friday night at Barclay Books in York with Portland Jones reading from her recently-released novel Seeing the Elephant, accompanied by William Yeoman on guitar. Portland read beautifully and I was sure to pick up a signed copy of her book before the night was through. I also met Rashida Murphy, whose novel The Historian’s Daughter was also recently released to widespread acclaim.
On Saturday, I missed out on seeing Ian Reid’s session on writing historical fiction due to my kids playing in a hockey grand final in Beverley (they lost but were proud to have made it that far), but I scurried back to Northam in time for Ron Elliot’s workshop on scriptwriting. Ron won’t remember this, but he’s actually taught me scriptwriting before, way back in 2000 at Curtin University. After lunch, I attended sessions by the very witty Brigid Lowry (who reminds me more than a little of another Kiwi import in Juliet Marillier, not least because of her accent) and Sara Foster. Saturday ended with a bang at the Riverside Hotel, literally a two minute walk from my front door, for the customary dinner and author panel. The panel was facilitated by Kelli McCluskey and included Tabetha Beggs, Ron Elliot, Corina Martin, myself and one other person whose name temporarily escapes me. Everyone got a chance to say their piece, including members of the audience (many of them esteemed festival guests) and a good time was had.
On Sunday the show decamped to blustery Toodyay where I first attended a session by Tabetha Beggs (Chairperson of KSP) and Belinda Hermawan (President of FAWWA) on why WA authors and readers should band together in the face of government funding cuts and other threats. Next up was a fascinating session by Sam Carmody and Brooke Davis on their writing friendship and journeys to publication and acclaim. After lunch we heard from Michelle Michau-Crawford, winner of the Elizabeth Jolley Award and author of the excellent Leaving Elvis and Other Stories regarding a sense of place in fiction. Finally it was time for my own session on writing short fiction and entering relevant competitions, which seemed to pass by without calamity.
Then it was 4pm and everyone was saying goodbye. It was a privilege to have been a part of this year’s Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival, which almost literally brought a bevy of talented WA authors to my doorstep. Thanks very much to Angi McCluskey for coordinating the whole shebang and to the rest of the hardworking library employees for allowing the whole thing to happen. I can only hope that next year’s AVRWF will be even bigger and better than the 2016 edition.
In April 2014, I spent two glorious weeks living and working in Mattie Furphy House at the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Western Australia). During this time, I spent many hours revising my literary crime novel Thirsty Work, a draft of which had previously been written, in part, while undertaking a similar residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in 2013. My two other main roles were mentoring FAWWA members and conducting a three hour workshop on novel writing. I found Mattie Furphy House to be an inspirational place in which to work, not only the house itself but the tranquil location in which it is set, Allen Park.
My workshop on Saturday 19th April, Writing Your Novel: How To Stick It Out and Get It Done, provided me with an opportunity to teach beginning and emerging writers numerous technical concepts relating to novel writing, as well as providing an idea of the overall journey that writing a novel entails an author to undertake. Twelve participants attended the workshop and they proved to be a very enthusiastic group. I went half an hour over the scheduled time in order to complete my presentation, and almost all of the participants stayed to the end and provided positive feedback upon its completion. I’m hoping that FAWWA will get me back later in the year to run my second workshop, Breaking into Publishing.
One of my roles as FAWWA Writer-in-Residence was to offer mentoring to a FAWWA member. Danka Scholtz von Lorentz was chosen for this purpose, and prior to the beginning of the residency I was given the opportunity to read twenty pages of Danka’s work in progress. Subsequently, I met Danka at Mattie Furphy House and I spent more than two hours working with her on her manuscript. I have encouraged Danka to keep in contact with me so that I can further monitor her progress in the months ahead.
At the beginning of my residency, I set myself a target of forty hours revision on Thirsty Work, which I am pleased to say I was able to exceed. This meant that I would be spending around three hours per day working on the novel. Thirsty Work had already been revised to some extent prior to this, but those forty hours enabled me to significantly tighten and polish the novel as a whole, reducing the overall length from 75,000 to 66,000 words in the process. This residency came at a critical time for me in that I am preparing to submit Thirsty Work to publishers, and I am pleased to report that I consider my revision work on the novel to have been a success.
Over the course of my two weeks at Mattie Furphy House, I was acutely aware of the privilege that had been bestowed on me by FAWWA to work in such a beautiful, even awe-inspiring environment. The house is not only an excellent work space for writers itself, but it is a beautiful house and historical artefact in its own right. Early in my residency, I realised that there was a walk trail directly behind Mattie Furphy House leading up to a lookout which offers spectacular views of the nearby ocean. Each day I walked this route to Swanbourne Beach and on a couple of occasions I treated myself to breakfast at the Naked Fig Café. I also found the local Kirkwood Deli particularly useful and I found their macchiato not only to be excellent but extremely cheap as well. I took the opportunity to travel to nearby Fremantle frequently, something I rarely get to do from my hometown of York. I sat editing in Allen Park many times and it is certainly true that the peaceful ambience of the place is extremely beneficial for writers. Not only has my time at FAWWA provided a valuable workspace for me, it has also been an amazing life experience that I will cherish for a long time.
I’m pleased to report that I’ve been selected for a two week Emerging Writer-in-Residence gig at the Fellowship of Australian Writers (Western Australia). I’ll be staying at Mattie Furphy House in Swanbourne from April 12th – 25th, which handily for me falls during the Easter school holidays. While at FAWWA, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my current novel-in-progress Thirsty Work. I also have a short story, “The Milk for Free”, to work on during this time. Lastly I’ll be presenting a workshop at FAWWA on Saturday 19th April, so I’ll be a busy boy. More details about this workshop will follow soon.
In April and May of last year, I spent a glorious four weeks at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in Greenmount conducting a similar residency. You can read more about my time at KSP here. That was an incredibly enjoyable and productive time for me and I’m sure that the FAWWA residency will be equally successful. Can’t wait!