Saturday, August 22, 2009


Yesterday I went to four sessions of the Melbourne Writers Festival, beginning at 10 am with Emily Ballou, Philip McLaren and Steven Amsterdam (pictured, from left to right, with apologies for my poor quality photo) reading from their work and talking a little about it.

The previous night Steven had discovered he'd won the Age Book of the Year with his first novel, Things We Didn't See Coming, so it made the morning extra special. I was so happy for him. My family had spent the morning emailing celebratory messages about it.

I have a story about Steven, who is a good friend of one of my daughters, that I'm not sure I have ever told him. Because that daughter stays with me when she is in town, Steven has my phone number in his mobile. One day I came home to find one of those accidental messages on my machine that you get when someone bumps their mobile while it's in their pocket. I listened to see if I could recognise the voice. It turned out to be Steven chatting in a gentle and caring way with an elderly female patient. He was a student nurse at the time. Because a lot of the nurses who looked after my mother when she was ill were not so gentle or caring, this overheard conversation made a great impression on me. It was such a lovely window into his nature.

I think Steven's novel is well deserving of this award but as a person so is he. Congratulations, Steven, on a great achievement! I hope there are many more to come.

I had really only gone to that session to hear Steven but I was thrilled to discover Emily Ballou, who read a few poems from her book, The Darwin Poems, which is an imagined verse-portrait of Charles Darwin's life. I have an interest in Charles Darwin to begin with, but hearing those evocative and beautiful poems read sent me straight out to the festival bookshop to buy myself an autographed copy of the book. It was still only 11 am, and I had the whole day ahead of me, but I felt I'd already had the true festival experience - that discovery by chance of a writer who quite takes your breath away.

This is the festival's second year at Federation Square. I don't like change, so last year I didn't enjoy the new venue because I was too busy looking back at the good old days of everyone being crammed into the Malthouse. I missed the intimacy.

But this year I loved the venue. The atrium is bustly, and all over Fed Square I saw people reading, or at least leafing through books, and talking with their mouths full about sessions and writers. It was nice to see books, reading and writing take so central a position in the city, even if it is only for a few days.


  1. Next year in Federation Square for you, WriterBee. xx

  2. A great post, WB. Thanks for sharing some of your festival day with us. And that story about Steven! Just beautiful. And yes, I agree with Farmdoc. Can't wait to see you at Fed Square next year. xx