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Mini Reviews – Willy Lit Fest 2018!

Introduction to Kamishibai – Paper Theatre: Jackie Kerin
Introduction to Kamishibai – Paper Theatre presented by Bernard Caleo was a session for adults with special appeal to artists, writers, performers and educators. As part of a set of sessions and a display offered by the Australian Kamishibai Association, Bernard focused on the history of this art form and its contemporary relevance as well as performing several stories. The audience were captivated by Bernard’s enthusiasm, knowledge and skill. At the close of the session, we were left with no doubt that Bernard Caleo fills a unique space enriching the literary, visual and performance life of Melbourne.

The Amazing Case of Doctor Ward: Loraine Callow
In the cosy comfort of the library, while outside an icy wind blew, Jackie Kerin and Sarah Depasquale kept the audience spellbound with their carefully crafted blend of evocative music, storytelling and kamishibai. With impeccable timing, just as Dr Ward’s amazing plant filled case was aboard a ship, Australia bound, a particularly wild and heavy squall of rain lashed the library windows and had us all feeling like we were in fact afloat on a turbulent sea! A lovely session!

Exciting Adventures with Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rose: Toni Burton
Jacqueline Harvey’s Exciting Adventures captured the imagination of both young and old audience members. Her fantastic impersonations, witty comments and punchy responses had the audience laughing in their seats. Her personal reflections on her popular characters Alice-Miranda and Clementine Rosé were combined with an insight into her own childhood experiences that led to her becoming such a well-loved author.

Spies, Lies & Mysteries: Meet Kensy and Max! Cat Jardine
You could tell by the excitement bubbling in the room that the young fans of ‘Kensy & Max’ were keen to graduate into the world of undercover agents, solving crimes and mysteries such as missing parents and strange grannies. Children (and adults) were completely captivated by the fantastical discussion about the adventures of twins ‘Kensy & Max’ by bestselling children’s author Jacqueline Harvey but, more than that, there was a strong sense of being inspired. You could see in the children’s faces that Harvey was reaching deep within their minds and inspiring them. From the ‘N challenge’ (challenging the kids to think of another word to describe what they did at school instead of the perpetual and dreaded ‘Nothing’ word), through to challenging every child to use their imaginations and tell a story – to become a story teller, to write, share ideas, and most importantly use your powers of observation to solve Spies, Lies and Mysteries!

Sunday Morning Fun with Andy Griffiths: Barb Hughes
The one thing you can guarantee at Andy’s Sunday morning session is that, at some stage, hundreds of little kids (and some big kids) will end up squealing at the top of their voices. The audience in the Martin Flanagan session next door thought they were back at the 2016 Grand Final. But the absolute highlight for me was the kid who burped the entire alphabet for a marshmallow. Such nutty fun.

Walking Home with Ailsa Piper: Barb Hughes
The Williamstown Senior Citizens’ Centre was the perfect setting for Walking Home with Ailsa Piper. In a performance based on her book, Sinning Across Spain, Ailsa gently took us on a 1300km journey along the Camino, letting us in on the ‘sins’ she carried with her and her own vulnerabilities. Ailsa’s charming captivated the audience as they laughed, and cried, along with her.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted: Barb Hughes
I was thrilled to be in the session The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted with author Robert Hillman as I have recently read the book and loved it. With over 100 books to his name, Robert is a most prolific writer, and the insights into his writing regime were fascinating and generously shared. Lucia Nardo led the conversation with well researched and intelligent questions. A session to warm the soul on a bleak Melbourne afternoon.

Picture This: Big Ideas in Science: Anna Brasier
Sarah L’Estrange led a fascinating discussion between panelists, Dr Gregory Crocetti, Ailsa Wild, Lorna Hendry and Bernard Caleo, in the Picture This: Big Ideas in Science session on Saturday. The audience learned about the guests’ inspiration, research and process of producing two uniquely interesting graphic novels: The Invisible War and How to Win a Nobel Prize. I felt as though I was back in a science class at school, except this one was funny and more insightful.

The Poetry Bus: Chris Ringrose
They told me Australians were tough! And here they were, enjoying poetry under the stars (and occasionally in the rain) on a winter’s night with never a cross word. Great, moving, funny, touching poems from Ailsa Piper, Amy Bodossian and Kristin Henry. Indomitable energetic mcing by Bruno Lettieri. Great warmth and encouragement from the audience in each location. I loved reading my five poems, too!

Beginnings and Extinctions: Chris Ringrose
Those who had enjoyed reading Extinctions had their sense of it enhanced by this session. I’m sure those who hadn’t yet read it would have been encouraged to do so. Sherryl Clark asked well-researched and stimulating questions, and Josephine Wilson answered them with grace, fluency and wit. We learned a lot about the genesis of the book, its development and reception. We also heard Josephine’s interesting takes on the representation of adoption, and on the question of writing Indigenous characters. Plus on engineers as fictional characters!

Poetry Alive and Kicking: Chris Ringrose
Soreti Kadir, Emilie Zoey Baker and Amy Bodossian gave the audience a vibrant sense of how poetry can explore contemporary life. All three of them have a gift for exploiting the spoken voice, but those voices proved to be delightfully diverse: from Amy’s engaging personal stories of love and everyday pleasures to Emilie’s rousing responses to hecklers at a demonstration and angry-but-touching tribute to Mary Shelley. Soreti’s political and humanitarian passion came through in each of her four pieces.

Putting on the Frighteners: Chris Ringrose
Sherryl Clark’s approachable but scholarly presentation took us through sociological, psychological and other interpretations of fairy tales, suggesting why they have such an enduring appeal. She detailed her own research, but supplemented this with readings from The Brothers Grimm (as gruesome as one might have expected) and her own writing (haunting and original). The enthusiastic audience response and questions suggested that the genre still has the power to captivate and intrigue readers.

George Orwell: The Last Man in Europe: Chris Ringrose
Dennis Glover’s sold-out session on his novel based on the life of George Orwell was cleverly designed to appeal to both those who had already read it (a fair proportion of the audience) and those who were interested in Orwell as a writer and man and would later go on to buy a signed copy of The Last Man in Europe in The Hub. Dennis Glover himself was knowledgeable, engaging and articulate, bringing out the continuing importance of Orwell’s work while sketching a warts-and-all portrait of the writer that paid tribute to his bravery as a thinker and a human being who had to deal with a debilitating illness.

The Things We Do (to Develop Craft and Career): Chris Ringrose
The empathy between Claire Saxby and Sue Whiting was evident in this conversation about the practicalities of writing and publishing, and the ways in which even the most diverse aspects of one’s working life can contribute to one’s success in the business. Without underestimating the obstacles that can stand in the way of such success, they delivered an inspiring series of insights derived from their own writing and commercial experiences, linking true stories with sound advice that the audience clearly appreciated.

Love and Madness: Writing from the Heart: Chris Ringrose
The strength of this session lay not only in the way it showcased two fine memoirs about living with mental illness, but in the distinct but complimentary writing styles and personalities of the two presenters, Paula Keogh and Justin Heazlewood. Paula’s poetic yet forceful presentation of The Green Bell was poignant and impressive, as was Justin’s self-deprecating humour, which allowed him to bring out the essence of Get Up Mum. There was a wonderful moment near the end of the conversation in which Paula acknowledged the parallels between the situations of the two of them, and delivered a tribute to Justin’s book. As always, Janice Simpson proved to be a well-informed and encouraging chair of the discussion.

Barry Hill Reason and Lovelessness: Hugh Jones
Poet, writer and journalist Barry Hill was born in Newport and went to school in Williamstown but has lived, worked and studied around the world. Interviewed by Prof Richard Tanter, who for his work with the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) shared the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, Barry gave us a considered insight into his philosophy on life, his father, India, indigenous Australia and many other topics, as captured in his new book of essays Reason and Lovelessness. Richard gently teased out Barry’s memories and together they provided a glimpse of great passion and intellect. A true treat.

Enza Gandolfo The Bridge : Hugh Jones
Western Suburbs writer Enza Gandolfo has used the West Gate Bridge and its collapse in 1970, along with her Italian heritage, as the canvas for her new novel, The Bridge. In discussion with Demet Devaroren, Enza explained how she wanted to explore the impact that the collapse, which killed 35 workers, had on lives and families in the West. With gentle honesty, Enza explained how she spent seven years researching and writing the novel to tell a story she believes few people really understand. Demet’s enthusiasm for the characters, particularly the young women, helped a packed room engage with both book and author.

Hung Le, The Crappiest Refugee: Loraine Callow
More than 200 Willy Lit Fest patrons were treated to a warm and funny evening when comedian and author, Hung Le took to the stage to close the festival with a brilliant stand up set based on his book, The Crappiest Refugee. Hung Le was introduced by local author Stella Kinsella and afterward spoke with her about his family, his writing career and life aboard comedy ships. The session closed the 2018 festival in great style!

The Saturday Morning Bridge Club: John Webb
A lively entertaining session.  Alison Stuart, Denise Ogilvie, Ebony McKenna, Carol Challis, Sara J. Wolfe and Eliza Renton told us how they went about writing The Hauntings of Livingstone Hall,a ghost romance novel which they wrote as a group (with Louise Reynolds) with authors writing individual chapters. We learnt a lot about the process of publishing and the benefits of sharing technical skills. We were promised there were more books to come!

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree: John Webb
Speaking to Lisa Hill, author Shokoofeh Azar provided a moving and thoughtful account of writing a novel based on the intensely painful experiences of life in Iran post 1979 revolution. The novel was written in Farsi then translated into English and published in Australia: quite an achievement and should lead to more such stories being told. We could have heard much more from her!

Sofie Laguna: The Choke, with Ailsa Piper: John Webb
A great match of author and interviewer in conversation. Sofie was candid, honest and revealing about the trials and joys involved in writing this moving novel. It was indeed an intimate conversation between Sofie and Ailsa Piper, generously shared and warmly received.

Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion: John Webb
An enlightening book about a still mysterious phenomenon that is hard to imagine did not exist until quite recently. As Kate Cole-Adams spoke with Sarah L’Estrange, we learnt much and were intrigued to learn more about consciousness. Kate’s book was a labour of many years, generously shared.

A Man Called Yarra: Brian Christopher
Stan Yarramunua spins a fabulous yarn and his audience was spell-bound, torn in a fine balance between laughter and tears, as he related his life experience. Having overcome disadvantage and discrimination, Stan has become a successful artist, business man, philanthropist, and now, author. He was interviewed by his co-author, Robert Hillman, and clearly there was a warm rapport between these two men. Stan surprised and delighted the audience by both beginning and ending his session with some fine didgeridoo playing and left us with the quirky fact that the word “didgeridoo” was coined by early European settlers and is not an aboriginal word itself; although there are many authentic aboriginal words applied to one of the world’s oldest musical instruments.

Start Writing. How to Get Started on Any Writing Project: Brian Christopher
A group of eager would-be writers assembled to hear how they could overcome the tyranny of those blank pages and transform them into polished prose. Sarah Vincent is an accomplished writer and works for Writers Victoria in providing assistance and useful tips to budding authors. These included a number of exercises and suggestions such as the fact that writing competitions are good as they force you to get down to actual writing. Her first book, Death By Dim Sim was published in 2017 and she is currently working on a detective novel, The Fake Detective.

The Secrets of Successful Picture Book Writing: Brian Christopher
Children’s picture books can be deceptively tricky to write. Fortunately, we had the privilege of hearing the 5 top tips for successful writing given to us by a leading practitioner of this genre. Sue Whiting is a prolific author of novels as well as picture books. Her latest novel, Missing, is a contemporary mystery novel pitched at young readers aged 10-14. Sue established a warm rapport with her audience and this included a number of exercises to get the creative juices flowing, as well as practical suggestions. Sue provided many examples of picture books and gave valuable commentary on their strengths and styles.

Martin Flanagan: A Wink from the Universe: Sandra Wilson
A Wink from the Universe
 was an enthralling session led comfortably and with great skill by John Harms, who has football running in his veins. Martin Flanagan let the audience into the Bulldogs’ inner sanctum and bolstered our love and understanding for some of the ‘odd’ characters that make our club stand apart from other AFL clubs. To have such insight into that 2016 journey to magnificent victory was truly a panacea for the season we are in. Flanagan’s intimate storytelling will have encouraged some of us to replay our Grand Final DVDs to check out Libba’s outstanding third quarter, and the stellar Roughead mark where an over-thinking footballer thought ‘nothing’ of his feat. It was a session for the die-hards, and we could have listened all day.

Stereo Stories: Barb Hughes
A capacity crowd at the Town Hall was treated to a fantastic night of music and memoir as Stereo Stories took to the stage once more.  Emilie Zoey Baker, Rijn Collins, Andy Griffiths, Danny Katz, Zoe Krupka, Martina Medica, Brian Nankervis and Lucia Nardo made us laugh and cry (and sometimes cry with laughter) as they shared the songs that have touched their lives. Led by Vin Maskell and backed by the Stereo Stories band, this was a wonderful night out and a highlight of the Festival.  Lovely to see Julie Merritt acknowledged for all her hard work.

Developing Ideas and Creating Characters in Words and Pictures: Melissa Longo
Creating Characters in Words & Pictures
was sold out. The Committee Room filled to the brim with enthusiastic participants, eagerly anticipating their two-hour session with the masterful Leigh Hobbs. Author and illustrator, with an Australian Children’s Laureate under his belt, the Old Tom and Mr Chicken creator used his extensive experience to guide the class through a very educational and inspirational lesson. Engaging and encouraging – Leigh gifted us with the feeling that anything was impossible – limited only by the borders of our imaginations.

The Thrill of Death and Destruction: Melissa Longo
The Thrill of Death and Destruction
– an opportunity to dissect our obsession as a society, with the darker corners of our imaginations. Crime writers Sarah Bailey and James Phelan were lead in an engaging discussion by author Sherryl Clark. The Supper Room sat enthralled as James and Sarah took us through their very different approaches to the writing process. From small-town murders, to world-stage espionage, the writers were as diverse as their novels – offering quite distinctive perspectives.

A Curious Mind with Greg Baum: Melissa Longo
Bruno Lettieri took us on a journey through the Curious Mind of the chief sports columnist and associate editor of The Age, Greg Baum. Greg held the room’s attention with his gentle story-telling style. The cold, rainy weather was kept at bay by the warmth and generosity of Greg Baum’s willingness to share his experiences with a very appreciative audience.  It was clear to all in attendance that these two men could have kept on chatting and we certainly would have listened, but all good things must come to an end.

Voyage of the Southern Sun: Angela Altair
This was a session that had us soaring as high as Michael Smith’s Southern Sun, the tiny flying boat that propelled him around the world on an incredible journey that made aviation history. To many of us, Mike is better known as the legend behind the rebirth of Yarraville’s Sun Theatre.   But as we learned under the expert questioning of VU’s Dr Rob Brown, Mike is a real adventurer, with a lifelong fascination for planes, maps and faraway places.  In 2015, with limited flying experience, no support crew and only basic instruments, he became the first person to fly solo around the world in an amphibious plane.    Voyage of the Southern Sun is the book of the film of his crazy-brave journey.   Based on an online journal (‘no, it wasn’t a blog’ Michael corrected) that had enthralled 50 000 followers during his seven months’ global hop, the book is a rollicking account of the remarkable man in his flying machine sprinkled with stunning aerial photographs taken with his iPhone or a camera strapped to the wing.   My favourite is of a heart-shaped island, one of three Mike spotted and emailed to his wife.    Rob Brown’s interviewing technique, at once intimate and knowledgable, coaxed honest and revealing stories from his guest, like the time Mike nearly went broke over a business deal, and his near-death experience when he was trapped in a cloud over Greenland.   Mike was a joy to listen to, funny, humble and obviously delighted to be invited to our festival.   He’d brought along his own banner, which refused to sit in its frame, so we unfurled it and stuck it to the TV monitor with gaffer tape. ‘Gaffer tape is handy,” Mike quipped; ‘I often used it to keep the plane up!’  We loved our flight with Rob and Mike and didn’t want them to land. Voyage of the Southern Sun, published by Black Inc, is available from Book and Paper Williamstown.

John Spooner and Mark Knight: Cartoonists in Conversation: Angela Altair
John Spooner’s long awaited lit fest debut was worth the wait and utterly riveting.   The revered cartoonist artist and author and Williamstown convert “I wouldn’t change a thing”, turned out to be a great raconteur.   His illustrated chat with the equally famous Herald Sun cartoonist, Mark Knight was full of humour and insights and proved the perfect teaser for Spooner’s coming book, ‘What the Hell was He Thinking?’, John Spooner’s Guide to the 21st Century’.   Those of us who’d packed the Council Chamber could have listened all day to this genial pair as they swapped anecdotes about cartooning in the golden era of newspapers, of smoke filled press-rooms and grog-stoked journos.   John regaled us with hilarious stories behind some of the 250 cartoons, drawings, etchings and paintings that appear in his new book.   Their chat covered hot topics like Donald Trump, terrorism, political correctness and free trade, with some famous Spoonerisms shown on screen.   These include the black humour of the Isis beheadings on the beach and the memorable drawing of PM Julia as a doomed sea captain about to capsize.     There was a touching moment at the end when Mark proudly unveiled the cartoon his mate had gifted him in the Green Room: one of Spooner’s most famous Bob Hawke pen and ink caricatures.  In that moment, Mark Knight was just another Spooner fan who’d just enjoyed an hour for the ages.   It’s all there and more in John’s new book, released on 26 July.  To order your copy, email or call 93129 6963.     

Pompey Elliott at War: In His Own Words: Youle Bottomley
Ross McMullin treated us to a well researched and entertaining picture of Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, one of Australia’s most successful military commanders, from his latest book, Pompey Elliott at War – In his Own Words. Photos for the presentation highlighted the dreadful conditions and dilemmas he faced throughout the Great War. Ross’s enthusiastic reading from Pompey’s letters to his wife and son, and from his military reports, revealed the importance of his relationship with his wife and children during this time, and left us wanting to find out more about him as a husband, father, and commander of World War 1 Australian forces.

Things My Garden Taught Me: Lis Grove
Wit, wisdom and warmth were the hallmarks of this packed session. Gabrielle Baldwin’s account of the making of her native garden at Yanakie gathered an enthusiastic audience. Her dialogue with well-known garden writer and scholar, Anne Latreille, illuminated their diverse perspectives on the triumphs and tribulations of garden making. The lessons each writer has learned in the process were shared with generosity, humanity and a lack of pedantry. Their distinctive, divergent voices made for a genuinely engaging conversation.

Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World: Lis Grove
Michelle Scott Tucker’s biography of Elizabeth Macarthur was the stimulus for a session that shed new light on the life and achievements of this extraordinary woman. Ably led by historian and local resident, Georgina Arnott, discussion covered a broad range of issues – from the writing of biography to the complexities of this resilient and capable woman and the vagaries of her more famous spouse. We had much to learn about the writing of biography, the barbarities of the Second Fleet and the early history of colonial Australia, told from an entirely new perspective.

New Fiction: Little Gods with Jenny Ackland: Cat Jardine
It may have been pouring with seemingly endless rain outside but, cosied up inside, an enraptured audience was transported back in time to the 1970’s childhood of leading character, Olive.  ‘Little Gods’ with Jenny Ackland was a wonderfully engaging look inside the mind, works and world of Ackland, from her passion for telling stories, her writing process, and her detailed research (who knew Australian ravens have white eyes and not black?). With thought provoking discussion facilitated by Rose Mulready, and tantalising excerpts of the novel read aloud by the author, it was such a pleasure to be transported to ‘The place where the orange felt strongest’ – a childhood of Chuppa Chups, thongs, cicadas, Knitting Nancy’s, and tooth chipping Sunny Boys. Such a warm and inviting interview for everyone present!

Kamishibai Workshop for Kids: Cat Jardine
As the hordes of eager young children rushed through the door for the Kamishibai workshop it was hard at first to see how such a delicate art form was going to survive the enthusiasm and animation of a dozen excitable children. It is no mean feat to keep toddlers and young kids entertained especially in today’s world which seems to thrive on bright lights, droning sounds, and well, to put it simply iPhones! With such a calming and engaging presence  Anna, Tetsuta and Dani introduced the beautiful story of two red circles through the Japanese storytelling process known as Kamishibai. The word Kamishibai translates into ‘Paper Play’ and in doing so the children learned about the process of how to read a Kamishibai book and even were able to create their own. It is such a creative and beautiful way of storytelling and one that both the children and parents enjoyed thoroughly!

Kamishibai Stories for Kids: Maria Haughey
Kamishibai- I’d no idea what it meant but I should have. Call myself a storyteller? I had no idea. Until I found myself at the back of a library on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, surrounded by small people. Enthralled by little wooden boxes with story boards within. And the voices of storytellers who weaved tales of wonder. It was beautiful. And wondrous. And delightful.

Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist: Two Steps Forward: Maria Haughey
On a horrendous Sunday morning, a group came together in Williamstown Town Hall to be entertained, challenged and delighted by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist as they talked about their book Two Steps Forward. Graeme and Anne quickly decided they were among friends and we found ourselves part of a delightful conversation about Caminos and spirituality and the joy of collaboration. It may have been atrocious outside but inside we were warmed by the chat, the interest and the fun.

Alice Pung: On John Marsden, with Bruno Lettieri : Maria Haughey
Dear Alice, John and Bruno,
Thank you for taking the time to spend with us at Williamstown Literary Festival. Thank you for being so patient with the technical issues and thank you for shouting at the audience to ensure they heard you. Technical issues aside, what ensued was a special, interesting conversation which covered topics nobody anticipated. Bruno led the session with his usual expertise. Alice and John went with it and the audience were treated to both something unexpected and something that made them truly appreciate the value that Williamstown Literary Festival offers.
With love to the three of you,