Writing, Refugees, Responsibility, Reflection

stones from Helen.jpg

I chose to have a break from the pressure of writing deadlines, including blogging – and it’s been wonderful – once the guilt receded.

The last few weeks have left me drained and struggling to find my usual positivity and so I gave myself the freedom not to write once my classes finished for the term.

I produced three anthologies for the different classes at Mordialloc, Bentleigh, and Chelsea and it is wonderful to have a record of the delightful writing from last semester’s students. And it encouraged me to polish a few pieces.

However, the editing, laying out, printing and collating of the books entails hours of work and always leaves me tired.

class anthologies 2016.jpg

I appreciate teachers at universities, TAFE, and schools have greater workloads, larger class sizes and more demands on their time than me. However, the pressure of end-of- term projects, bureaucratic paperwork and the looming lesson-planning over the holidays is ongoing for most teachers.

Teacher_Impact_Thank_You_with_Stars

Therefore, it has been a short-lived break but in the words of an old Monty Python skit ‘a merry one’ – well not exactly merry but a break I needed with some memorable high spots.

I spent quality time with two special friends Glenice Whitting (we attended an evening celebrating the stories and contributions of refugees – more of that in another blog) and Lisa Hill (we attended a one-man show at Kingston Arts Centre: Is it Because I’m An Indian? enjoying a delightful dinner afterwards at the Bawarchi Indian Restaurant, Moorabbin).

An intensive day of shooting over the weekend saw at least the filming completed in another of my projects. This one organised by Kingston Youth Services where participants share their skills and enthusiasm to write, produce and complete a short film based on the theme of Transition.

This intergenerational project involved several workshops with industry professionals and won’t be completed until the end of September with films to be shown at a public screening in October. Our enthusiastic crew is well on the way to meeting the deadlines.

A triumph of networking, flexibility, adaptation and cooperation meant my script Home was accepted, survived several drafts, including a major rewrite to substitute characters and locations and accommodate the availability of people, places, and equipment.

Another dear writer friend (I’ve found writers are the salt of the earth!) accepted the major role and was available for a 6.30am start on a freezing winter’s day!

20160625_150627.jpg

I’m looking forward to blogging about the experience from ‘start to finish’ to encourage others to put their hand up and volunteer for Arts projects, especially when you get the opportunity to work with different  generations and people you have never met. The bonus of picking up new skills and knowledge has kept this lifelong learner on her toes.

me looking 'professional'.jpg

The film shoot was Saturday – the preparation (cleaning my house, moving furniture) seemed to last all week!

On Sunday, I helped Kristina, an ex-student of my Monday class and now an active member of Mordialloc Writers’ Group, make our Readings by The Bay more special by hosting an author event with picture storybook writers, Isobel Knowles, and Cat Rabbit. (More of that in another post.)

When Is A Break Not Really A Break?

On reflection, my break from writing fed my passion for writing – on books, refugees, film, collaborative projects, teaching, man’s inhumanity to man …

The last three frenetic weeks filled with things to do, people to see, and places to be. But in the background, some seismic global and local events almost making my mind shut down and energy disappear. 

The Orlando Massacre, a shocking immobilising crime that dominated social and mainstream media and conversations of friends and family. As an activist who is passionate about social justice, I was overcome with sadness. The level of anger, disaffection, hate and desire to hurt others evident by the perpetrators of horrific crimes never ceases to appal me.

MLK_loveilluminates_325.png

In Australia, we are undergoing the longest Federal Election Campaign I can remember and I’ve been voting for 45 years! One of the issues is the current ruling party wanting a plebiscite on gay marriage. Many people fear this will encourage bigotry, fear and ignorance to flourish.  The consequences for the extensive LGBTQIA community could be terrible. An expensive, divisive plebiscite that is unnecessary because parliament can pass the necessary legislation.

The recent referendum and unknown consequences of the UK’s ‘Brexit’ from the EU also caused me anxiety, especially with the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox that many people seem to have forgotten already. I was born in Scotland and returned there for two twelve-month periods in my early twenties – the murder of a politician like this is devastating. What is happening to Britain?

d752a7a03d67ead70ad618b6dd243a52.jpg

It is frightening that immigration and the plight of asylum seekers and refugees are often used in political campaigns here and abroad stirring up xenophobia and racism. There is no doubt we are experiencing the biggest global movement of people since the Second World War and instead of individual nation states closing their borders we need a considered global cooperative approach. Solutions not selfish posturing.

Perhaps it was serendipity that one of my final lessons of the term in the Life Stories & Legacies writing class at Godfrey Street Bentleigh was on the subject of Serenity to put events in the private and public arena into perspective.

Negative feelings and emotions challenge our equilibrium: What can we DO about the horror/sadness/helplessness/hopelessness?

I write and it helps me. I encourage others to try and find words, ideas, and memories to match their feelings and because it is a  Life Story class, I encourage reflection.

serenity stone and plant.jpg

Serenity Writing Exercise

Once a year, sometimes more often, I visit Stony Point on the outskirts of Melbourne. This tip of the Victorian coast looks across to French Island among other smaller islets and the tide flows out to the sea. There is a pier always populated with anglers – more in some seasons than others.

2013-01-10 13.27.36.jpg

There is a ferry to French Island and half the pier is now fenced off for Navy patrol boats installed during John Howard’s ‘be alert not alarmed’ crusade.

I visit because my husband John requested his ashes be scattered where they would be carried out to sea, ex Royal Navy he was more comfortable on the water than land and Stony Point fitted the bill.

There are mini wetlands (or mud flats) at Stony Point frequently visited by shearwaters, pelicans and of course the ubiquitous seagulls. The place oozes tranquillity.

The area is attractive to fishermen and regardless of the season you will always see boats coming and going. The gutting and scaling table is regularly visited by a host of birds who seem to know just when to land and wait for a feed. The take-offs and jockeying for advantageous positions to catch thrown leftovers provides a raucous display by the birds, especially the pelicans.

2013-01-10 13.09.04.jpg

My daughters laugh at my delight and are convinced I have the largest collection of photographs of pelicans in the world!

I love watching the interaction of the birds, their acceptance of each other – there is a lot of noise and jostling but rarely violence.

2013-01-10 13.11.12.jpg

Many people visit Stony Point and there is a caravan park with permanent residents as well as frequent holidaymakers. Every day there will be bush walkers, anglers, picnickers, fossickers, commuters to French Island, naval personnel from nearby Cerberus base and a handful of locals who operate a rundown cafe/shop.

There is also people like me who come for serenity.

Stony Point is the end of the line for the train – a little diesel that comes from Frankston. The station personnel seems to be from another era of Railway culture – a more friendly, relaxed era.

Stony Point’s charm is irresistible. 

SAMSUNGSAMSUNG

I always leave feeling calm and at peace.

Where do you go for serenity?

(This may be a room, a church, a friend’s house, a special tree in your garden, or indulging in an activity (like writing)…

Have you a special place you visit only once or twice a year? A place that may hold a strong emotional attachment or memory? Perhaps a favourite holiday destination that allows  you ‘to get away from it all’!

What is the opposite of serenity for you? Is there one particular time or event that stands out as particularly stressful? How did you cope and recover or are you still troubled?

Summer’s Serenity Shattered
Mairi Neil

My evening walk a relaxing end
To a day of relentless heat
That baked trees, people, cars, and concrete.
Oven temperature lowered,
I’m no longer a hot lump
Of fatigue and frustration.

Exhausted birds peep
From their sheltered boughs.
They flutter feathers but leave evensong
To the cicadas celebrating the cool breeze
From the foreshore.

The summer sun slides seawards
While the silver shadow of the moon
Waits in line to shine.

Crick, crack…
A faint discordant note
Followed by a crash.
No twig or dead branch
Protesting summer sizzle
But shattered crockery.

Screeching curses jump
From the window of a nearby house
Adult voices spit and spew.
A dog yaps hysterically
Accompanying the invective
Timing perfect, as if scripted.

This is no television drama.
Rather a domestic tragedy
Of Shakespearean proportions unfolds.
Years of resentment boiling over
No stuttering
As domestic bliss unravels

Suddenly, silence

Hold breath, chest aching…
Awaiting the cry of ‘Help!’

What to do?
Pat perspiration from hot cheeks
Stare at white handkerchief…
Have they called a truce?

I remember to breathe.

No more yells or broken china,
No slammed doors or weeping.
Although my body weeps
As voices in normal tones
Float from the window

Sweat snakes from armpits,
Pools beneath breasts.

The summer sun slides seawards
The silver shadow of the moon
Waits in line to shine.

I resume my walk –
Perturbed
Sweltering
Fatigued
Feeling a failure
Seeking serenity.

images

 

Some writing suggestions:

  • Describe your serenity setting.
  • Imagine yourself there. Why are you there? Has something prompted the visit?
  • What happens when this place is disturbed or no longer available, or your plans must change? Do you have an alternative?
  • Write a poem inspired by the word serenity.
  • Write about how you unwind or handle stress – this may have changed over the years.
  • Did you ever consider ‘stress’ before it became a much talked about health issue?

(When I recorded the history of our local primary school in Mordialloc on its 125th anniversary, I interviewed many past students and staff. A woman who attended the school during the depression years of the 1930s and coped through the tumultuous war years said, ‘no one had stress then – we just got on with life.’)

Reflect on the lives of your parents and grandparents. Do you think they suffered stress? How do you think they dealt with the difficult periods of their lives? Was the pace of life really that different? If so – how?

 

a day in Fitzroy gardens
A picture suggesting serenity, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne

 

Vailima – Robert Louis Stevenson’s Samoan Home

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.

Robert Louis Stevenson

The Stevenson clan: Robert, his wife Fanny and her son Lloyd, and Robert’s widowed mother settled on the island of Upolu in Samoa in 1890. RLS had a house built at the foot of Mt Vaea, which he called Vailima, and he continued to write, but also became an advocate for the Samoans.

Vailima, a beautiful island plantation home has been restored and is now a world-class museum set in a national nature reserve and botanical garden. A tour in its coolness a welcome relief when I descended Mt Vaea via the Road of the Loving Hearts. In the house, there are many photographs of life at Vailima with the Stevenson Family.

The home and grounds have been restored to reflect the comfort expected in colonial times, but also the use of many Samoan building products. It is easy to imagine RLS writing here and filling the spacious rooms with many visitors.

The tasteful restoration as accurate as possible and the house repaired and reinvented as a museum by American benefactors who set up a foundation to raise money. Tilafaiga Rex Maughan, its primary benefactor, chairs the Foundation. Two board appointees represent the Government of Samoa. The Board oversees the fiscal, regulatory and policies of the not-for-profit entity.

The Vailima estate was purchased in 1900 as the official residence for the German governor. After British/Dominion confiscation, it served successively as the residence for the New Zealand administrator and the Samoan head of state after independence before being reclaimed as important national heritage.

It is a golden maxim to cultivate the garden for the nose, and the eyes will take care of themselves.

Robert Louis Stevenson

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The guides giving the tours of the house are extremely well-versed in all things RLS. As you walk through the Great Hall, RLS’s Library, his Smoking Room,  five bedrooms and numerous nooks and crannies they share anecdotes from the life of the famous author. They point out what is authentic and what is a reproduction.

The tour at $20 tala ($10 Aus) superb value. The highlight being the guide singing the Requiem from RLS tombstone – a spine-tingling moment. The Samoan’s have a reputation for memorable voices like the Welsh. Tips are not expected but considering how poor most Samoans are (an average wage of $150 tala per week) this would be the moment to be generous.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RLS wanted fireplaces and a Smoking Room to remind him of Scotland. The fires were never lit!  Throughout the house, the darkness of the beautiful polished wood softened by large windows and French doors letting in the wealth of Samoan sunshine. The Great Hall restored with Californian redwood and replica furniture.The Tapa Room has the local wall covering called siapo or tapa from the original cultural pattern.

Tapa is a cloth made of vegetable fibre and stained in various striking patterns. Widely used by the Samoans for clothing, curtains, beds, and many other purposes, today any clothing from tapa is ceremonial or for the tourists.

Upstairs the bedrooms reflect the various personalities of the household. A photograph of RLS’s mother could be a slimmer Queen Victoria a la the dark dress and crocheted cap.  Mrs Stevenson senior didn’t cope with the heat, disliked the house and complained daily about its gloominess – even the view of a tranquil garden from her window couldn’t console her.

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.

Robert Louis Stevenson

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fanny and RLS slept in separate rooms because he liked to write at night, but he had a secret door/hatch installed in the wall so they could talk to each other when lying in bed. RLS was often ill, and Fanny became his nurse as well as looking after everyone else in the household plus many of the local Samoans. The sick bed and medicine chest often used according to Fanny’s biographer:

A disease of the tropics, said to be transmitted by the bite of mosquitoes, which causes enormous enlargement of the parts affected. Mrs. Stevenson cured this boy, Mitaele, of elephantiasis by Dr. Funk’s remedy of rubbing the diseased vein with blue ointment and giving him a certain prescribed drug.

As I walked through the rooms and examined the photographs and paraphernalia, it was easy to imagine the scents and sounds of a busy household. The Stevenson’s hospitality matched the welcome and friendliness the Samoans are famous for so there would have been laughter, chatter and music.

Talk is by far the most accessible of pleasures. It costs nothing in money, it is all profit, it completes our education, founds and fosters our friendships, and can be enjoyed at any age and in almost any state of health.

Robert Louis Stevenson

One of the ways the RLS Museum and grounds are able to remain for posterity is by generous donations, entry fees and also hiring out the grounds for celebrations. It has become popular for weddings, but the stipulation is ‘no alcohol’, the wedding must be dry to minimise damage to the heritage property.

The day I visited, the final preparations were being added for a wedding that evening. One of the guides urged me to look inside the marquees and confided the wedding planner was famous in Samoa. Perhaps I’d seen the advertisement on television, ‘You know about Fa’afafine?’

I smiled away my ignorance as I went to have a look at the preparations that had taken two days and vowed to look up Fa’afafine later.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fa’afafine of Samoa are Samoa’s 3rd gender – the term  fa’a means ‘to be’ and fafine means ‘a woman’. Fa’afafine are not just cross-dressers nor are they males reared as females (a myth often believed by foreigners). Mostly they see themselves as female despite the gender markers, and they grow up choosing to identify with the female rather than the male gender.

Acceptance levels of fa’afafine are at an all time high with the Samoan Prime Minister patron of the Fa’afafine Association. However, some villages and districts treat fa’afafine differently although I didn’t see any evidence of this in my short time in Apia. In fact whenever fa’afafine were mentioned or seen around Apia everyone seemed proud.

Samoan culture treats and respects fa’afafine. Western culture through religious influences does not so the fa’afafine entrench themselves in their culture in order to be accepted into the community, with resounding and remarkable success.

My day at Vailima and Mt Vaea was a resounding success too – increasing my knowledge on so many aspects of Samoan history and modern day culture. I left the gorgeous surrounds to the tinkling laughter of the ‘celebrity’ wedding planner and helpers.

I reflected on Samoa, RLS and life in general and agreed

That man is a success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much.

Robert Louis Stevenson

When You Have To Give Bliss A Miss

Goodlife-242x300

It’s safe to say that one of the delights a writer can have, apart from uninterrupted time to write, is spending time with other writers. Not just any writers, of course, but writers who are respected by their peers, successfully published writers, writers who can speak about their journey, share tips, encourage others to follow their dream, and writers who can perform and entertain.

You find all this and more at writers festivals and recently through the generosity of my friend Lisa Hill I was gifted a ticket to the Bendigo Writers’ Festival. Bliss indeed – until the dreaded winter flu virus decided to strike. The best laid plans not only stalled but shattered.

Today, I managed to stay vertical for a few hours and teach my lovely Monday class who were considerate of my lack of verve and sympathised that over the weekend as I nursed a body aching with raging temperatures, a head threatening to explode and a cough more suited to a tuberculosis ward I felt very sorry for myself indeed!

Thank goodness Lisa, who presented at the festival interviewing two authors,(Lily Yulianti Farid and Roger McDonald)  is an excellent writer and by reading her blog, although salt in a still open wound, I appreciated the delights of an ideal weekend for those who love writing and reading.

The Australian Government website suggests writers festivals help close the gap of isolation:

Reading is essentially solitary. Writing is essentially solitary. Though we connect with others far away through our reading and writing we tend not to meet them face to face. We are always one step away. Is this the reason why writers’ festivals are so popular? They invite us to close that gap and meet in person.

The statistics on the website haven’t been updated since 2012, but they do tell us that in 1962 there was only one writers’ festival in Australia and by 2012 there were over 30, with the Sydney Writers’ Festival the third largest of its kind in the world. An amazing feat considering Australia has such a small population compared to continents sharing a similar literary tradition like North America, UK and Europe.

The increase in blogging and social media has also made writers festivals all the more important. At a time when it is possible for almost anyone in the Western world to be published and read on a daily basis, never before has it been so important to gather together to hear prose and poetry read aloud alongside radical and world-illuminating ideas.

Jonathan Holloway, Artistic director, Perth International Arts Festival

At writers festivals you get the chance to hear your favourite authors read their work, discuss their inspiration, share their writing secrets. Your admiration may be reinforced, or you may be disappointed or you may be able to pick up an autographed copy of a book for yourself or as a gift. Readers meet authors, writers meet their audience, the connection and communication is rarely boring and in many cases festivals are a hub of exciting exchanges of ideas.

We reach across the written word – in books or newspapers, magazines, eReaders or iPads – to explore ideas, to start arguments, to rail against injustice, to expose each other, to console each other and to discover our common ground. We read because we are interested in ideas.

Danielle Benda, Program Manager of Perth Writers Festival 2012

Last year, again courtesy of Lisa, I was able to attend the Stonnington Literary Festival when she lead a lively panel discussion on a theme of “the glittering facade” with Paddy O’Reilly (The Wonders), Catherine Harris (The Family Men), and Nicole Hayes (The Whole of My World).

lisa hill at stonnington writers festivalat stonnington literary festival 2014

glitterfacadebookcovers

 On any given weekend, across Australia there will be people coming together to celebrate the written word. There are boutique festivals: Emerging Writers, Noosa Long Weekend, Write Around the Murray, National Young Writers, festivals celebrating Indigenous Writers, Poets and even online festivals acknowledging the advance of digital technology.

Discussion panels, live music, poetry slams, comedy debates, festivals of ideas, short plays – so many ways the written and spoken word can entertain and inspire – and all to a backdrop of amazing scenery, delicious food and bottomless wine glasses or coffee cups with endless conversation…

I’ll stop now because I’m beginning to feel miserable again for such a lost weekend. Although I was nurtured and loved by my beautiful daughters who fussed over me just as I remember my mother looking after me when I was little. That’s the plus side of being ill – the comforting hands, the meals in bed, the lazing on the couch all worries aside as your body fights for recovery. I experienced that and more, along with gorgeous roses to remind me that spring will soon be here and winter blues dispelled!

DSC_5178

And the Melbourne Writers Festival is coming soon – fingers crossed I’ll get my energy back by then because the girls and I have tickets to a session to hear Rob Thomas, the writer of Veronica Mars – lightning better not strike twice!

Marking Milestones in a Memorable Way

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Mark Twain

The above quote is attributed to Mark Twain, but like all quotes circulating on the Internet, or repeated in books, unless you can go back to the primary source, you have to accept it’s authenticity on face value.

However, the profound and philosophical comment sounds like one we’d expect from Mark Twain. Unless you believe in reincarnation, the day we are born is indeed, the first day of our lives. What we learn, experience and do with our lives should, if we’re lucky, provide the answer to why we are here – unless of course you believe in predestination.

Many people believe they have a purpose in life. When they dedicate themselves to achieving this, their life has meaning and seems richer. Most of us will spend our  lives seeking purpose, trying out different  jobs, careers, relationships, developing talents and abilities to find our niche, and with luck discover a sense of fulfilment leading to contentment and satisfaction.

I may not have the definitive answer to ‘why’ I was born and I don’t believe in preordained destiny, but I do believe in making things happen. Knowledge and time can change ideas and achievements, which then allows me to make informed decisions and design aspects of my life, leading me closer to  answering: Why was I born? What meaning has my life? What legacy will I leave?

We can all find something to be passionate about, something we strive to do well, something we want to share with others. For me, it is writing, coupled with belief in community and driven by a desire for social justice and equity.

Yesterday, as part of the Mordialloc Writers’ Group, I met other people passionate about a local community library, reading, access to knowledge, promoting local writers and retaining local history.

Mentone Public Library, established in 1925, celebrated its 90th Anniversary by having an Open Day, a ceremonial cutting of the anniversary cake, kind positive words from local dignitaries, councillors and politicians and presentations by local community groups. A tiny subscription library may seem an anachronism in today’s digital world and where public libraries are provided by council, but it is a testimony to the dedication of volunteers and local supporters that this library is still going after 90 years.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Veronica Hahn, Mordialloc and District Historical Society

                                          DSC_4818

Dorothy Booth, Friends of Mentone Station and Gardens

DSC_4820

Dr Graham Whitehead, City of Kingston historian

DSC_4807

Blue Chair Poets (Sarah, Debbie and Yvette)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Mordialloc Writers’ Group (Mairi, Glenice, Coral, Maureen, Belinda and Steve)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Two emerging writers from local schools (Joe and Jessi)

DSC_4842-1 DSC_4843

Entertainment by the Mordialloc Ukulele Group and circus performer/musician Shannon McGurgan.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The founders and volunteers over the years who have kept this library thriving had purpose, passion, and acted upon their ideas!  Yesterday a celebration of community achievement as people shared and appreciated each other’s talents. New friendships were made, networks expanded.

At the end of the delightful day, the hard work of volunteer Julia Reichstein was duly acknowledged. There is usually someone in an organisation that goes ‘above and beyond’ their designated duties, or who is considered ‘a mover and a shaker’, Julia definitely fitted the bill on all counts!

A fitting end to a wonderful event. Mordialloc writers excelled, displaying the varied talents we bring to the group and the community. Our brief was 5 minutes each – a maximum of 750 words – and we made it!!

Some shared their writing journey, others memoir, others imaginative short stories – all entertaining. I explained a little of the history of the group because

I can’t imagine a world without reading or writing; or living in a community without a library. The love of words, the diversity and flexibility of the English language motivate and inspire my writing. I’m thrilled when a poem or story finds a home and a reader enjoys my words.

Happy Birthday Mentone Library!

Writer Anne Lamott said, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world … worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet, or excite you.”

Libraries are built on books. Schools rely on them and at any given moment there are millions of books on shelves around the world, in homes, in shops and in libraries like this. Books that share knowledge and experiences of life, that share poetry and prose from every genre imaginable, that entertain, inform, inspire and ignite imagination.

Communication, learning, community and living – all begin with story.

This community reaps the benefit of the care taken by the original owners of the land, the Boon Wurrung of the KuIin Nation – without a written language their oral histories and knowledge handed down through yarns, painting, song and dance are living books. Their wisdom helping us preserve this land.

But, in our culture, to write well you must read. A book is a friend and teacher. As a writer I create characters, places and events with words. As a teacher I share my knowledge and love of words to instil the passion I feel for recording stories, putting pen to paper, all voices equal.

Like the City of Kingston, the Mordialloc Writers’ Group celebrated their 10th Anniversary in 2005. Reflecting on our beginnings, I remember how 5 writers met at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House in March 1995, put in $1.00 each to cover the rent and decided to meet fortnightly to workshop writing. Mordy Writers still meet fortnightly. And although numbers fluctuate they have increased over the years – as has the rent!

We decided to host regular public monthly readings on the last Sunday each month, but our foundation rules never changed:

  1. As a community based writing group we welcome writers in all genres, whether beginners or advanced.
  2. We are non-profit , our sole purpose being to encourage and support writers in their endeavours to publish, or just remain motivated to write.
  3. We produce regular anthologies, with any monies received going towards the next book. A collection of personal essays, Kingston My City, our ninth anthology, will be launched at our 20th anniversary celebrations later this year.
  4. We encourage the love of literature and the importance of creative writing in our culture.
  5. Our inclusive group abhors discrimination. Age, nationality, race, gender, religion, ethnic background or writing ability secondary to the desire to write.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We have enabled 60 writers to be published. Several more to be added this year. We’ve nurtured several successful prize-winners. Glenice Whitting’s unpublished novel was listed for the Premier’s Award in 2004, as Pickle to Pie it later won the Ilura Prize for fiction. Sue Parritt workshopped her novel with us, published last year as Sannah and the Pilgrim.

Many others have been supported and encouraged to publish collections of poetry and prose including: John West, Stan Fensom, Dorothy Plummer, Bob Croker,, Fay Lucas, Jeff Lasbury, Bob Lawson, Gregory Hill ( a successful co-writer of two books now), Dom Heraclides and Steve Davies. Maureen Hanna and Coral Waight have books ready to be published and Lisa Hill’s blog promoting Australian and New Zealand literature won an award at the Sydney Writers Festival.

Plays have been written and performed, one of mine at Kingston’s Write Up Festival. Glenice and Greg were short listed for Varuna scholarships. Writer, Helen Merrick-Andrews developed a publishing business after her involvement in our second anthology. Readings By The Bay attracts writers from as varied locations as Frankston and Mt Eliza, Fern Tree Gully and Northcote, Bacchus Marsh and Oakleigh as well as local bayside participants.

Several of us are published regularly in other anthologies, online and other media. Alan Ward pursues his love of performance poetry in Germany where he is living for 2 years. Along with other ex-pats he posts his efforts on Youtube.

Grants from Kingston Council for professional development enabled the group to host workshops by authors Euan Mitchell and Arnold Zable.

Creativity has no boundaries, our members have ranged from 14 to 86 years, for Mordy Writers it’s not menopausal madness – the headline a local paper chose to use from one of my throwaway lines! Rather, it’s unpretentious voices attempting to make sense of and celebrate our social and geographical place in the world through the experience of life ‘bayside’.

Ningla- Ana, This our Land
Indigenous and Immigrant together.

Fear, Freedom, Fantasy, Reality … Words Do have Power, but Writers Must be Allowed to Write!

10923584_705094149589630_2305789779923395487_n       10277682_705094162922962_4352163918933301318_n

This blog is about writing and promoting creative writing, but today I have to honour those writers and cartoonists who were murdered in Paris for doing what writers and cartoonists in a political magazine do:  challenge, confront, comment, lampoon and satirise authority, whether church or state, political or secular.

My deepest condolences to all those in France who have lost someone they love.

It was heartening to take part in a hastily organised vigil in Melbourne’s Federation Square this evening and be with 3000 others, as a mark of respect for those who have died, and to stand in solidarity with the grieving French community of Melbourne. So many shattered young travellers worrying about their families and homeland, coming together to support each other and trying to make sense of such a senseless violent act.

10926405_705091049589940_4634340277505723502_n   10917877_705091032923275_8201604450085159222_n

Many people queued to write or draw a message of condolence and also a message in defence of freedom of speech.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I owe a great deal of my development and education to the courage, talent and philosophical ideas of uncensored French writers.

My first real introduction to great French writers and thinkers was studying The Enlightenment during my last year at high school and reading Jean-Jaques Rousseau (The Social Contract) and Françoise-Marie Arouet de Voltaire  (Candide) for Eighteenth Century History.

 “Ecrasez l’infame!”- “Crush the Infamous Thing!”

Françoise-Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778)

I interpreted the infamous thing as being  superstition and intolerance  – standard behaviour of the Catholic Church of Voltaire’s time, and like many others I often quote what he was reported to have said about freedom of speech. A very appropriate comment to reflect on today regarding intolerant fundamentalism.

Freedom-of-Speech-united-states-of-america-21760995-960-720

Voltaire promoted empiricism, rationalism, social reform, and freedom of thought. Philosopher, satirist, dramatist, novelist, historian, essayist, poet, social reformer, and the most influential champion of the Enlightenment. Once read, never forgotten!

I was a child when I first saw films based on the books of  Victor Hugo (Les misèrables and Notre-Dame de Paris – The Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame), a  teenager when I read novels by other writers from France: Albert Camus (L’Étranger/The Outsider), Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Man in the Iron Mask and The Nutcracker, which Tchaikovsky based his ballet on.), and Jules Verne (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days). Émile Zola’s defence of Alfred Dreyfus and his echoing  Voltaire in the open letter J’accuse still resonates.

In the 1970s at university I read Simone de Beauvoir, a great feminist ( The Second Sex and The Prime of Life) and the truly amazing Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, best known by her pseudonym George Sand, existentialist Jean Paul Sartre, Gustave Flaubert (Madame Bovary), the poet Charles Baudelaire, and the playwright Molière.

Books by George Sand, a woman ahead of her time, can be read on the Internet here:  http://archive.org/search.php?query=creator:%22George%20Sand%22&page=1

The most recent encounter with great French writers being for my Masters degree:  Hélène Cixous (The Hélène Cixous Reader and The Writing Notebooks of Hélène Cixous), Roland Barthes (The Death of the Author) and the many writings of Jacques Derrida .

The nineteenth-century historian Thomas Macauley said of Voltaire,

“Bigots and tyrants, who had never been moved by the wailing and cursing of millions, turned pale at his name.”

There has never been a century free from bigots or tyrants – we will always need a Voltaire.

Two seemingly contradictory statements about the importance of writing from Jean Paul Sartre, one of the greatest of French writers and philosophers appeared in an article in the Guardian last year. The first quote he was refusing the Nobel Prize for Literature and the second quote was disappointment at not being able to change French policy in Algeria.

I have always declined official honours. A writer should not allow himself to be turned into an institution. This attitude is based on my conception of the writer’s enterprise. A writer who adopts political, social or literary positions must act only within the means that are his own – that is, the written word.

For a long time I looked on my pen as a sword; now I know how powerless we are.

Sartre was obviously jaded and disappointed, but at least he didn’t stop writing.

I don’t believe writers are powerless and I hope there will always be those with the courage of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and writers. Here are two cartoons doing the rounds of social media to honour those killed in Paris and to illustrate a belief that the pen will be mightier than the sword!

10647239_422201467930367_9067431256406227381_n    10891589_422199704597210_6651698641846502158_n