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Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Artist's Life

Jane Clifton
The Artist's Life

Last night I surfaced at the Melbourne Writers Festival, one of THE drawcard Writers Festivals in the world. I am a volunteer from time to time at MWF and I talk about this at Volunteer.

The blogosphere can be a small world at times. This week through blogging I have met Kitty Cheng of Peregrine Sojo - Kitty’s Kronicle. She discovered the MWF at Volunteer and suggested we go together. Kitty chose The Artist’s Life and I am so glad she did. When faced with a program as large and extensive as MWF, I know I can’t go to everything. So one has to prioritize. This meant that I had not considered The Artist’s Life yet what a treat it was.

It took the form of a panel session chaired by Jane Clifton.

The writers involved were Shalini Akhil, Merlinda Bobis, Alice Garner, and Gail Bell.
Shalini - the youngest of the women - was enchanting. In 2001, she entered a competition run by the Melbourne Writers’ Festival in which writers were required to pitch ideas for novels to a panel of judges and a vocal audience. She went on to win this competition, and considers it her first foray into stand up comedy. She later entered the national stand up comedy competition ‘Raw Comedy’, run by radio station Triple J, and went on to become a national finalist. Now studying Professional Writing at Deakin University, her first novel, The Bollywood Beauty, has just been published by Penguin Books. For all of us who dream of being published, her mood swings of anxiety and excitement, her post-published depression were a revelation and an insight into a fantasy fulfilled.

Merlinda Bobis blew my mind. A strong, sophisticated Filipina woman now living in Australia - her manner of speaking, the delightful, considered, powerful language of her speech, her discussion of the use of language captivated me. If I were to be a writer, hers is the mindset, the model I would aim for. I have not read her work but you can be sure that any day now I will be off on a Merlinda Bobis odyssey. One of my dearest friends, Sylvia who lives in remote Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory and comes from Manila, has just had her Christmas present selected.

Alice Garner has my utmost respect. Alice Garner is a Research Fellow of the History Department, University of Melbourne, where she obtained her PhD in French history in 2001. She is also a professional musician and award-winning actor, with starring roles in the campus comedy Love and Other Catastrophes and successful Australian television series SeaChange and The Secret Life of Us. She is the initiator with Kate Atkinson of Actors for Refugees. I have seen AfR in action and I highly commend them in bringing a difficult, angst ridden, and divisive issue to the Australian public in such a superb manner. Alice, the daughter of Helen Garner, has lived the artist’s life as long as she could remember: as a child in the household of her parents and friends and in adulthood in her own right and now with her musician husband and two children. All this and her soon to be published book, A Shifting Shore.

Gail Bell was the last speaker and, though a little younger than me, gives me hope that one day in these later years I might produce something wonderful like a book and be published too.

Kitty and I found it a wonderful night - and a great stimulus to creativity.