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Two weeks in the City of Literature

Creative immersion therapy at its best

The dome reading room at the State Library of Victoria.

The past month has been Huge. Life-changing. One of those periods that could prove to be a pivotal – or starting – point in my creative writing career.

In an effort to explain the impact this time has had I’ll get the name-dropping out of the way now. John Marsden, Shaun Tan, Will Kostakis, Shivaun Plozza, Benjamin Law, Judith Rossell, Anna Ciddor, Claire Saxby, Meredith Costain, Kevin Burgemeestre, Sherryl Clark, Mark Wilson, Dromkeen, Allen & Unwin, Penguin Random House, Text Publishing, Readings, Little Bookroom, Writers Victoria, City of Literature, State Library of Victoria (SLV).

The prequel

This post’s title refers to the past two weeks in the Maurice Saxby Mentorship which I won for my young adult MS 'Community', but the chain of events began in early April. I started getting tweets about my creative piece in 'The Victorian Writer' magazine – an excerpt from my WIP 'Out of Control'. I knew it was scheduled to run, but I kept quiet about it because I’ve worked in the media long enough to know the only time you can guarantee a story’s out is when the ink’s dry.

My first published creative piece in 'The Victorian Writer' magazine.

This was a slow burn moment – a Twitter friend sent me a photo of the published story, but it didn’t feel real until my copy of the magazine arrived. After two decades as a journo you’d think I’d be used to seeing my work in print, right? I thought so too, but this was different. This wasn’t a non-fiction, interview-based newspaper article – this was my characters, my story, my imagination in print.

It was a milestone moment – my first creative piece published since I quit journalism. There was happy dancing. The magazine’s still sitting on my desk. Another copy lives in my bag after a friend asked if I had a copy for her to look at and I didn’t.

A few days later Shivaun Plozza, who I met several years ago through a writing workshop, launched her new YA novel, 'Frankie'. It was a privilege to go to the event and see the end result of all her tenacity and hard work.

The next day I gowned up and graduated with my Master of Arts in Writing and Literature. My son came, and decided he wants to graduate from uni one day. This from an extremely smart kid who thinks he’s not, so I chalk that up as a personal win.

The other mentees and I attended the CBCA Night of Notables, where Will Kostakis spoke about the drama surrounding his recent book 'The Sidekicks', how books promote empathy in readers, and the importance of making titles with diverse characters and experiences accessible for teenagers. He was warm and generous with his time as we talked about the portrayal of same sex relationships and identity formation in Aussie YA. A couple of days later I was back in Melbourne to hear Will speak again (I promise I wasn’t stalking him!), this time with Benjamin Law at The Gay Book event at Dymocks. Again, empathy, diversity, identity and inclusion were key topics. It reinforced I’m on the right track with my MS.

The main event

From left: Me, Australian writing legend John Marsden, and CLAN committee member Albert Ullin.

So… Two weeks in the City of Literature.

I live in the country, between ninety minutes and two hours from Melbourne’s CBD, depending on traffic and trains. My town’s not the smallest, but it’s the type of place where when I tell people I’m a writer, they say, ‘A farmer? What do you farm?’ This has actually happened. Note: ‘I farm stories’ only confuses people.

To be honest, the thought of travelling up to Melbourne every day stressed me out. There was a child to organise, meals to pre-cook, sacrifices to the made to the gods of public transport so I could figure out the city’s tram system. And the two weeks was exhausting, but worth every second. I had hardly any time to write, but I feel more connected to the writing community than ever before.

As one of four 2016 Maurice Saxby Mentees, I had open access to the City of Stonington’s Literature Alive program and could sit in on workshops and school visits by many of the authors and illustrators name-dropped above.

Through the mentorship, run through the Children’s Literature Australia Network (CLAN) (edit, Jan 2018: now run through the CBCA Victoria) and hosted by publishing legends Helen Chamberlin, Pam Horsey and Albert Ullin, we also visited publishers, librarians and booksellers, the SLV’s children’s collection, and met with Aussie writing and illustrating royalty.

One of the many Melbourne cafes, perfect for an on-the-road office.

I’ll post more on the mentorship another time, but in addition to bringing me up to Melbourne daily, the program also gave me the chance to catch up with writer friends for coffee and hold a one-person cafe-crawl, grabbing a spare hour or two to write when I could.

The fortnight started with a volunteer morning tea at the Wheeler Centre hosted by the City of Literature office, and ended with a seminar by Writers Victoria director Kate Larsen on ‘How to write about your work’, and the mentorship program took us around the CBD, inner south-eastern and northern suburbs and the northern urban fringe. The authors and illustrators we met were from across the greater Melbourne area, and some had relocated here from interstate – as had many of the staff and volunteers at the City of Literature morning tea.

To have two weeks immersed in Melbourne’s literary culture, from the history of the SLV to the current-day practitioners, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The city has an energy that I’m missing already, and people don’t give you strange looks when your career is creative. It’s made me want to spend more time in the city, to soak up that sensation, to immerse myself more in my writing and in the writing community.

Which, as it turns out, is a good thing. Because I recently found out I’ve been accepted into the ACT Writers’ Centre’s HARDCOPY manuscript development program for the full MS of the piece that was published in The Victorian Writer. In less than three weeks I’ll be in Canberra, completely immersed in writing again.

And I can’t wait.

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