Adelaide Writers’ Week 2018

The Rundle Mall Pigs. And yes, they all have names!

A Day Out by Marguerite Derricourt; Rundle Mall Adelaide. The four pigs are Truffles (the standing pig), Horatio (the sitting pig), Oliver (the pig at the litter bin) and Augusta (the trotting pig). Source: Pinterest.

Given I’ve been back from Adelaide for more than three weeks, it might be time to mention what I did over there for the 6 day writers’ festival (3-8 March 2018).

Last time I was in Adelaide we drove, (see the second half of that post); the time before we arrived by rail from Darwin; this time we travelled like normal civilised people and took a plane. Flight time is around two hours, and when you get there, you put your clock back a half hour.

This time I left Bill behind and went with three other friends. Unlike the four little pigs in the above photo, I shall not name our group, even though I am sure 🙂 (maybe) that they would like me to mention them. They might even like me to joke about what we may – or may not – have got up to together. But until I get a twitter account, that information is classified. What I will say is that we shared a city apartment and that went very well, and we made good company.

However, we didn’t always want to do the same things, or hear the same speakers, so here is a round-up of which talks I attended. My dedication was noted, so if you are not a confirmed bibliophile, you might prefer to give the rest of this post a miss. I thought about breaking it into several posts, but I have others waiting to be written. Maybe you might prefer to skim until one topic catches your eye.

I’ll add a link to each book in case you would like to learn more.

Related image

The festival is held in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden where two stages are set up at a distance from each other. Sessions are run concurrently,  a total of fourteen sessions per day. The listeners choose their topic and assemble under the trees, the weather all week being warm to hot – even though 1st March is the official start to autumn . . . and . . . it is all free.

Day 1:

  • Saga Land, well-known (in Australia) broadcaster Richard Fidler and his friend Kári Gíslason (AU) share a passion for the sagas of Iceland, and both have a special connection to the country which is revealed in this memoir.

Day 2:

  • Glass Houses, Louise Penny (CA). One of our group has avidly read everything from this author, and after listening to her engaging talk, I can see that I must add Armand Gamache (head of homicide of the Sûreté de Québec) as a character-of-interest on my reading list. I also learned about debt-collectors known as cobradors. I feel that random information will work its way into a future story of mine  . . .
  • The Fact of a Body, Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (US). This is simultaneously an account of a child-killer’s death row case and its retrial, and a memoir of the writer’s experience as a child abuse victim and later lawyer connected with the case. I think this is one where the reader will be forced to adjust their attitude on more than one occasion. The writer certainly did.
  • Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie (UK). Apart from a failed attempt to audition for the role of Antigone in high school dramatics, I know little of the actual plot-line of this famous Greek tragedy. But I will be thinking about it when I read this modern day re-telling which sees the tragedy through the eyes Aneeka, a young Muslim girl living in London.
  • Shelter in Place, Alexander Maksik (US) and Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin (AR). Both of these sounded fascinating journeys into “madness” and each have won several literary accolades. Both will appeal to those who are looking for that more intricate read that leaves you thinking about the issues for long after you’ve finished.
  • Blind Spot, Teju Cole (US) and Draw Your Weapons, Sarah Sentilles (US). I’d heard Teju Cole on the radio a few days prior and was fascinated to see him up close. Blind Spot was not the subject I had heard him speaking about – however, both these books combine photography and images with words to convey their message, which in the case of Draw Your Weapons includes a perspective from a former prison guard at Abu Ghraib.
  • Balcony Over Jerusalem, a Middle East Memoir, John Lyons (AU). This is going on my definitely, absolutely, must, must read list. Six years of living in and reporting from the Middle East have informed Lyon’s “opinion” of 50 years of West Bank history. The author did his best to be even-handed in the talk but all the same I think some readers will take sides depending on their point of view at the outset.
  • Democracy and its Crisis, A. C. Grayling (UK). OMG!!! This was a stand-out talk for me. This British philosopher and author distilled the history and intentions of democracy into words that enunciate what we thought it was supposed to be about. And he didn’t just wax on – he had logical and achievable suggestions for how to deal with modern day democracy. I so hope his book confirms what I thought I heard 🙂

Day 3:

  • The Fighter Michael Farris Smith (US). This talk was my first exposure to writers from the American South – Mississippi in this case. I heard a new word – “antebellum” – or plantation house. Which put me in mind of having read “Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone, 1861-1868” which was a fascinating diary of a young woman from a Louisiana plantation during the American Civil War. Southern life in Smith’s books has become even more hardscrabble for his unfortunate characters. The writer has a blog called The United States of Mississippi at I’ve just signed up to it and will follow along for a while to see what he has to say.

Day 4:

  • The Sparsholt Affair, Alan Hollinghurst (UK). This tale is told in five parts, beginning with war-time Oxford, and across three generations it spans the intimate relationships of a group of friends brought together by art, literature, and love. My expectation is this book will evoke the changes in social conscience up till now.
  • Darktown, Thomas Mullen (US). The second writer from the American South whose talk I attended. The true tale behind this novel really captured my attention – the 1948 hiring of Atlanta’s first African American police officers and the restrictions placed on them during the ‘Jim Crow’ era. Read more here. A must read for me.
  • The next talk I attended was about inserting your own story into a non-fiction book. Marzano-Lesnevich (from day 2) was joined by Sara Krasnostein (AU) The Trauma Cleaner, and Ashleigh Young (NZ) Can You Tolerate This? Both sound amazing reads. Krasnostein became very close to her subject, Sandra Pankhurst, who sounds a truly remarkable person.
  • Whipbird, Robert Drewe (AU). Quintessentially Australian, I call Robert Drewe my talisman, because in the early days of my memoir manuscript, when Bill and I were in the process of moving to where we live now, there was a full-page advertisement for the complex in the newspaper, and on the flip-side, a full-page article about Drewe. Superstitiously, I convinced myself that this conjunction of print meant that my manuscript would ultimately be published. And it was. So there, the power of positive thinking at work. Drewe is always an entertaining speaker. I am currently reading an earlier book, Montebello which is a follow up memoir to his much earlier work, The Shark Net. You can tell I just love this guy and his work.
  • The Wish Child, Catherine Chigdey (NZ) and Charlotte, David Foenkinos (FR). I couldn’t get into this talk at all, even though both books, set in Berlin in and around WWII, would normally have me hooked. Perhaps I was flagging. I backed up the next day for a deeper talk on Charlotte, and loved every word of it. More later.

Day 5:

  • The Enigmatic Mr Deakin, Judith Brett (AU). Alfred Deakin was Australia’s second Prime Minister (and the fifth, and the seventh) and one of the fathers of federation. In this fascinating talk, we learnt that he was, among many other things, a spiritualist! This won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but if the talk is any guide, this is not a dusty tome of dates and politics, but a great insight into his attitudes and foibles as well as his huge contribution to our development as a nation.

  • Charlotte, David Foenkinos (FR). This time the author had the stage to himself, and the chair was former BBC  journalist Caroline Beck who in my opinion was the standout chair for the event. So this time we learnt so much about Berlin born Charlotte Salomon and the 700 autobiographical paintings she produced before being deported to Auschwitz. Foenkinos is, by his own admission, obsessed with his subject and his passion enthralled us all. This is an incredibly complex story.
  • Miss Muriel Matters, Robert Wainwright (AU). I have to confess that I missed this talk, even though I had the best intentions. However, this biography of “the most inspiring woman you’ve never heard of” is definitely on my reading list. Who wouldn’t want to know about “a young Australian actress, who in 1909, took to the sky over London in an airship emblazoned with the slogan ‘Votes for Women’ and dropped leaflets over the city“?

Day 6:

  • The advertised talk, Victoria by Julia Bird was replaced with Caroline Chisholm by Sarah Goldman. That suited me, as Chisholm’s work with improving the lives of poor immigrant girls who were practically abandoned on arrival in the mid 19th century dove-tails nicely with some of my research. Many don’t realise that she is depicted on our Five Dollar note or why. As mentioned in the book overview . . .   “As the government of the day refused to help, Chisholm established accommodation, services and the first employment office in the colony, drawing up the first ever employment contracts in Australia. She established minimum wages, found jobs and homes, and created employment agencies in a dozen rural centres as well.” A small taste of what this early female social activist achieved.

Image result for caroline chisholm onthe ten dollar note

Due to the need to do all the necessary to check out of our hotel and get the flight back to Sydney, I also missed another talk that held promise: Anaesthesia by Kate Cole-Adams (AU) which includes “the astonishing fact that doctors don’t actually know how anaesthetics works“. As well as the research relating to the invention and use of anaesthetics, Cole-Adams explores the concept of consciousness. Something to sleep on perhaps?

And so we leave young Oliver, with his snout permanently stuck in the trough, which also serves as a litter bin in Rundle Mall. I am fascinated that no-one graffitis his hide with the names of out-of-favour politicians. Perhaps he is just too well-loved as he is . . .

Sculpture in Rundle Mall Adl March 2018 (2) (451x800)

Oliver by Marguerite Derricourt; Rundle Mall Adelaide.   Photo Gwen Wilson

25 thoughts on “Adelaide Writers’ Week 2018

  1. Pingback: Resilience – Unity – Persistence in the Adelaide Hills – Day 8 of Road Trip March 2020 | The Reluctant Retiree

  2. Pingback: Newcastle Writers Festival | The Reluctant Retiree

  3. Looks a very full and interesting programme. I did write a long involved comment several days ago, but I obviously failed to post it properly and now I can’t remember what I said. Never mind couldn’t have been that interesting.

    Glad to see you got to hear Prof Grayling I am a fan. Have read several of his more accessible books. My daughter has met him as she shared a flat with some students from his New College of the Humanities. Unfortunately, I was too obviously not a young student to tag along with them to one of the informal group pub discussions!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I think he is a fine communicator too. The problem we have is that his new arts university is a great idea at a time when so many established unis are cutting their arts courses and departments, but because it is private it has attracted a certain kind of applicant. My daughter shared a flat with a couple of them and one gave up during his first year and then waited a year and reapplied to one of the ‘normal’ unis. I think it is difficult to set up a new institution and the early years are particularly tricky. Although, cleverly, they have sited it on Bedford Square right next to the main site of UCL which was founded in 1826 and is the third oldest uni in England.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve just been doing a quick read up on his university and can see there is much controversy over the fees and claims of elitism. We have high fees here too. There was only a brief moment in our history when university was free. Students can get a loan which is repaid over time when their income reaches a minimum level. However, there is a lot of discussion around the fee hikes and falling employment extending the repayments well into the time when the former student is in the home and family-building stage of life.


          • Your systems seems similar to ours. All English students have to pay fees for all courses now in the regular universities too. They have to take a ‘Student Loan’ repayable over 30 years once they reach a certain salary (currently over £21,000 per year) or if they are lucky their parents or grandparents pay the fees. My daughter took the loans for her 4 year MSci and has calculated that her debt, with compound interest at RPI + 3.0%
            (!!!) from start date of loan, will be over £100,000 by the time she finishes her PhD. That debt does not include here PhD fees as she has full funding for her research topic. She knows she will never pay it off through her salary unless she moves out of Academia and into the world of finance. She says she doesn’t think about it, but I am very, very angry as I feel this system is not equitable whatever the politicians try to tell/sell us. I guess it is just a very unfair world as usual.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Here in Australia we struggle to invest in, and value education. Then we get upset to see that all the top high school and university scores go to those whose culture demands academic excellence and are prepared to put their own money into it.


    • I’m glad you found it useful. I hesitated to put up such a long and detailed post, but as you can tell, I too was inspired by what I heard. If you get the chance to hear Kamila Shamsie, Prof A.C. Grayling or Teju Cole on home ground I can highly recommend them. I know Cole is listed as US but he is Nigerian born and is also a regular visit to the UK I think.

      Liked by 4 people

    • Next time he comes out of hiding I’ll tell him you said that 🙂
      . . . Oh hang on, I just looked at his twitter feed – he’s far from pulling his head in! Seems cricket is his latest focus – natch! It seems the only thing ANYONE can think about at the moment.
      And I LOVE Adelaide. In another life I’d still be living there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cricket died a LONG time ago, I used to be an ardent follower ” when it’s not cricket ” meant something.
        These players today would not have scored a cap in Bradman or Hassets day.
        Glad my boy wanted to play Baseball.
        I could never live in Adelaide, nice place for a restful holiday and if I was religious

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s painful – many Americans are not well traveled and live in their personal bubble of familiarity. Family ties and responsibilities are a grounding influence in most people’s lives… I have more freedom than many can comprehend. Need to take advantage of that while it’s still possible. Thanks for the dialogue! I must read Balcony Over Jerusalem – sounds fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds like an interesting festival – must admit, I only made it through a portion of the book descriptions… ;(… Have been back in Oregon less than a week and after a year abroad it’s more than weird – relearning everything is funny. In the US, “antebellum” is also used as an adjective describing pre Civil War life in the south. I think living on the fly is for me, and I’m already thinking about the “next” long trip! Maybe some time to focus on writing (ha, ha, ha) in between adventures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was as exhausting to write as it was to attend, so you’re excused for not getting through the entire list. Welcome home. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and enjoy your summer, sort your stuff, . . . And then? Have health, will travel?


      • Yes agree – health is good but had no clue what a psychological impact being away for a year would make – difficult to describe in words…. Maybe a good writing exercise? It is only through experiencing things that we change and develop as humans – right or cliche? 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • I certainly couldn’t travel as you do at this stage of my life – although that could change if I was a free agent. I remember when I first returned from Yugoslavia eons ago that I couldn’t speak English for the first week, so perhaps just a little touch of what you are going through now. Travel and connecting with other cultures definitely broadens our minds and attitudes. You must notice a huge difference when communicating with your fellow Americans who have not had that experience.


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