The Greenhouse Blog

Introducing the Control Room

In the Control Room, the audience is in control of the conversation. We put a writer or publishing industry professional in a room and the questions come from the crowd. There is no host, only the guest and the audience. They bring the experience, you bring the questions.

During our NSW Writers’ Festival Control Room we have an exciting range of guests with brains full of writing and industry knowledge just ripe for the picking. From festival directors, published authors, publishers and self publishing experts, we have you covered! Check out their bios below and start compiling your questions!

EWF Roadshow: NSWWC
Saturday 8 November, 10am – 6.30pm
NSW Writers’ Centre, Callan Park, Balmain Road, Rozelle



After working in Australian publishing, Jemma Birrell moved to Paris to join Shakespeare and Company, one of the world’s most famous bookshops. As the store’s first Events Director, she developed a world-renowned literary program, presenting today’s leading authors, thinkers and musicians. She was Co-Director of three editions of FestivalandCo, Shakespeare and Company’s biennial literary festival, set in a park across from Notre Dame. The festival attracted participants including Alain de Botton, Will Self, Martin Amis, Beth Orton, Jeanette Winterson and Charlotte Rampling.

Jemma began as Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival in late September 2012. She has curated two Festivals so far with international guests such as A.M. Homes, Karl Ove Knusgaard, Alice Walker, Eleanor Catton, Sandi Toksvig, Vince Gilligan, Sheila Heti and Andrew Solomon. Local authors include Thomas Keneally, Alexis Wright, David Malouf, Richard Flanagan and Fiona McFarlane.










Walter Mason is a writer, blogger and creative writing teacher. His first book, “Destination Saigon” was named one of the ten best travel books of 2010 by the Sydney Morning Herald. Walter’s latest book, “Destination Cambodia,” was released in 2013.Walter runs the Universal Heart Book Club with Stephanie Dowrick, an on-line book club that concentrates on matters of the spirit. He lives in Cabramatta, Sydney.













Laura Jean McKay is the author of Holiday in Cambodia (Black Inc. 2013), which was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne and the recipient of a 2014 Martin Bequest Traveling Scholarship













Robert Watkins is a Publisher at Hachette Australia, was previously their commissioning editor for adult fiction and non-fiction, and has been working in the Australian book industry for 18 years. Throughout his career he’s worked across sales, marketing and publicity. He’s primarily interested in publishing non-fiction with a leaning towards young, contemporary voices – but is also a big fan of contemporary fiction with a real Australian edge.










Garry Trinh is the Community Manager for Blurb, one of the world’s premier print-on-demand publishing company’s. Garry is also an award winning photographer. His photo book Just Heaps Surprised to be Alive was nominated for Photography Book of the Year at the 4th International Photo Book Festival at Kassel, Germany. His work has been exhibited at the Australian Centre for Photography, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Blacktown Arts Centre, Stills Gallery, Gallery 4A and many others.











Be sure to check out the full EWF Roadshow: NSWWC program with over 20 events and 45 speakers across the day, there will be contemporary conversations providing resources for all writers!

André Dao on the Ubud Writing Residency

After the intensity of our five day overland trip across Java, followed by a week of panels, book launches and general festival madness, our six day residency at Taman Bebek – which translates as “duck garden” – has been a chance to recuperate and take stock as much as anything else.

Designed by Aussie expat and local character Made Wijaya, Taman Bebek is a sprawling collection of rustic villas overlooking a lush tropical valley on the outskirts of Ubud. Wijaya is one of Bali’s most celebrated landscape architects, and its hard to think of a more relaxing place to spend six days writing and reading than amongst the greenery (and by the pool) at Taman Bebek.

taman bebek 1It’s also been the perfect setting for some wonderful conversations with our Indonesian counterparts – conversations which have been the true highlight of this program. Those conversations have ranged from the current state of politics in Australia and Indonesia through to the practice and ethics of translation, via the culture and cuisine of Sumatra, Java, Bali and Sulawesi.

It’s perhaps reflective of my ignorance about Indonesia before embarking on this program, but I’ve been struck in these conversations by just how disparate and diverse Indonesia is. The subtitle to Elizabeth Pisani’s book (which was a constant talking point at our lunches and dinners) Indonesia Etc. is “Exploring the Improbable Nation”. As I got a better handle on the sheer size of the country, and the multitude of ethnicities, languages and religions within it, the improbability that such a thing as Indonesia should exist became ever clearer.

Something else that came up again and again in our conversations was the sense of excitement – and now that the democratic process has stalled the sense of dread – surrounding the election of Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi). Maggie, who also volunteered on Jokowi’s campaign, spoke to us about the sheer sense of hopefulness and empowerment that surrounded the election. For the first time, Maggie told us, the people have found their voice – and they have spoken, loud and clear. With both the People’s Representative Council (the House of Representatives) and the Regional Representative Council (the Senate) controlled by the coalition opposing President-elect, there are fears that Jokowi’s reform agenda might be obstructed. Even worse, the defeated candidate, Prabowo, seems intent on finding a way to subvert or reverse the election results. As was noted in several panels during the festival, this is indeed an interesting – and tense – time in Indonesia, as the country’s democratic future hangs in the balance.

Away from the political arena, my cultural knowledge of Indonesia has been immeasurably enriched. Over breakfast on the second day of the residency, we were treated to a reading of a chapter of Ahmad Tohari’s novel The Dancer. One of Indonesia’s most respected writers, Ahmad was also an incredibly humble and friendly figure during the residency. The reading was followed by the first of many wide-ranging conversations about Indonesian literature, and I’ll be returning to Australia with a notebook – and a suitcase – full of recommended reading.

Ahmad Tohari reading

Inevitably, our conversations always ended with the same questions: how to get people to read, how to get Indonesians and Australians reading each others’ work. There was a consensus that to achieve the latter, translation – and high quality literary translation at that – is absolutely crucial. My feeling is that bilingual publications are enormously helpful in that respect, especially with greater numbers of Australians taking up Indonesian language studies. One key area for improvement is the internet – is it wishful thinking to imagine a future version of the web with more and more bi- and multi-lingual websites?

As for the former question – how to get people to read anything in the first place – we had no easy answers. But given the tone and tenor of so many of our conversations during this residency, it seems like a good idea to make sure our writing is culturally and politically engaged with the region, and the times.

DFAT-strip-pcMWF_LOGO_STANDARD_BW (3)UWRF 2014 Logo horiz_avatar









Supported by the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Asialink, Emerging Writers’ Festival, Melbourne Writers Festival and Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Photographs by André Dao


Introducing NoRMAL performer: Gaele Sobott

Gaele Sobott is currently completing a collection of short stories on her experience of disability, and life in Lakemba.

She will be performing with a group of other writers at the NSW Writers’ Centre on 8 November as part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow. We spoke to her about the development of this series of performances.








NoRMAL is part of a series of performances you are doing featuring readings from writers with disability. Can you tell us a little bit about how these events came about?

We began workshopping the concept and some of the stories at the Urban Theatre SPACE Residency early this year. Our main focus was to write about our individual experiences of disability and to consider audience access to our texts as part of the creative process. We were chosen to perform at Arts Activated at Chatswood Concourse on 29th October. This is the leading arts and disability conference in Australia and it’s an honour to perform to our peers in the sector.  It’s also very important to perform on mainstream writing platforms. We approached Sam Twyford-Moore who has been very supportive of Write-ability initiatives in Victoria and who, along with Jane McCredie from NSWWC, spoke at the Scribbler Literature Forum in Sydney in June.  NoRMAL is on the EWF Roadshow program, which is very exciting.

The third and final performance is at the Lakemba Senior Citizen’s Centre on the 2nd December. I live in Lakemba and am grateful to have the opportunity to  perform in our community. The City of Canterbury Council has been very helpful in providing the venue, financial, administrative and promotional support.

Who are the writers who will be reading and what are some the themes that will be explored?

NoRMAL features Georgia Cranko, Gayle Kennedy, Gaele Sobott and Amanda Yeo.  In writing about experiences of disability, we explore topics including disconnection, preconceptions and medicalisation. But disability is only one of many aspects of our identity.  Our writing is obviously not restricted to the experience of disability.

Your writing focuses on your experience of disability and life in Lakemba. Did you draw from the experiences of people around you as well, or has it been mainly a personal journey for you?

NoRMAL is writing that is largely concerned with personal journey.  In relation to the collection of short stories I am currently working on, I find it difficult to separate the writing into personal journey as opposed to writing about people around me. Generally the people around me are part of my personal journey.  I weave the people around me and my personal journey into fiction.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow is on at the NSW Writers’ Centre on Saturday 8 November. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Genevieve Fricker

The very clever and funny Genevieve Fricker is one of Australia’s most exciting emerging comedians, with credentials such has having trained and performed at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre in New York.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Genevieve about her work, advice for writers and how she braves taking the stage!











What is your writing background?

I’m a stand up comedian/musician, who somehow had a weekly social column in the Sydney Morning Herald for a year before they figured out I was terrible.

What piece of advice has helped you grow as an artist which you could share with us?

To always go by gut feeling. If I make something and it doesn’t feel good performing it or putting it out there in general, chances are it’s not good. It goes the other way to – making something that makes you feel happy sharing it shouldn’t be second guessed or intellectualised. If it feels good, keep doing it!

Do you ever get scared putting so much of yourself out into the world when you are on stage? How do you calm your nerves?

If anything I find it much easier to be honest on stage than I do in real life, which is unfortunate for my loved ones. Also, hiding the most horrible stories about yourself behind jokes is not particularly brave, so I’m only ever nervous when someone I know is in the audience. When that happens, I drink.

Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now

Introducing cartoonist and curator Leigh Rigozzi

Leigh Rigozzi is a Sydney-based artist and the editor of Blood & Thunder, an infrequently published anthology of Australian comics. He is the Projects & Communications Officer at the NSW Writers’ Centre.

Leigh has curated an exhibition of comic art for the upcoming Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow and will be speaking on a panel about book design.

We spoke to Leigh about curating a comics exhibition, women in comics, and designing zines.

Sam Twyford-Moore small

Katie Parrish small










The exhibition is being billed as “an exhibition of comic art from Australia’s thriving graphic publishing scene”. What do you think has changed in the last couple of years so that we are at the point of the scene “thriving”?

There has always been great output from the comics scene in Australia if you know where to look, but the publishing culture is very homegrown and DIY. A lot of it is still like that, but there have been a few big events in Australian comics recently. Pat Grant and Simon Hanselmann, who are both represented in this exhibition, have each produced graphic novels which have gone on to become international successes. In fact, Simon’s book has just hit the New York Times bestseller list.

There’s movement happening in Australia, too. The Museum of Contemporary Art puts on a hugely successful zine fair every year, there are small publishers in Australia like Milk Shadow books and Pikitia Press doing some great stuff, and print collectives like the Rizzeria are making it easier than ever for creators to realize their visions in print. Perhaps the scene isn’t ‘thriving’ in the sense that people aren’t making money out of it, but there are more and more talented people coming out of the woodwork all the time.

Comics and graphic novels have traditionally been a male domain but with the work of female artists being recognised more and more, do you think we are beyond that point now? You have curated Katie Parrish in this exhibition, are there any other emerging Australian female artists you would recommend checking out?

There is no shortage of women in the Australian comic art scene. I think that is because it is largely based around creative communities driven by passionate creative individuals rather than an industry driven by commercial interests, where the types of stories that sell often seem to be based around hoary stereotypes and narrative tropes.

Some of the women who will be exhibiting in this show are Nicky Minus, Jo Waite, Natalia Zajaz, Bailey Sharp, Katie Parrish, Lizzie Nagy and Mandy Ord, all of whose work I recommend highly, and there are a lot of other very talented ladies out there in the Australian comics scene.

Comics are appreciated as much for their storytelling and artistic merit as for their printed form. You used RISO to great effect with the Blood & Thunder Anthology, a form of printing with a cult-like following. Do you think comics need to be held to be truly appreciated, do you lose something viewing them on the computer screen?

Comics employ a visual language that can translate across many media forms. I enjoy online comics a lot, but I also have a fetish for print. A lot of comics are designed with physical publication in mind, so for that work obviously print is the most appropriate form. When we put together Blood & Thunder, we wanted to make a book that was as much about the variety and quality of print as it was about the narratives it contained. We used multiple stocks and print techniques to bring the book into being, and that tactility is obviously something that can’t be replicated on a screen.

In this exhibition I’ve tried to bring together some artists that represent a spectrum of what is going on between drawing and print in comics. I love the artifacts left behind by an artist on an original comics page, and I love the qualities that are unique to various print techniques, so to some extent I’ve chosen artists based on that relationship between original pages and printed work.

Along with curating this exhibition, you are appearing in the session The Look of the Book, a discussion on why book design is so important. Is there an example of interesting or exciting book design that has come out Australia in the last couple of years?

I’ll be talking from a personal perspective on that panel as opposed to some kind of ‘industry insider’. I’ve self-published a lot of work over the years in various forms, and in some ways the Blood & Thunder anthology was a culmination of that. I’ll be talking about some of the print techniques I’ve used over the years and how those techniques affect the design of a book.

The full day festival at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Saturday 8th November is filled with daring contemporary conversations around the art of writing – featuring discussions on pop culture, criticism, mentorship, digital literature and way, way more. To read more about the Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow and to book tickets, click here.

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Tamar Chnorhokian

Tamar Chnorhokian is one of the original members of SWEATSHOP and her first book The Diet Starts on Monday (Dec 2014) is the first publication by the group. The book is an exciting addition to Australian writing for young adults, with a strong focus on cultural diversity, growing up in Western Sydney, and the promotion of positive body image.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Tamar about her work, advice for writers and telling the story of your culture and community.












What is your writing background?

I completed a communications degree in writing and publishing at the University of Western Sydney. My stories and articles have appeared in Westside, Seizure, Fairfield City Champion Newspaper, Moree Champion Newspaper, My Home Magazine and on Big Ideas (ABC 1).

My first novel is The Diet Starts On Monday (SWEATSHOP, 2014). I’m an original member of SWEATSHOP Writers and have been collaborating with the group since 2007.

What piece of advice has helped you grow as an artist which you could share with us?

That less is definitely more. In other words you don’t have to explain everything. You need to trust that the reader will be able to connect the dots.

When did you realize that you had an important voice, and a point of view other people needed to hear?

When I wrote about what I knew. There are lots of references to my Armenian culture in my stories. This brings about topics that haven’t been explored in Australian literature before – for example, encounters with the evil eye. I also write about where I was raised, along the western suburbs of Sydney. I think it’s important that positive portrayals of the community are told from people who know and understand the region.

Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now

Introducing our Amazing Babes: Eliza Sarlos

Eliza Sarlos’ Amazing Babes introduces readers to such inspirational women as Gloria Steinem, Kathleen Hanna, Aung San Suu Kyi, Miles Franklin, and Malala Yousafzai. All the women in this book had the ideas, determination, and creativity to bring about change in the world.

As part of our event Amazing Babes for the EWF Roadshow, we are inviting an incredible line-up of writers to tell stories about the women who have inspired them, in their writing and their lives. The most popular event of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival finally comes to Sydney; this is a night to be inspired and celebrate the women who made us who we are.

We had a quick chat with Eliza about her work, advice for writers and her proudest creative accomplishments.








Can you tell us a little bit about your writing background? 

It’s weird, only when I’m asked about being a writer do I feel like I’m a writer. I feel much more comfortable with the idea of being a facilitator, or a creative producer – I do a range of things, one of which is writing, and within that I had the good fortune of wanting to make a book for my son’s first birthday. It started off as a really small, personal project – I got my friend Grace Lee to do some drawings to go with the book and her illos were so beautiful it felt really selfish keeping them on our bookshelf. I convinced her that we should do a crowdfunding campaign and print up some more copies, and when we did that it was wildly successful, and somehow landed under the nose of Scribe Publications, who wanted to print it. And suddenly I’m a writer. I couldn’t be happier about it.








What piece of advice has helped you as an artist which you could share with us?

There’s a kids book I really loved that got recommended to me on one of the launch events for Amazing Babes, by this awesome guy who worked there, called Line 135. It’s about a girl and her dreams, basically – really beautifully illustrated but the story is even more striking than the wonderful line drawings. It’s basically about just believing that you can do anything. It tells you that whatever it is you want to do, it is possible. That’s totally been my experience in life – I think I’ve probably fallen victim to wanting to do too much, but I think it’s all been completely possible. Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it! </inspirational message>

Alternatively, I recently flicked Dave Eggers a copy of Amazing Babes at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival and in return he gave me a copy of McSweeneys – the one that’s printed as a zig zag. I asked him how he got the printers to do that. He said he just asked. That all you’ve gotta do is ask, and most of the time people want to make things happen with you. It’s totally true.








What professional accomplishments are you proudest of?

I feel incredible lucky to have collaborated with so many amazing artists and creators on some really wonderful projects – from running a music festival in Newcastle to an arts festival on Cockatoo Island, to starting a radio show on FBi Radio that’s now a national program, supporting young kids across regional NSW to create a tour to presenting illustrators, storytellers and radio makers on stage at the Sydney Opera House. It really blows my mind that I get to do these things and call them, to varying degrees, “work”. But hands down the best collaboration I’ve been involved in was working with Grace Lee on Amazing Babes - at every stage of it – from when it was going to be a zine for Arthur (my son) to a rough n ready crowdfunded print to a book you can now buy in stores all over the world. Every time I see it on a shelf somewhere I virtually have to pinch myself.


Amazing Babes
7:30 PM, Thursday 6 November 2014
Giant Dwarf, 199 Cleveland Street Redfern
$15 Full / $12 Concession: book now


Island to Island (to Video!)

For five days (Sept 26 – Sept 30, 2014), two exceptional emerging Australian writers and two exciting emerging Indonesian writers travelled across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program, ending up in Bali in time for the 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival.

Join André Dao, Gillian Terzis, Maggie Tiojakin and Ninda Daianti as they explore the difficulties and possibilities of strengthening cultural ties between Indonesia and Australia.

Supported by the Asialink Arts, Arts Victoria, the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

A Glimpse of Java through the Window: Ninda Daianti on Train Travel, Indonesia-Style

(Ninda Daianti is one of the writers travelling across Java as part of Island to Island, a new immersive cultural exchange program supported by Asialink Arts and Arts Victoria)  



Our Island to Island journey began in Jakarta. After two days of exploring the city and stuffing ourselves with (mostly) coconut milk-based food a.k.a Padang cuisine, the six of us stood on the big outdoor lobby of Gambir Station with our backpacks and luggage. Looking down on the swamp-green tiles in the aula, a reflection of the Dutch’s choices during the colonial era, I felt the moist Sunday morning air. The day was still early; the humidity hadn’t kicked in just yet and we were lucky enough to encounter the remains of dew.

Gambir Station was renovated a few years back. As the center of most intercity and interstate travels and the main transit stop for Jakarta and Bogor-based (a small town just outside of Jakarta) commuters, the city officials set aside big budgets to create a friendlier, more modernized station. Although there were no major reconstructions, the empty hallways are now filled with rows of local restaurants, mini markets, and of course, a Starbucks store. Ironically, after the renovations, due to the immense crowd and the increasing crime rate in the surrounding area, the passengers could only stop at stations before and after Gambir. The central station is now only dedicated for “real” travelers.

When Sam informed me we would be traveling via train from Jakarta to Jogjakarta and from Jogjakarta to Surabaya, I was excited and wary at the same time. To be honest, what I fear the most was using the toilet. The last time I took a train was around eleven years ago; I didn’t go to the bathroom for four hours because the condition wasn’t very suitable for use. But surely, we’ve improved after one decade, no?


The train arrived twenty minutes late, which I expected, or as Indonesians would like to call it, jam karet (literal translation: rubber watch). We sat in the first two rows and a minute after we adjusted our seats to a more comfortable position, the images from the windows started to change. Tall buildings were replaced by infinite grass and rice fields. Suddenly I could breathe better. There was always this sense of liberty whenever I left the city and perhaps that is the beauty of going away from somewhere—or from anywhere, really.

An hour passed by. We stopped for fifteen minutes. Jillian’s eyes were already set on the mid pages of Laksmi Pamuntjak’s The Question of Red. Two hours. Everybody was asleep.

Three hours. We stopped at Cilegon. Perhaps the train needed to rest? Why did we have so many stops? I walked around and saw the conductor standing on the pavement, smoking a cigarette. After he finished, he went back inside. I sat down and a minute later, the images at the window started to move again. Sam was looking out at the long river by the valley.

I finally encouraged myself to use the bathroom. Bernard Herrman’s Psycho Theme might as well be playing in the background. I opened the door. Nope, it hasn’t changed much, I must say. You still need to squat to do your business instead of sitting down in a small cramped room. Well, at least toilet paper was provided, which was definitely an improvement. And there was running water, a luxury we didn’t have before. I walked back to my seat and saw Andre reading Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Eight hours we’d been on the train. We stopped yet again. The farther we went, it seemed that we waited longer and longer. I finally lost track of time when Maggie took out her cards and we played Cangkul, a simpler version of Go-Fish. We got bored after a while and decided to do some work on our laptops.

It was time for the sun to rest and darkness finally came. The train stopped. Jogjakarta. Yes. It was time to go. All of us were restless and we stood up quickly.

Although we spent almost twelve hours on the train (with the expectation of only spending seven hours), the train ride was pleasant as it gave a chance for us to slow down from our daily, busy lives. And most importantly, the train had space—specifically legroom—that we wouldn’t have had on a plane, because who wouldn’t want a little more legroom?




Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival highlights

The 2014 Ubud Writers & Readers Festival wrapped up last week and we asked our four incredible ‘Island to Island’ writers what their highlights of the festival were.

Ninda Daianti

One of the most rewarding experiences on being a panelist is being able to reach out to the public and to connect with the audience. As a rookie, I learned a lot by listening to other writers articulate their writing process and rituals, the political and cultural issues that stroke them, their ongoing journeys as writers, and their place as writers in this world. However, I realized that after everything was said and done, when a few hands raised their hands, we have stoke their curiosities. That was all that mattered. In one of the panels at Bentara Budaya Bali, along with Maggie Tiojakin, Agus Rois, and Bambang Kariyawan, our audience was mostly sophomores from Udayana University. It was gratifying to know that there’s a slight possibility that we might stimulate new ideas and new perspectives on their minds and also encourage them to pursue their careers as young writers.


André Dao

One of my favourite things about the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival is the truly international nature of its programming. That was apparent on my panel about the global asylum seeker question: my fellow panellists were Mukesh Kapila, who has held senior roles in the UN, World Health Organization and the International Red Cross, and Hassan Blasim, an Iraqi-born writer who was describe the Guardian as “perhaps the greatest writer of Arabic fiction alive.” It was an incredible – and intimidating – opportunity to not only meet these amazing writers but to engage with them on an important topic like asylum seekers in the global context. Another highlight was discovering the work of Malaysian author Tash Aw. I first saw him on a panel on “Panglish” in which he spoke about the role of writers in countries like Malaysia writing in English to change and develop English – to challenge the “purity” of English as it is written and spoken by native speakers. His insight into language, and contemporary Asia were enough to get me to go straight to bookshop and buy his latest novel, Five Star Billionaire, about Chinese Malaysians trying to make their fortunes in the world’s foremost megacity, Shanghai.

Gillian Terzis

Political discussions at writers’ festivals tend to feature a lot of bien-pensant backslapping, the sort that makes you feel like a good progressive just by being there. That was not the case at UWRF’s panel A Human Right, which featured Professor Mukesh Kapila, writer Hassan Blasim and Island to Island’s very own Andre Dao. Kapila, who famously blew the whistle on the UN’s inaction in Darfur massacres, didn’t pull his punches when asked about his thoughts on Australia’s stance on asylum seekers. His initial condemnations met rapturous applause. He told the Australia-strong crowd that we got the leaders we deserved, and that our value system was broken — to more clapping. He was similarly unsympathetic to those  with ‘compassion fatigue’. But his prognosis for the future was sobering:  the crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better. Special treatment for refugees is akin to treating them like ‘animals in a zoo’, he said. This image of our complicity stuck with me for days. Could there be a more unedifying spectacle?

Maggie Tiojakin

The best part of being on different panels at Ubud Readers and Writers’ Festival this year is the opportunity to meet fellow writers from around the world and exchange ideas about what writing means to us, how we approach the craft and the kind of changes we are able to instigate simply by relying on the power of stories. My panel with Anne Ostby and Michael Vatikiotis was concentrated on the topic of how much we identify with our own culture and how we strive to provide context in a world whose boundaries are created by diverse identities — and it has been extremely rewarding for me to hear from my fellow panelists how these things play out in our own experiences as writers and readers. The same goes for other panels I was on during the festival. At its best, festivals like Ubud Readers and Writers aim to create a safe and conducive platform for people to come together and look at the world from a completely different set of lenses than the ones we would normally use to view the world. And it has done just that.



Island to Island is presented by Asialink Arts and the Emerging Writers’ Festival, supported by Arts Victoria. Supported by the Australia International Cultural Council, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival and Melbourne Writers Festival.

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