On Saturday 8 September I had the pleasure of attending the Heroines Festival of Women’s Writing in Thirroul just south of Sydney. The festival was directed by Heroines anthology co-editor, writer and academic Dr Sarah Nicholson.
After our family had a bit of a dramatic escapade taking the car to Wollongong for the anthology launch (short story: the car broke down on the way home) this time I thoroughly enjoyed a relaxing train ride to Thirroul through Sydney suburbs, bushland, and the eerie abandoned coal-mining infrastructure near the aptly named and spectacular Coal Cliff.
First panellists up on the day were the lovely Kate Forsyth, whose vast historical knowledge and unique perspective always make her a riveting speaker, and Anna Westbrook, whose debut crime novel is set in 1940s Newtown. Of writing historical fiction, both writers talked about the importance of absolute immersion in research for the writer – enabling the reader to feel completely immersed in the story. They also talked about the treatment of women in historical fiction, how important it is to place women at the centre of stories, as the protagonist in a non-gendered ‘Hero’s Journey’.
Pamela Hart and Catherine McKinnon similarly spoke about how the horse-riding, gun-shooting women were always out there but have been frequently ignored. Pamela Hart – whose WWII novel ‘The Desert Nurse’ I bought yesterday and will read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge – made the interesting comment that women of the past were anything but homogeneous, and would probably be surprised by what we think about them nowadays.
I had really been looking forward to hearing from Margaret Morgan, whose speculative fiction novel ‘The Second Cure’ is next up on my to-read list. Margaret read from the novel and then chatted to Sarah about the book and some of the biology and neuroscience behind it, making me even more eager to dive in.
Last up on the panel sessions were three filmmakers, Zanny Begg, Jasmin Tarasin and Heidi Lee Douglas. The filmmaking world is a whole other world to me, but it was fascinating to hear about how these directors choose the stories that they put on film, to learn about some of the women behind them, and to hear about their current projects and see some of them on screen.
In the final part of the day there was an open mic MC’d by the charming and hilarious Bella Luna. Some of the Heroines anthology authors read from their stories or poems, and other audience members were invited to stand up and read their work. Poets Kathryn Lyster and Jane Frank read their work, I read from my story included in the anthology, and one brave soul stood up and read her work to a great response from the audience before I had to dash off to catch my train.
With me on the train dash was the poet Jane Frank who it turns out is not only a Brisbane girl now, but is originally from Maryborough, QLD where I lived for my late primary and early high school years. We had so much to talk about. Funnily enough Jane is not the only poet I know who comes from Maryborough, QLD. My school friend Susan Austin who now lives in Tasmania is also an accomplished poet. Is it something in the water? Jane’s poem in the anthology is called ‘The Embroidered Map’ and as Jane put it, is about ‘a woman with a very famous husband’ – Elizabeth Cook.
What a great day! Thanks so much to Sarah Nicholson and Caitlin White for putting together such a wonderful festival program and for including my story in the Heroines Anthology in such great company.