Blog

Postcard from Sydney Writers Festival 2019

Michelle Morgan - Sunday, May 05, 2019

Another brilliant Sydney Writers Festival has wrapped up. I thought it couldn't get any better than previous years, but it did. I took a different approach to selecting sessions to attend this year. As a writer, I've previously chosen sessions that related to my writing - historical fiction, YA fiction, playwriting / screenwriting. However, this year I decided to explore broader areas of interest from international relations to the mind of the octopus.

One of the most interesting panel discussions I attended was about Russia and whether it's the enemy the West has come to believe. Monica Attard, a former Russian correspondent and author of a book on the collapse of the Soviet Union, did a great job moderating the discussions between Emeritus Professor Graeme Gill (University of Sydney) and Tom Switzer, Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Studies. Both speakers agreed that Russiaphobia is alive and well, and they presented arguments from Russia's perspective, taking into account significant events of the 20th Century that had huge impacts on Russia, including the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Second World War and Stalinist regime, the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989. In view of these events, they argued it is understandable that Russia would see American influence in Georgia, the Ukraine and the Crimea as a threat to their national security. It was surprising to discover that Russia's economy is comparable in size to that of Australia's, even though Russia's nuclear capability is that of a superpower.

Another interesting panel discussion was "Can you spot a liar?" with crime reporter Matthew Condon, investigative journalist Kate McClymont and forensic psychiatrist Dr Calum Smith and moderated by Chris Taylor (broadcaster and former member of The Chaser). Discussions related more to why people lie and the relevant contexts rather than the behavioural cues to look for to spot when someone is lying. When politicians for example have a conflict between their party's policies and their own personal situation or beliefs, there is an increased likelihood they will lie to maintain party solidarity. But the truth usually emerges when there is no perception of personal or professional threat.

Janice Peterson (SBS TV) talked with Iraqi journalist Dunya Mikhail about growing up in Iraq as well as her compelling account of how a honey trader helped liberate Yazidi women enslaved by ISIS, also the subject of Dunya's latest book. It was fascinating to learn about Dunya's personal experiences before and after the wars in Iraq as well as the plight of the Yazidi women, a minority group in Iraq who were treated appallingly.

Although I have heard David Marr speak on several occasions, his lively repartee and views on Australian society and politics are always entertaining and insightful. Sally Warhaft, a broadcaster and anthropologist, managed to keep David's enthusiasm in check, like Dr Watson to Sherlock Holmes.

The panel discussion about living in the age of anxiety curiously included three UK writers - Marina Benjamin, William Davies and Olivia Sudjic - and was moderated by Australian author Sophie Cunningham. The panel discussed their personal perspectives on the causes of present day anxieties, with particular reference to the impact, both positive and negative, of social media. As a writer, I found the open discussion of their own anxieties as writers to be particularly interesting, although greater cultural diversity of the panel would have made the discussions more broadly relevant.

The discussion between Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad and hip-hop artist / political activist / public intellectual Akala about race and class in the ruins of Empire was electrifying. Self-educated, Akala has an extraordinary intellect and depth of understanding of racism and interrelated class and gender issues. His view on how ubiquitous racism is and how the experience of racism varies between cultures was backed up with many examples. The contrast between his experiences of racism in the UK compared to Jamaica were particularly interesting, and made more complex when class and gender were added to the mix. Dr Ahmad was an enthusiastic facilitator whose contrasting style and personality helped make this for me one of the highlights of this year's festival.

Peter Godfey Smith's talk on our mysterious cousin, the Octopus was fascinating. Peter is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney with a particular interest in the philosophy of biology and the mind. He explained very clearly how octopuses and other cephalopods such as squid are our distant cousins in an evolutionary sense and are the most intelligent of the invertebrates. The short videos he showed of octopuses interacting in their underwater habitats off the south coast of NSW were amazing. Each of an octopuses eight arms are alive with neurons and have the ability to act independently due to the complexity of the octopus's nervous system and distributed brain. Each sucker of an octopus's arm also has thousands of neurons for taste and touch. What magnificent creatures!

I look forward to discovering more wonderful writers and speakers at Sydney Writers Festival 2020!

» Share this post

Recent Posts

Tags

Tamworth City Library sharon mcguinness potts point bookshop mother's day bookworld interviews international children's book day 2014 Reader's Companion Armidale ubud, bali fran knight historical fiction clancy tucker di bates coming-of-age fiction deb robins literary events illustrators ReadPlus spark award 2017 Tamworth Country Music Festival kate gordon skylight books goodreads fishpond self-publishing writers' festivals telopea park school tom keneally centre canberra Newcastle writers' festival paperback book depository plays festival of golden words theatre KXT CBCA Children's Book Week lovereading4kids teachers' notes racing the moon giveaway ann harth allen & unwin literary lunch national simultaneous storytime australian reading hour Bookshop Bowral byron writers festival good reading magazine deep sky southern highland news Sydney Harbour Bridge ANZAC Day australian standing orders flying through clouds goodbye frankie copyediting bushwalking Historical Novel Society gorman arts centre children's book council of australia NSW branch act writers centre Gordon Library storytellers festival Muswellbrook Library Broadbeach Library big book day out berkelouw books holidays luke johnson writing workshops songs shoalhaven libraries elizabeth gilbert bay of fires children's / YA literature seven mile beach Spotlight On arielle gamble Books + Publishing atyp all the buzz about books nowra library combined book exhibit Woollahra Library barbara braxton YA fiction 14 february 1966 barnes&noble just write for kids nsw writers' centre better read than dead book trailer narrabundah college teen fiction hans christian andersen Waterstones booktopia indigenous literacy day sydney writers festival 2019 sally odgers Dymock's Canberra book launch karma griffin theatre author videos sandy fussell martin luther king, jr book tour children's book council of australia indigenous literacy foundation eBook tanika gupta awards 12 curly questions elaine ousten blog tour Moss Vale Campus Library southern cross sydney opera house mabo day Kings Cross Theatre valentine's day bill condon libraries hnsa kindle book fairs indie publishing historical novel society australasia read3r'zrevu Paperchain Manuka Mitchell Library Magpies sophie masson Australia Day john reed books lyn linning MacLean's Booksellers bologna children's book fair tasmania sir charles kingsford smith Lismore Library iTunes frankfurt book fair jamberoo public school australian text amazon nook bradman museum authors Anniversary Day ulladulla library 19 March 1932 writing process blog hop spark award older readers 2017 book cover design refugees kobo St Paul's Primary School dymocks Quirindi Library captain tobias furneaux lachlan philpott playwriting southern highlands writers' festival alexander mccall smith Dymocks Brisbane Port Macquarie Library playwrights retreat autumn revel NAIDOC week books decimal currency sydney mechanics school of arts library Grafton Library chloe mauger amazon kindle griffin press WritingNSW michelle morgan buzz words berkelouw book barn two of a kind sydney mETAphor festivals refugee week scbwi australia jump for jordan heart of australia highlife magazine jackie french Taree Library Bowral Art Gallery kids' book review author talks Good Reading bookloons short plays believing society of children's book writers and illustrators australian federation of graduate women goodreads giveaway bookshops gerringong historical society museum smashwords eBook mall children's book council of australia illawarra south coast Reading Time too late for love australian literature reconciliation State Library of NSW middle grade fiction readhowyouwant eBooks.com ainslie + gorman arts centre children's book council of australia national conference QBD ubud writers & readers festival CBCA book of the year awards school visits playwriting festival smsa library romy sharp reviews bookstop[ festival of dangerous ideas scbwi Abbey's Bookshop

Archive