Fun at Ubud Writers’ Festival

Balmy October in Bali. Rice paddies, lotus ponds, brilliant flowers, smiling people. Add to this mix the company of Writers from near and far, talks by such luminaries as Robert Dessaix, and workshops including one from Josephine Wilson, the winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Award,  and you have the perfect recipe for body and mind bliss.

I’ve wanted to go to this Festival for years, in fact each time I’ve been in Darwin which is just across the water from Bali. But the timing was never quite right. This year, with the collusion of my two daughters, I bit the bullet, so to speak, and booked our flights six months ahead. Which was just as well; in spite of the imminent eruption of  volcano, we book nerds descended on Bali in sweaty droves. Luckily Mt Warung didn’t belch it’s lava while we were in Ubud, and as far as I know, it still hasn’t. Here’s a picture of the volcano behaving itself at sunset:


Robert Dessaix’s session on his new book ‘The Pleasures of Leisure’, was a highlight. His dry wit, a la Oscar Wilde, had the audience rapt. Some gems which have stayed with me: Idling is an art in itself, not to be confused with time-wasting. Far from feeling guilty for doing nothing, to be idle is a perfectly legitimate pastime. And never say you’re Busy as an excuse when asked to a boring event (busy-ness is a mark of failure, an inability to be free). Far better to simply say you simply don’t want to attend ( Politely, of course).

For me, the greatest pleasure of the Festival was the company of my daughters. Feisty, funny, fabulous, and unashamedly hedonistic, they were the perfect antidote to their mother’s somewhat dour outlook on life. My daughters and I managed to work towards perfection in our Idling practice. Robert Dessaix would be proud! We three had sundowners on the terrace of our beautiful cottage, surrounded by lush green rice fields and exotic statues, and each night planned our next adventure. There were shopping sprees, yoga Bali style, massages, and delicious food.


Catching up with Marieke Hardy at her ‘Women of Letters’ session was  another highlight. We’d last met at the Darwin Writers’ Festival five years ago, when I was a volunteer, helping to set up  an earlier version of Women of Letters. ‘Let’s do this again in another five years!’ Marieke said.







DAFFODILS – A poisonous flower, a harbinger of Spring, a Poet’s Muse? Below are two takes on these flowers, from Ted Hughes, where they symbolise his lost love, to Helen O’Neill, …


Interview with Kristel Thornell, author of On The Blue Train

This interview with the writer of a novel based on the secret life of Agatha Christie gives me heart:

In December 1926, Agatha Christie, already the famous author of several detective novels, disappeared for eleven days. The press and the public were agog as a massive investigation employing more t…

Source: Interview with Kristel Thornell, author of On The Blue Train

Ten Tips for a Writers’ Group

These tips from a New York based writer could equally apply to my Randwick Writers’ Group.

Reblogged from Lee Kofman at

Guest post by Tracy Sayre

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in writers’ groups. Here’s a list of my top ten tips.

1.Find the group. Facebook is a great place to start. Post a message that you want to begin a writers’ group and you’ll be amazed by how many of your friends harbor a desire to write. Alternatively, you can contact bookstores, colleges, and libraries to ask if they know of a group you can join. There are also websites like that have information on local writers’ groups.
2.Keep it small. I think the best size for a group is 4 people. If it’s smaller, you won’t get varied feedback, if it’s larger, you spend too much time reading other people’s work. I’ve also found with larger groups people tend to cancel last minute because they don’t feel like their attendance matters that much.
3.Plan ahead. One of the worst things you can do is leave the schedule vague. We all dread that never-ending email chain where everyone’s rescheduling. From the beginning, decide when you’re going to meet, for instance every other Tuesday at 7 pm, and stick to it.

4.Set the format. Determine if you want to read the pieces out loud at the meeting, or if everyone is expected to read beforehand and bring in their notes. Determine how many pages everyone is going to share and how many people will share at a meeting. Here’s what has worked the best for my groups: 2 people send their material a week before the meeting. They can share up to 20 pages. Members read ahead of time and come with prepared notes. When we’re discussing a submission, the writer does not talk. You can waste a lot of time explaining your decisions but at the end of the day, it’s more helpful to hear what other people thought of your decisions than for them to know why you made them.

5.No alcohol. I learned this the hard way. During my first group, we each brought a bottle of wine. By the time we got to the last piece we were tipsy and distracted. Now we don’t have any alcohol and the critiques are much more focused. I can come home and write when I’m most inspired by the feedback instead of passing out drunk!

6.Limit socialising. You can chat about the election with anyone, but not about the craft of your story. Honor the time you have with these people and focus on your writing. In my groups, we say the meeting officially starts at 7pm but come at 6:30 if you’d like time to catch up. This also helps keep the meetings a reasonable length of time. If the meetings start taking four or five hours you’ll probably end up canceling when you get busier.
7.Don’t be selfish. One of my pet-peeves is someone who clearly joins a group to just get feedback on their own work. They miss meetings when it’s not their turn to share, or they never have time to finish others’ submissions. I learn so much through reading the other members’ works. For instance, I found one submission really boring and I realized it was because there was no conflict. I had heard this criticism of my own writing but I didn’t understand how boring such writing can be until I saw it in someone else’s piece. Discussing works of other writers develops your critical eye and makes you a better a writer yourself.
8.Take a break. Every year or so, take a break from the feedback and discuss if the group is working for everyone. Is someone dominating the critique? Are the meetings getting too long? Have your goals changed? I’ve found that groups tend to lose steam after two years. This is when people start cancelling a lot or not submitting new work. Determine as a group if you need to take a break and reconvene with new focus, or if some want to drop out and make room for fresh faces. New members offer new perspectives. There’s nothing wrong with dropping out and there’s nothing wrong with starting a new group. You need to be among people who will help your writing flourish.
9.Do activities together. I went on writing retreats with my first two writers’ groups. We also hosted a public reading of our work at a local bookstore. These activities cemented the group and made us feel like we were moving toward something. Go to conferences together. Attend a reading of a favorite author together. Enjoy this amazing, creative connection you have – it’s unlike any other friendship.
10.Don’t take anything personally. I think the worst response is when someone has nothing to say about your writing: they either didn’t care enough or they don’t think you have the ability to improve it. Someone who points out flaws in your writing is spending a great deal of time giving you feedback and they are sharing it because they respect you and think you are capable of more. That’s a compliment. When negative feedback comes up it’s especially helpful to be in a group because that’s when you can determine if that’s one person’s opinion or if everyone in the group felt the same way. Either way, don’t forget that this is feedback on your writing, not you.

Five non-rules for Writing a Novel

These are some tongue-in-cheek non-rules which are even harder to follow than the real ones! Adapted from Elizabeth Percer’s article, Harper, March 25 2016

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1. Don’t write a novel

Every time I sit down to write a novel, I get next to nothing done.  You may write 79,000 words and realize in the last 1,000 that the novel is not what you want to put out there, but those 80,000 words will inform your next work immeasurably.

2. Keep your publishing dreams in check

Not giving up when the going is ho-hum and uneventful for days or months or years is one of the sweetest joys alive, not because of the tantalizing reward that waits forever in the distance, but because of the complexity and intimacy that develops when kindness, humor, and good intentions are invested in a craft or purpose or person that constantly requires the best of you.

3. Writing doesn’t always look like writing

When I’m trusting myself and not judging a first draft with nasty little tattle-tale voices, I find my patient, daydreaming, curious, wondering selves to be essential and complementary playmates to the one who can sit down at a computer and punch out a couple thousand words.

4. Books do not respond to timelines, spreadsheets, or graphs

Because I am now a writer and not a physicist, I can say that I don’t believe writing always follows the laws of space and time. It’s amazing how much writing can get done in short, optimal windows cushioned by patience, thoughtfulness, self-care, and faith, and it’s equally amazing how little writing gets done during months of “free” writing time hemmed in by expectation, disparagement, self-loathing, and a diet of Snickers and Vitamin Water.

5. Make space for what comes

At least you know how to get comfortable in the field for the next day, and notice as you do that some other, far smaller and stranger creature has come to wait beside you?

6. Procrastinate

Creativity often thrives as a result of the very behaviors that others label as lazy or self-indulgent or some other horrid judgment that might be appropriate were you a cog in a wheel that cannot turn without your constant and unimaginative presence. Creative work demands that you stop hovering, allow your fields to go fallow occasionally. It demands that you procrastinate…..




Guest Post from our Writers’ Group

The following excerpt is from a novel, as yet unpublished, by a member of Waverley Writers of F.O.W.L. Maureen would appreciate feedback from readers of this Blog. Please add any comments in the ‘Comments’ section, or on Facebook.


wikipedia. Colorado Springs, ColoradoEvanS

THE ROCK by Maureen Mendelowitz

There is a rocky ledge that leans over the sea at Llandudno. It juts out on three sides, exposed to the changing shades of ocean and sky, the blues, the greys, the oranges and reds of sunset, and the pale violet hues of early dawn.

It is a hidden place. A steep flight of steps hewn from rock leads down from the road to a pristine crescent of white beach. At the far end a pile of huge boulders are piled and lean haphazardly, one against the other.

The rock is beyond the boulders. It is comfortable, flat and smooth. Below is nothing but the wide ocean – above, the wide skies. The sunrise sometimes bathes it in crimson hues, and sometimes it is fiery in the red flames of sunset. But in the dark of night its surface hardens in the glittering sparkle of stars and the moon etches its compact layers in a strong beam of white light.

The rock is difficult to find. There are only small spaces and narrow crevices to crawl through – a secret rock – hidden behind an ominous outcrop of huge boulders that signals the end of the beach and forbids anything beyond.

Daniel knew the rock. How?

Did he find it as a small boy exploring? Did his mother call out “Daniel! Daniel! Where are you?” and run along that small crowded beach, and look out to the waves panic-stricken, and desperately ask “Have you seen my child? A small boy? With dark curly hair?”, and sigh hugely and with great relief when that curly headed boy, small and skinny, appeared from the outcrop and ran towards his mother shouting “Mama, I’ve found a rock! A big flat rock!” Did she scoop him up in her arms, crying and laughing and reprimanding, “Daniel! Where were you? Don’t ever do that again! I thought you were lost forever!”, not listening to what he was saying, but smothering him with kisses? Is that when Daniel found the rock?

Perhaps he found it as a boy wanting to escape the turmoil of his home. Did he run from the fights, the arguments, the insults and the vicious temper of his dad, jump on a bus, arrive at Llandudno, pace along the beach, and crawl though the crevices to hide away, to bury his head in his knees and cry, to scream into the wind “I hate him! I hate him! I wish he was dead!”?

Or did he find it as a young man seeking solitude? Did he close his books in exhaustion and say “I’ve got to get out of here”, and leave the littered desk and medical tomes, and drive along that stretch of coast until he reached the little beach. Did he scramble though the crevices seeking to block out the smell of ether and the sick bodies at the hospital, the lectures, the interminable notes, the examinations, and wonder how much more he could take? Did he then come upon the flat wide rock, sit on its smooth surface, his back against a boulder and gaze out in wonder at the beauty and isolation of his find? Did he close his tired eyes and allow the songs of the sea and the soft breezes to envelop him and calm his crowded mind, to bring him quietude, to give him peace?

However it happened, it seemed to Maryssa that that the rock belonged to him, a hidden secret place in an inaccessible outcrop of boulders, a place that he had discovered, that only he would know.

It seemed as though it was also a porous rock, a rock that absorbed stains. There was no evidence of the drops of bright red blood on its smooth surface. The rock, the rain and the surf from the sea during high winds and severe storms, all helped to remove them.

Maureen Mendelowitz

Not quitting the day job

This is so true, of all creative activity, including writing. Nothing is scarier than facing that empty page or screen with a deadline looming. See my post on ‘In the Zone ‘ for more thoughts on harnessing that creativity. See below:

Re-blogged from songsbybriar: