Sam van Zweden



Wheeler Centre

Revisiting JSF’s meat book

I’m revisiting Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I loved this book the first time around, and remember it for being a wonderfully personal take on the ethics of meat eating.

Next week, I’m doing a panel at The Wheeler Centre called ‘Green Cleaver‘ – I’ll be talking with Sam Cooney, Richard Cornish and Tammi Jonas about the role of meat in our lives and how we can do it better.

This, I suppose, in the wake of having written about why we struggle to embrace offal; and why the stories we tell about food are important.

I’m still working – always, forever – on the larger manuscript about food’s significance in our lives. In my research for that project, I hadn’t thought to revisit Jonathan Safran Foer’s book – it’s about food, but I didn’t remember it being relevant to what I’m writing.

Until now. In preparation for the panel event on Tuesday, I’m dipping back into JSF. This paragraph encapsulates so much of what I’m trying to do in my work, it’s hard to believe I’d forgotten it:

Perhaps [my grandmother’s] other stories were too difficult to tell. Or perhaps she chose her story for herself, wanting to be identified by her providing rather than her surviving. Or perhaps her surviving is contained within her providing: the story of her relationship to food holds all of the other stories that could be told about her. Food, for her, is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joyfulness, humiliation, religion, history, and, of course, love. As if the fruits she always offered us were picked from the destroyed branches of our family tree.

It’s succinct, and hard-hitting, and I’m finding it so energising. Deeply sad, very important, and energising.

Good News Update

It’s always hard, or at least a little strange, announcing your own good news. Part of me likes sharing happy achievements, while another part of me wishes that everyone already knew, so I wouldn’t be bragging. With writing news, I also struggle with embargoes. I’m not good at keeping secrets, so that when I finally can tell people I blurt at them like an excited six year-old. Continue reading “Good News Update”

The Night That Was White

This is a re-cap of my White Night, spent primarily at the Wheeler Centre as part of an event run by the Emerging Writers Festival.

Bivouacking at the Wheeler Centre – it feels like a school camp somehow. On the bus on the way in, I feel like a kid again. I carry a pillow and cupcakes, and a backpack full of laptop, pens and notebook. There’s a novel in there for the wee hours. 

The night begins without any great fanfare. A small crowd gathers for Eric Yoshiyaki Dando’s performance at 8pm. Eric is a bit short, a bit hairy; he wears no shoes and rolled-up fisherman’s pants. He reads from his iPhone (“from the Sleepers’ app, which is very handy!”) about his time spent as a shopping centre Santa. I presume it is non-fiction, but on later reflection I will wonder. Either way, he’s utterly charming. The AUSLAN lady’s hands dance, and Eric makes her say “snail” again because he loves the sign for it.

After Eric’s performance people splinter. There’s an awful lot of talking. More than one person here seems to be participating in White Night in order to write about it – I’m not the only person whose impulse is to document. There are people with cameras, and a few people approach to ask what we’re working on, or why we’re here. 

I leave for dinner. Sitting outside the State Library, I watch patterns drive themselves up the exterior walls. There are people with strollers. It’s as busy as New Years Eve, but people are happier and more friendly. This doesn’t last though – after dinner, at about 10.30, people seem a bit more volatile. There’s hostility in their demand for something to be happening always, everywhere. I walk more carefully back to the Wheeler Centre.

Photo credit: Reuben Acciano for the Emerging Writers Festival

The Wheeler Centre packs out for later performances at midnight and 1am. The midnight performance has everyone laughing, Laura Jean McKay and Lawrence Leung lunging about the stage, jazz hands flying around one another in a battle to decide who reads first. The pieces they perform are similarly impressive. 

Performances from 3am onwards start to calm down. Luke Ayres Ryan does the 3am reading, which is of a story he wrote when he was 14. He antagonises his young self as he reads, incredulous that he ever thought that this writing was something to be proud of. I hope that he sees the value in his current writing, and wonder if we all have this mode when we read over ancient pieces. True, the piece he reads is as dismal as anything a 14 year-old would write, but still.

The audience at this reading is mainly those of us who have been writing all night. We lounge in bean bags, lulling, and we begin to feel a bit heavy-lidded. Second winds will come later. For now, sedate is the way to be. Chad Parkhill plays a ridiculous DJ set (“full of funky beats with a fat bass line”) to perk us all up, and it works in a way. We dance like fools for a little bit, before a friend arrives and a few of us head to the Domed Reading Room at the State Library.

This is the only thing that I really want to catch at White Night; the only thing that I absolutely need to see. The Domed Reading Room is expansive and overwhelming at the best of times, but in this ethereal space where the city hums and everybody is dreaming, it’s almost too much. The Exaudi Youth choir send their voices up to the ceiling, where projected lights move like ripples in a slow stream. It feels like sleep. Every person is surrounded by calm. People scatter, sitting on desks and chairs. Many heads take the opportunity for a quick nap.

Returning to the Wheeler Centre feels strange, stepping back into the real world. People come and go, and while people still write, the hours between 5 and 7 feel more like a drop-in centre where people stick their heads in out of curiosity.

The tram ride home hits me in the face, and I struggle not to close my eyes as we trundle up a now-quiet, very rubbishy Collins Street. 

The night was certainly white; brilliant with creative light and a generous crowd hungry for culture. Every piece of the city opened up and poured out all the secrets that are so often hidden.

White Night Game Plan

Last year, I learned to love the Extreme Writing Event.

As part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I took part in some of the writing-time at the Rabbit Hole. A few weeks later, I spent a day doing something similar, and wrote 10,000 words in a day at the Future Bookshop. And the last semester of uni was really an Extreme Writing Event in itself.

In about three hours, Melbourne’s White Night event will kick off. This event will see the city running non-stop for a whole night, with performances, projections, exhibitions, and miscellaneous others happening all over the city. As part of White Night, Emerging Writers’ Festival are hosting a writers-friendly space right through from 7pm until 7am tomorrow morning. There will be performances every hour, and cosy (comfortable?) space to chill out and get some serious writing done. 

For me, it starts with a cupcake. I always feel good about things when I can contribute some delicious treats. I have a fridge full of these bad boys, ready to spike our blood sugar levels and get us through the night.

Chocolate with mint icing. Yummm!

If I learned one thing from last year’s Extreme Writing Events, it was the power of planning. I reached that 10,000 words in a day because I’d planned pretty carefully what I wanted to get written. So again, I’ve armed myself with a notebook full of jottings toward articles, and tweakings toward half-written pieces. This event is much easier, in that there’s no word-count goal. Managing to stay awake and somewhat productive is really the aim. This said, I’m still really keen to use the time to get something done.

I have a writing exercise here that I’ve been given by my mentor, and I plan to knock that over. After that, I’ll be getting stuck into a piece I’ve been planning (but not yet writing) for quite a while. If I can get down a decent draft of that piece before leaving, I’ll be a happy girl.

What happens to people when they get delirious and tired is fascinating, so I’m looking forward to scribbling down some notes for a piece about White Night itself. Other than that, I’ve got a good book, and a notebook, and cupcakes, and I’m now going to go take a nap to help me through the night. Working 10-5 tomorrow!

Hope to see you out at White Night.

The Other Side

It’s over, and I’ve taken my week to fall in a heap. Yes, I am unreasonably hopeful that the one week is all it takes. Let’s not talk about other possibilities at this point.

In the last week, I handed in my manuscript and ‘contextual essay’ (for all intents and purposes, an exegesis). I partied reasonably hard that night. The following day I worked, and came home and vomited myself silly – I was knocked down for the remainder of the week with gastro. It was quite an unhappy week. Last night I panicked, because I felt myself falling into a very familiar hole. That place I find myself when a big milestone is passed, and I have to ask myself, “What now?”

Today, however, I came across two articles that really spoke to me, and which have helped me pull myself a little bit out of that hole.

Karen Andrews at Miscellaneous Mum posted her talk from the weekend’s Offset Arts Festival. In it, she talks about her very personal reasons for blogging, and how blogging acted as a distraction during recovery from a breakdown. Karen goes on to talk about how her continued blogging journey has been backed by passion – she kept going, and that’s how she discovered her voice. Karen’s successes (many and varied) have come because she has kept going – she loves what she’s doing, and that’s the motivator.

Another article about reading and writing in relation to emotional healing was posted at The Wheeler Centre website. In an interview with the beautiful Melinda Harvey, she talks about the relationship between reading and healing. For Melinda, at a certain point literature is useless to that process – I’m really struck by the bravery of refuting that idea of literature as a lifeline in times of crisis. At another point, however, reading and writing becomes instrumental in making sense of things – a sentiment I can certainly relate to, having just handed in 10,000 words of a memoir about my mother’s mental illness. Likewise, Melinda talks about how much of a mind-bending change it was for her to think of herself writing a memoir. It’s an uncomfortable kind of negotiation, thinking of yourself as a memoirist when it’s something you’d never considered previously.

Both Karen and Melinda’s words really touched me today, when I’m finding myself at a bit of a cross-roads. I don’t exactly know where life takes me to from here. But I am standing on the other side of a very big milestone, and for today at least, I have pulled myself out of a dark spot thanks to these ladies.

Down the Rabbit Hole…

It’s been pretty busy here at the Wheeler Centre. At 6pm last night, 20 writers came together in the workshop space upstairs and sat down to write.

This is The Rabbit Hole, where the goal is to write 30,000 words in 22 hours. The numbers have been crunched, and it’s something like 1,300 words per hour. There are four teams, each of 20 people. There’s a Facebook group and a #rabbithole hashtag, plenty of tea, coffee, and snacks. Little incentives and lots of sharing of lollies.

These guys are dedicated, and the room sounds AMAZING. Yeah, sounds. The sound of twenty people typing in unison is a glorious thing! It’s like standing at an indoor pool, where plashing waves take over any other sounds and it sort of ebbs around you. That’s what the tapping of keys sounds like in the workshop space at the Wheeler Centre.

It’s now 4:08 on day 2, and I’m just jumping down the Rabbit Hole myself. Up until this point I’ve been hanging out on the online forum, manning the Twitter hashtag (#rabbithole), which has been plagued by a bunch of spam which has required lots of “report @… for spam” clicks. The good thing, though, is that even with the spammy stuff in the stream, we’re still dominating the #rabbithole hashtag! Reports are flooding in from Brisbane, Hobart, online and Melbourne.

I thought I’d start my jump down the Rabbit Hole with this post, to let people know how it’s going.

Scratch that, 4:21. A lot of my job so far has involved making sure we’re in supply of mugs and that the urn is full. This sounds easy, but somehow 20 people go through a LOT of coffee and tea. You’ve got to fuel 1,300 words and hour with something!

Other than the catering stuff, I’ve been playing with the online team on their Facebook page.

When we first jumped into this endeavour, I heard that Queensland Writers’ Centre (brilliant originators of this initiative) had challenged writers to chalk up 30,000 words in a weekend. “Nuh. No way!”

But it’s been done, and it’s a LOT of fun to see it being done in front of my eyes here. One of our writers just hit the 15,000 word mark (!!!) – we’re now 8 and a half hours in. That’s not even half way.

It’s also really nice to be the contact point for lots of people – I’m getting to hear about new projects that are in the pipe line, and what people plan to do with their work when it’s done.

So. This is 400-something words toward the Rabbit Hole. Sorry it’s a mostly unedited gush, I thought I’d just keep ya’ll in the loop.

See you when I surface!


A Wheely Exciting Program!

Yeah, that pun again. That old chestnut. Oh, but it is! The Wheeler Centre’s September-November program came out today, and it’s HUGE. I’m just going to go through what’s on in the next month, because that’s quite enough excitement for one day. And the start of October, because if you snooze you’ll loose on these tickets.

The big one, the one I’m almost TOO excited about, is that Jonathan Safran Foer is coming to town. (Right, now go and get a towel to wipe up the saliva that you just dripped on the keyboard.
He’ll be here on the 2nd of October, and I’m up to petition for a bit group hug, if anyone’s interested, I’m pretty sure JSF will be down for that.

But it doesn’t stop there.  On the 15th of September, the folks from Meanjin will be arguing about what the “Great Australian Novel” is, this time with a special focus on books by women.

On the 29th of September the Lunchbox Soapbox is given over to the enigmatic EZB, who will be speaking in defence of slam poetry.

On the 30th of September, a HUGE bunch of awesome people (including Marieke Hardy, need I say more) share their teen-angst diaries in “No One Understands Me“.

What’s also great is how many big red “BOOKED OUT” stickers there are on the events website already. Melbourne offers SO many great things to do, and people are excited about going to literary events, so much that they sell out. That in itself is Wheely exciting.

Because Every Time You Pick Up Your Pen, You Realise You Know Nothing

Last night was the launch of the program for the Emerging Writers’ Festival. As always in the Wheeler Centre, seating was a little awkward, but the entertainment made up for it. To launch the program, Ben Birchall hosted a panel made up of Paddy O’Reilly, Sean Condon, and Meg Mundell. While there didn’t seem to be a specific point of discussion, the wandering topic of the event was a good way into the festival, which encourages us as writers to think about our practice and process, the wider implications of what we do, not just the act of publishing but the whole idea of “being a writer”. It’s so important to have space and time to do this, to make meaning of what we’re doing.

Paddy O’Reilly provided the quote I got the most out of from the night – “I learn,” she said, “every time I pick up a pen, that I don’t know anything.” In a way, this is possibly the worst thing for me (as someone at uni studying the craft of writing) to take on board. It’s also really constructive though. It’s such a positive way of tackling blank pages, new projects – don’t try for that level of production I reached by the end of my last project, because that was something different. This is new, I’m starting from scratch, and I know nothing, so just do it.

Having spent an hour or two picking out my dream itinerary from the very spunky looking program (all individually screen printed, as last year), I’ve come up with the following events as my picks from the 2011 program. All links back to program descriptions (and tickets) on the EWF website –

26th May – The First Word

28-9th May – Town Hall Writers’ Conference

31st May – Not Your Nana’s Slide Night

4th June – The Writers’ Toolkit

4th June – Tram Tracks

4th June – The Pitch

5th June – Page Parlour

5th June – Spelling Bee

Also, right throughout the festival the #ewf11 hashtag will be active (already a fair bit of action on Twitter), and panels will be hosted online. There’s a whole extra level of discussion that occurs over the Town Hall weekend if you’ve got access to Twitter on your phone. There’s a silent layer of discussion going on on Twitter at the same time as panels are running, it enriches the whole experience. I’m so glad this year I have a wanky phone with internet access so I can get to that – last year I saw tweets post-fact and was a bit disappointed I’d missed them.

Also exciting news connecting LGWABP with the EWF this year – I’m one of the bloggers whose content is being pulled into their Planet. A “planet” is a feed which draws in content from selected blogs, which are tagged in a certain way. So throughout the festival, anything that I tag with “emerging writers festival” will appear in that feed. Lisa (festival director)’s experience as a blogger has made this feed really nuanced in the way it works, as she understands that the planet benefits both the writers and the festival. Had a non-blogger created this, it may have turned out a bit differently.

SO! Go check out the EWF program, tickets are all on sale, program’s up, I’m part of their blogging planet, the #ewf11 hashtag is already active – get involved!

Winding Up for EWF

It’s only just over a week until the first official event for the Emerging Writers’ Festival. On Thursday, 5th May at the Wheeler Centre, the 2011 program is being launched. Titled “Stories from the Trenches”, the event promises to be a lot of fun – not only can we get our paws on the program, but we’ll also be treated to readings from Meg Mundell, Paddy O’Reilly and Sean Condon, all addressing the reality of “the cold, hard world of Writerland”. The event will be hosted by Ben Birchall.

…Did I mention it’s free? Bookings, however, are “recommended” (see: get your tickets now cuz it’s going to be so rad that if you don’t, you won’t be able to squeeze in the door).

You can see the whole program at the EWF website, and pencil those into your diary so you can’t make any other plans! Then top up your credit card for a bit of a beating.

You can also get all happy in your pants over the brand-spankin’ website, which has SO MUCH happening, and a super-spiffy new layout – more about that in the next few days, as well as a picks-from-the-program post.

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