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Writers Corner – looking back at travel writing

Thank you to all those who came along to our Writers Corner session on 6 April to discuss the intricacies of the various forms of travel writing. In general, we concluded that travel writing is a more complex and richer genre than one might think. 

We easily filled to the time between 2pm and 4pm with relaxed conversation and a brief writing exercise. 

The discussion was reasonably diverse, touching on the ethical issues in travel writing, cultural appropriation, outlets for writing and social media.

We also explored the role of travel writing as a means of improving the understanding of diverse human culture.  Even the simplest forms of writing such as letters to family and friends can be valuable, enabling others to share experiences of new places.

While travel writing has many specific features it also shares many common features with other genres – good writing is good writing.  The ability to enliven a reader’s senses with the aroma of the coffee, the bustle of the marketplace or the tranquillity of a meadow pond is important in all sorts of writing.

Outlets for writing are not confined to books and maps; the hip world of social media and the common practice of video logging or vlogging benefit from those same skills of storytelling, assembling the information, setting out the scene context for the reader or viewer and taking them on that journey.  There is an evolving world of communication and travel documentaries that can be at the street level of detail.

It was also noted that there are opportunities to submit articles to a wide range of publications that use travel writing of some form or other (e.g., see 

There is even a travel writing association

So, whether it is a letter (or email) to the grandchildren, or the script for a documentary on the cultural imperatives of a lost Amazonian tribe, good writing about one’s travels, especially when done in creative and engaging styles, helps make the world a better understood place.

Image by Pixabay

Next month’s Writers Corner topic is tools of the trade. Everything from dictionaries to word processors to research resources will be on the table; processes and practices, tips and tricks … what are your favourites?  Come along to Writers Corner with a view to share or a question ask on 4 May, 2pm at the Bunch of Grapes, 401 Pleasant St, Ballarat.

Book review – The Spiral, by Iain Ryan

Title: The Spiral

Author: Iain Ryan

Publisher: Echo/Allen and Unwin, 2021

Be warned: things are not straightforward in Iain Ryan’s third novel. The Melbourne writer, twice a winner of the Ned Kelly crime fiction award, has gone meta in his third novel.

Ryan’s prose is clean, well suited to the genre as he weaves noir grit and fantasy brawn into an intriguing thriller.

As the book opens, academic researcher Erma Bridges has some explaining to do. There’s scuttlebutt about her relationships with colleagues and students, an attack and a suicide, and a stalled research project threatening to destabilise her career. As one might expect of a book called The Spiral, things go downhill from there.

As a counterpoint to Erma’s first-person narrative, Ryan offers the barbarian Sargo, referred to in the second person. Sargo is a figment drawn from the pages of a choose-your-own-adventure style book, sexless, lethal, on a quest to overcome an amnesiac state of being. The barbarian is a character created by a famed writer of choose-your-own-adventures who is at the centre of Erma’s research, a reclusive figure who just may hold the key to Erma’s career success.

Erma’s quest for the writer takes her from the sandstone halls of The University of Queensland to the seedy alleys of Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley to the lush surrounds of a secluded mansion in the Gold Coast hinterland. In the background, there are female students being abducted, crime figures linked to Erma’s colleagues, and the central mystery of Jenny: Erma’s research assistant, a woman with a link to the writer, a handgun and an axe to grind.

As Erma descends into the mysteries, Sargo’s branching narrative intrudes, requiring the reader to choose their own path through the barbarian’s maze that offers insights into Erma’s secrets.

It’s a journey of self-discovery and revelation, for Erma and the reader as Sargo. Of course it ends in blood. Of that, there is never any choice.

Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung, March 2021

Jason Nahrung is Ballarat Writers publicity and communications officer

Writers Corner – travel writing

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

Do you have a favourite piece of travel writing? Has reading stories of travelling inspired you to pack a bag and take to the road, jet set off to strange lands?  What was it about that writing that inspired you?

The discussion topic for our first Writers Corner, on Tuesday 6 April, is travel writing. This creative form of nonfiction is often based on the writer’s encounter with foreign places.  However, it can also take several other forms, which is something we can explore.

There is a practical side to travel writing: tips and advice, the must see’s and do’s, and how to get from one place to another.

In these restricted times travel writing would seem questionable. Writing about travel may fuel aspirations that cannot be achieved, or alternatively make how-to’s and itinerary planning even more critical.

Travel writing is not simply a product of the industrial revolution or the jet setter age; this popular form of writing has been written since Classical times. A couple of early examples include:

· Rutilius Claudius Namatianus (fl. 5th century)  

De reditu suo (Concerning His Return, c. 416) – the poet describes his voyage along the Mediterranean seacoast from Rome to Gaul.

·  Xuanzang (602–664)

Great Tang Records on the Western Regions (646) – narrative of the Buddhist monk’s journey from China to India.

More recent examples would include:

  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck (1962)
  • The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain(1869)
  • Wind, Sand, and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1939)
  • The Sea to Sardinia by D H Lawrence (1923)
  • On the Road is a 1957 novel by American writer Jack Kerouac, based on the travels of Kerouac and his friends across the United States.
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson (2015)

Want more travel writing? Check out this event with Tamara Sheward, being hosted by Ballarat Libraries on 16 April!

event details at trybooking

Travel writing takes many different forms, they might more readily be described as follows:

  • Destination pieces
  • Special interest for types of travel, e.g., hiking, cycling, caravanning, backpacking or something more quirky.
  • Holidays and events – family vacation
  • festivals.
  • Personal adventures
  • Travel blogging
  • Itineraries
  • Travel guides
  • Memoir of personal travel.

Questions to help kick off your thoughts:

  • Why do you want to write about travel?
  • Do you have a collection of tips for other travellers going to a particular destination?
  • Is the travel just a backdrop to another adventure or drama, a setting for a romance?
  • Could Murder on the Orient Express be thought of as writing with a travel theme?
  • How to transport your reader to a new place?
  • Travelling during pandemics?
  • Places to publish – do you have suggestions?

Where, when and what to bring

Bunch of Grapes Hotel, 401 Pleasant St, Ballarat, on the first Tuesday in April: that’s the 6th, at 2pm; the bar will be open. Come along for a relaxed, loosely moderated discussion about the topic. It would be useful to bring a pen and paper in case we decide to get creative.

Click for the Facebook event

Email publicity AT with queries

Book review – From Where I Fell, by Susan Johnson

Author: Susan Johnson

Title: From Where I Fell

Publisher: Allen and Unwin, March 2021

The author

Susan Johnson is a well- known and accomplished Australian author who has produced eight novels, a memoir, and a non-fiction book. She is internationally published and has lived in Europe for periods of her life. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia.

The book

From Where I Fell is a clever and engaging novel based on two women living completely different lives, continents apart. Pamela Robinson from Australia sends an email to her ex-husband and by mistake the email finds Chris Woods in the United States, who happens to have a similar email address.

The two women continue exchanging correspondence and an unlikely friendship ensues. It is a time of intense change and soul searching for both although their circumstances couldn’t be more diverse. Pamela, a single mother of three boys who chose to leave their father, seeks guidance and support from those around her. Her sons are out of control and she battles each day to be the parent she expects herself to be. Pamela is highly anxious, doubts her own ability to cope and struggles to set boundaries, for herself or her sons. Her ex-husband refuses to have contact with her.

Chris is married to a quiet man who’s almost invisible. They have no children, but Chris’s elderly Greek mother is noisily threatening to return to Greece to die in her home country.  Chris carries the heavy burden of being a martyr, at work, with her friends and at home. She carries disappointment stoically and is kind but stern in her approach to life. She is known for her strong tendency to lend a helping hand where needed, until she oversteps the mark and is oftentimes condemned for her severe remarks and actions.

Pamela and Chris are both on a journey toward personal change. Their emails bounce back and forward progressively revealing current details of their lives. The two individual narratives are poignant in their own right and as the unusual friendship of the two corresponding women develops, so too does the intensity and honesty. A third story is represented in their interactions. Often brusque, apologetic, empathic, at times brutally truthful, beautiful, cringe worthy and pithy.

Reading From Where I Fell felt slightly voyeuristic and yet the compulsion to keep reading was all consuming. The struggles that surround the lives of women in caregiving circumstances, grief and disappointment are subtly identified and to some length unpacked. Cleverly, Susan Johnson leaves Pamela, the sender of the mistaken email, with the last word.

Trent Dalton gave praise to Susan Johnson’s latest book. ‘This is Susan Johnson at her most original, daring bone-deep and deliciously raw. I fell, too, with aching heart and tickled rib, under the spell of this extraordinary book.’

An intriguing and clever novel born of (but not in) COVID-19 times when emailing and electronic communication was and still is substituted for personal contact. The modality of this work replicates and extends our experiences over the last year. Susan Johnson never disappoints.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, March 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc Book Review Group

Introducing Writers Corner

Writers Corner is an afternoon get-together of writers to chew the fat, kick the can down the road, or just an opportunity to put in your 2 cents’ worth on the topic of the day.

Held at the Bunch of Grapes Hotel on the first Tuesday of the month, making the first meeting on 6 April.  The session will start at 2pm and finish no later than 4pm. While there is no cost to attend, supporting Bunch of Grapes by purchasing drinks or nibbles would be appreciated.

Open to members and prospective members of Ballarat Writers.

Discussion will be loosely moderated to manage the time and to ensure we stay roughly on topic. The Ballarat Writers website and Facebook page will have posts with ideas, questions, and links for related material. This will be available for reading prior to the event. Please register your interest at the Facebook event or by replying to this email. Questions: hit us up on Facebook or

Our first topic will be Travel Writing. Travel writing has been around since the early times and comes in numerous styles, from straight itineraries to full-blown adventure thrillers. Travel has been a driver in shaping our modern world, and writing about your experiences can be a great use of self- expression. Come along and share your experiences, ideas and questions about Travel Writing.

Book review – The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

The Author

 Garth Nix is an award-winning writer of fantasy fiction, mostly for young adults.  A full-time writer since 2001 with about thirty titles to his credit, Garth is no stranger to the world of publishing and book selling. He is a 1963-edition Melburnian now living in Sydney with his wife and two children.

The Book

At eighteen, Susan, an art student, is ready to step out into life.  But first she must find out who her father is. Her mother, though loving and caring, is vague and a scatterbrain; perhaps too many drugs in her early days, an excuse for not remembering the details of Susan’s father. Susan’s only clues include a silver gilt cigarette case, a faded library reading room ticket, and a so-called Uncle Frank in London.

The story, set largely in a somewhat alternate 1983 London, opens with the demise of crime boss Frank Thringly at the hands of a young and attractive Left-Handed Bookseller called Merlin.  Frank is a Sipper (of blood), there being no such things as vampires.  The Booksellers are an extended secret family policing the mythic Old World to prevent it intruding into the Modern World. Left-handed family members are action oriented, doing the dirty work in the field, such as eliminating miscreant Sippers. Right-handed members are intellectual.  The family also sells books.

Merlin is caught red handed, so to speak, by Susan, but before she can call the police the two are attacked by a horse-sized bug. Merlin shoots the bug and gives Susan the choice of staying to be killed by Frank’s evil associates or escaping through the open window with him.  Taking her chances, she opts for Merlin and the window, and quickly becomes enmeshed in the intrigues of Booksellers and the Old World.

After the initial escape from danger, Susan is aided by Merlin and his sister, Vivian, in unravelling the secret of her father and her connections to the Old World. The obvious romantic spark between Susan and Merlin smoulders in the background while they escape from attacking monsters and thwart the ambitions for power and domination by evil forces. The trio’s quest for the truth becomes a battle for the future.

Garth has done a great job of putting this story together. He borrows from classic Hollywood chase movies and at one point our heroes are pursued by villains and police, the police at times made to act like villains. 

Read a second opinion

book review by jason nahrung

The underlying themes and metaphors are familiar to this genre, with demons and mythical characters as metaphors for the challenges of life and growing up.  Garth also touches on the ideas of challenging the status quo, and the flow of responsibility from generation to generation.  

The story has an endearing quirkiness, a typical English silliness, perhaps reminiscent of the era in which it is set. There are plenty of  colourful phrases  like “pre-owned mustard-coloured three-piece suit”, “two-inch Cuban heels and “being stuck square on his roseate nose with a silver hatpin”. Adding to the eccentricity are nuances such as the idea of a special safe house run by Mrs London, the use of Black Cabs by the Booksellers referencing the TV spy series of the time, Callan.  One might even wonder if the name Frank Thringly is a nod to the infamous Melbourne actor Frank Thring?

The Left-Handed Booksellers is an entertaining, fun read, well-paced with engaging characters; a light-hearted romp through some of the darker aspects of life. Perfect for idling away a few hours of a COVID lockdown.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, February 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Memoir workshop with Jenny Valentish

Memoir writing – be it book, blog, essay, or legacy for the family – can be daunting. That might be because you’re stumped as to how to start (your life has been EPIC … and spans ‘several’ decades). Or perhaps you don’t know where would be a fitting point to end. Maybe the thing that’s always stopped you from writing your story, or a part of it, is you’re afraid of exposing yourself – or of upsetting other people. That can be paralysing, but there are ways around all of this.

In this workshop, journalist Jenny Valentish, journalist and author of Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment, trouble-shoots the concerns you may have. We’ll go deep into structure – prologues, ways of ordering things, themes as motifs, and weaving in research (if that’s your thing). There are methods of jogging your memory and reinhabiting your younger self. We’ll find ways to describe different people without you getting cast out of your family, and look at some of the disclaimers that famous memoirists have put on their work. There’s a section on nailing tone, humour and finding your voice, and we’ll look at how to avoid sounding self-conscious.

Workshop details

When: Saturday 20 March 2021, noon-3pm

Where: Training Room 1, Eastwood Leisure Centre, 20 Eastwood St, Ballarat Central, VIC 3350

Cost: Ballarat Writers Members $80, non-members $90. Please note: the workshop is limited to 12 participants.

Bookings: At Trybooking

Other details: Due to the venue’s COVIDSafe procedures, we are unable to serve drinks or share food at this event. Please BYO water bottle and snacks. The centre is directly across the road from Ballarat Central’s Ferguson’s and Baker’s Delight bakeries. Hand sanitising will be available. Social distancing will be in place and participants will not be required to wear masks under current protocols.

Sign up to become a Ballarat Writers member. 

writer Jenny Valentish

About Jenny Valentish

Journalist Jenny Valentish’s third book is Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment, which blends research and memoir. It was long-listed for a Walkley Book Award and is now on the recommended reading list for several university courses. Jenny is the former editor of Triple J’s Jmag and Time Out (Melbourne edition) and regularly contributes to The GuardianABCThe Age and more. She is working on her fourth book, to be published by Black Inc in 2021. She has held a memoir writing workshop for The Monthly, delivered a course to Writers Victoria members three times and has taught first-person writing at Monash, Collarts, and to Catherine Deveny’s Gunnas. A version of the workshop has also been developed for drug and alcohol professionals and their clients. Find out more at Jenny’s website

Committee for 2021 announced

Following on from the AGM this month, the committee welcomes Nicole Kelly to the role of Competitions Co-ordinator!

Last year’s co-ordinator, Megan J. Riedl, has moved to a general committee position.

The committee thanks departing general committee members Zoe Werner, David Mellows and Brooke Vogt for their contributions last year.

Otherwise, familiar faces abound!

The 2021 committee is:

Chair:                                                  Rebecca Fletcher      

Treasurer & Membership Officer:     Kirstyn McDermott  

Secretary/Public Officer:                    Laura Wilson             

Publicity & Media Coordinator:          Jason Nahrung

Competitions Coordinator:                 Nicole Kelly

Unassigned Committee Member:      Megan Riedl  

Unassigned Committee Member:      Phil Green

The committee welcomes contributions and suggestions from members. If there is a project you think would be well suited to Ballarat Writers that you’d like to be involved in, please feel free to get in touch at a Members’ Night or through this website.

If you’d like to contribute to the blog, please email the Publicity and Media Coordinator (publicity AT

BW competitions in 2021

After feedback from our members survey and the engagement with Ballarat Flash in the past few years, the Ballarat Writers committee has decided to stop running the monthly Ballarat Flash competition.

It will be replaced with regular writing prompts on our Facebook page and in our Ballarat Writers newsletter.

The Pamela Miller Prize will continue as an annual prize for members, and we are currently working on how we can make it a bigger and better opportunity for the first half of the year, with the winner announced at our June members night.

The biennial prize will continue to alternate between the Southern Cross Short Story Prize (2021) and the Martha Richardson Memorial Poetry Prize (2022).

If you have any comments, questions or ideas, please feel free to contact Megan on or, better still, join our committee at the AGM on 10 February and make a contribution to Ballarat Writers! Contact our Chair, Rebecca, on to find out more

Book review: Lament, by Nicole Kelly

Title: Lament

Author: Nicole Kelly

Publisher:  Hawkeye Publishing, 2020

Nicole Kelly is the author of short stories and non-fiction articles, and is currently working on her second novel.  She is a school teacher and lives in rural Victoria.

Lament, written as historical fiction, is her first published novel. It was short listed in the Hawkeye Books Manuscript Development Prize in 2019, and later accepted for publication by Hawkeye in 2020.

The novel opens with Ned Kelly and his gang arriving in Glenrowan. From there they set out to derail the train travelling from Benalla in the belief a contingent of the Victorian Police Force are on board. In the expected aftermath of the train crash, the gang plan to take hostages, then ride on to Benalla and rob the local bank. However things don’t go as expected, and Ned begins to realise he and the gang have to change their plans.

Written in the first person, Ned is an observant, descriptive narrator. His voice is strong, full of rage, and his belief in the Kelly gang is unwavering. But as their plans begin to unravel, Ned begins to see the potential for another way of living and starts to question what he really wants to do with his life.

This leads Ned and the Kelly gang to move away from the High Country, and, in an attempt to begin again, they make their way down south. As they start to build a new life for themselves, their plans again go astray, and they are left to face the repercussions of their past lives as bush rangers, forcing them to deal with the devastating consequences. 

Nicole Kelly has written a fast-paced, exciting novel – part fiction, part fact. In her hands, Ned Kelly comes alive as we hear his thoughts, his fears, and his yearnings. The characters in the story are well drawn out, with their adventures told in captivating detail that leaves the reader with an understanding of how life was for members of the Kelly gang and their families.

Ned Kelly is portrayed as a proud man, with a firm self-belief that he would be remembered. As indeed is the case.

But Lament presents us with another version – one that explores the humanity of Ned Kelly, and with it, an enthralling story that offers another side to the life of the man who has become such a part of our Australian history.

Reviewed by: Linda Young

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

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