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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 ballaratwriters.com).

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 ballaratwriterscompetitions@gmail.com or, better still, join our committee at the AGM on 10 February and make a contribution to Ballarat Writers! Contact our Chair, Rebecca, on chairperson@ballaratwriters.com 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

January Members’ Meeting

Our monthly in-person Members’ Nights are back! We are meeting at our old stomping ground, the Bunch of Grapes hotel, on the last Wednesday of each month. Details for January are:

Where: Bunch of Grapes, 401 Pleasant St South, Ballarat
When: 7pm, 27 January 2021
Cost: FREE but booking is appreciated
Please see your newsletter for the booking link, or contact us.

It would help us if you were able to please book a ticket using the link above, but it is not essential. Normal contact-tracing rules will apply once you arrive at the Bunch of Grapes.

To welcome you all back, Ballarat Writers will be shouting attending members a drink (house wine, beer on tap, soft drinks or tea/coffee). It’s parma night on Wednesdays so if you would like to grab a hearty meal beforehand, the room is available for dining from 6.30pm. (Full menu also available.)

Also, we will have a book giveaway, courtesy of Nicole Kelly, held over from the end-of-year picnic!

The committee has been working hard during our year of isolation and we look forward to bringing you more in-person events in 2021. With the AGM happening on 10 February, now would be a good time to chat with us if you are interested in helping out or even joining the committee this year.

Most of all, we are so excited to see some familiar faces again after so long!

Book review: When the Apricots Bloom, by Gina Wilkinson

Title: When the Apricots Bloom

Author: Gina Wilkinson

Publisher: Hachette Australia, 2020

Gina Wilkinson is a journalist, foreign correspondent and documentary-maker.  In this debut novel we follow three young women living in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The story is based on the writer’s personal experience of life in Baghdad under Saddam.

Two teenagers pledge love and loyalty with a blood oath. Huda is a village girl. Rania is a sheikh’s granddaughter, Iraqi nobility. After sharing a delightful adolescence on the banks of the Tigris, Huda and Rania lose contact.

When Saddam seizes power in Iraq, war, sanctions and tyranny bring the golden years of the Fertile Crescent to a bloody end. Tensions with Washington increase and a nervous Iraq increases security. Embassies withdraw non-essential staff.  Iraqis live in fear of Saddam’s secret police. They can invade your home, threaten your children or even snatch you off the streets.

Twenty-four years after their oath, Huda and Rania are struggling to raise their own teenagers in dangerous circumstances. Rania has contacts in the resistance. When Huda’s brothers are killed in a brutally crushed uprising, Rania disappears, hiding a shameful secret. Huda holds Rania responsible for the boys’ deaths.

When Huda lands a secretarial job at the Australian Embassy it seems too good to be true. Then the secret police order her to spy on Ally Wilson, the young wife of the Australian Deputy Ambassador to Iraq. The brutal intrusion of uniformed men into her home shatters Huda’s world. Her teenaged son, they warn, can be ordered into the regime’s murderous militia which trains boys to be killers.

Ally must hide her American citizenship, a deception that is dangerous. Western women are not safe on the streets. Ally, naïve and reckless, goes out alone. Huda tries to protect her even while she is forced to spy on her.

Read a Q&A with Gina Wilkinson about When the Apricots Bloom

at better reading

The secret police order Rania’s teenaged daughter to the presidential palace where sadistic sexual practices are known to take place. Rania and Huda are now reunited in an uneasy alliance to save their endangered children. They plan to smuggle them out of the country by forcing Ally to use her diplomatic position to help them.

In a world that nurtures suspicion rather than trust the women push the boundaries of safety. Friendships form despite the dangers and torture them in an emotional tug-of-war as the regime forces them to keep secrets from each other. The closer they become, the more they fear each other. Emotions are on-edge as they fight off the urge to trust. Blood oaths are stronger than anything … aren’t they?

Wilkinson weaves a gripping, page-turning plot of intrigue, fear and courage. When the Apricots Bloom takes us into a world that is foreign, exotic and terrifying as its strong characters struggle under the rise of tyranny. It challenges our comfortable existence and our privilege and reminds us that nations we have demonised and gone to war with are populated with people just like us. Knowing that I had more in common with the naïve Ally Wilson than with the brave Iraqi women, I read When the Apricots Bloom with sadness, huge respect and admiration for the courage of those who survive and resist. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It will not disappoint.

Reviewed by: Maureen Riches, January 2021

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

Season’s greetings to our members and supporters


By BWI chairperson Rebecca

There’s nothing that I can say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said.
As a hobby group in a year that has focused on ‘essential services’, it
was hard to know what shape we would be in when all of this passed.

I am pleased to say, however, that the Ballarat Writers community is a
tremendously robust group who clearly care deeply about writing, and
each other, even when there’s not a bar involved. It has been lovely to
see so many of you coming along to the monthly Zoom meetings, and many
of you braving Discord for the weekly Write Club meetings (which have
now resumed at Racers). I know that both  critique groups were keen to
meet up again in person as soon as they could as well. With such strong
participation in both the Pamela Miller Prize and Martha Richardson Memorial
Poetry Prize
this year, it’s clear that there’s still a lot of passion
and creativity in the Ballarat Writers crew.

I want to say thank you to every single person who has continued to open
their emails, check Facebook or find some other way of keeping in touch
with us and continuing to be a part of this amazing community. I also
want to thank the committee for their outstanding work in keeping the
wheels turning and being so adaptable in a year that has demanded it.
Your work has not gone unnoticed and is deeply appreciated.

I hope you all have a wonderful end of year break, and we look forward
to seeing you all (hopefully in person!) in 2021.

Merry Christmas!

This is a copy of Rebecca’s address at the end-of-year meeting in November.

Book review: The Time of Our Lives, by Robert Dessaix

Title: The Time of Our Lives – Growing Older Well

Author: Robert Dessaix

Publisher: Brio, 2020

The author

Robert Dessaix is an Australian writer and life commentator.  He is best-known for the autobiography A Mother’s Disgrace and the novel Night Letters.  His writing is informed by a life of travel, learning, and deep, diverse friendships with “interesting” people.

The book

This is an intimate insight, almost a monologue, into Dessaix’s personal tussle with the finite nature of life and its inevitable end. His own advancing years, brushes with death and the imminent demise of Rita, his partner’s mother, focuses the conversation (largely one-way) on life and what it means to live a meaningful life. 

It is set largely in Java, and Rita’s room in the nursing home.  Rita is frequently used as a springboard into the unknown and to contrast the ideas he is trying to draw out.

Little nuances and details add colour and dimension, turning the ramblings of an old man into a story. The use of Javanese village life and inclusion of references to friends in cleverly crafted little side snippets create a multi-layered, thoughtful and interesting reading experience.

There is good advice in here for the young, though I fear it would be lost on many of them.

Listen to an ABC Radio interview with Robert Dessaix on The Time of Our Lives

Patricia Karvelas on The Drawing Room

Dying features heavily; the idea that we inevitably reach a point of finality drives a lot of Dessaix’s thinking. To grow old well, he suggests, you need to be satisfied you have lived well. Consequently, he includes a lot of discussion on living. Of course, Dessaix’s idea of living well, or anybody else’s for that matter, may differ to yours.

There is a memorable little analogy that suggests you do not want your life to be like the traveller who finds the best coffee shop, restaurants, and places to go on their last day at a location they will never return to.

I must confess I was expecting an epiphany or two when I set out to read this book. However, I was disappointed: two out of three of Dessaix’s major life conclusions I had already reached, despite not having lived an exotic life such as Dessaix’s.  For other conclusions … you will just have to read the book for yourself, which I heartily recommend.

Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, December 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

The Rejection Connection: a writing project for 2021

By Rebecca Fletcher

In 2021, I’m aiming for 100 rejections. You read that right. Not submissions, not publications: rejections. Telling people this has earned me some strange looks, so I want to discuss why I’m doing it, and why I think you should as well.

The big question is: why aren’t you going for publication? And basically I am, but I can’t force anyone to publish me, so all I can do is give it a good hockey try by writing, polishing and submitting. If they actually publish the thing, then that’s a ‘failed rejection’ and I’ll have to find somewhere else to be rejected.

So first and foremost, this isn’t my idea. The blog post I read it on was shared with me by a fellow Ballarat Writer who thought I should go for it. And after thinking about it for a few years, I’m going for it, and I want you to join in. Here’s why:

1. It forces you to write

There are lots of ways to go for 100 rejections. You can write one thing and submit it 100 places. You might write 25 things (around one every two weeks over the year) and submit them to four places each. Now you could be lazy and write one thing, send it to 100 places at once and call it done, but ask yourself what that proved?

The only real downside is that if you get a failed rejection and they publish the darn thing, you’ll have to write something else. What a problem to have.

2. It makes rejection into a positive thing

Even if you don’t care that much about something you write, rejection hurts. Because it feels like what you’ve written isn’t good enough, or that they didn’t like it. You know what? That might even be the case. But after being part of the creative editorial team for Antithesis in 2020, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes your piece was good enough but there was another piece on the same thing that they liked more. Sometimes you were the one extra poem they couldn’t fit in. Sometimes your piece just needed a little more work than the others. That’s okay.

The point is, stop thinking about it as a negative thing. Now, instead of stomping around the house ranting about how they wouldn’t know good work if it jumped up and bit them on the turnip, you can say ‘Great. Ninety-nine left to go’.

3. It encourages you to put yourself out there

You might still be at a stage where you’re writing for yourself and don’t want to share your writing with the world. That’s okay as well! But for those who are starting to feel a little braver, it can be a good way to start sharing your ideas and work with the world. It’s easy to get stuck in a bit of a rut with a local writers group (even if they are amazing!) and your critique group/writer friends. Spread your wings a little and see what’s out there.

4. You’ll read different things

Lots of people want to write but they don’t want to read things that other people have written. However, if you want to get a good idea of whether a journal or a publication is a good fit for you, you’re going to need to read the kinds of things that they publish (or don’t, but you’ll probably rack up those rejections a little sooner than you wanted). Maybe Vampire Trains is your favourite magazine, but they’re not going to publish your poem on turnips, no matter how good it is (unless the turnip is on a vampire train, maybe).

And, of course, reading different things fuels your imagination and will make you be a little more adventurous. Not to mention that by seeing the kinds of work that are being published, you’ll get a better feel for what might or might not be working in your writing as well.

5. You have a SMART goal

I’m not going to bore you all with the particulars of SMART goals, but 100 rejections is definitely one of those. It’s a concrete goal where you can measure your progress quantitatively and there’s a deadline to have it done by. Goals like ‘work more on my novel’ or ‘get better at writing’ feel good to say but don’t really give you anywhere to aim. One hundred rejections, on the other hand, is something that you can keep track of in a journal. You’ll be able to update anyone who asks in no time at all.

6. It doesn’t have to be about writing

Maybe writing is a fun thing for you and you don’t want to stress yourself out with rejections. That’s okay! But there are lots of ways you can still put yourself out there. You could write out job applications, you could submit applications for writing residencies, or, as one friend suggested, reject 100 people on the dating app of your choice. The point is to give yourself a reason to try something that you might usually talk yourself out of doing.

So why do you all care about my goal for 2021? You probably don’t, but I care about yours and I want to invite you to join me. I want you to aim for 100 rejections, with whatever focus you’d like. And I think that if there are enough of us (there are few of us at Write Club doing it already), we should find a way to keep in touch, share our progress, share opportunities and keep each other motivated.  I’ll be posting updates throughout the year with rejections and failed rejections, if people want to follow along. If you’re keen, drop me a line at chairperson AT ballaratwriters.com and we’ll work it out. And hey, if no one emails me, then I guess that can be rejection one of 100 — just 99 to go!

Ballarat Writers Inc. chairperson Rebecca Fletcher is a Ballarat-based writer who has recently escaped the tertiary education system. Wondering about her odds of getting published? You’re not alone. You can read more of her writing (well, her blogs and her failed rejections, anyway) at saltyturnip.com.

Book review – Infinite Splendours, by Sophie Laguna

Title: Infinite Splendours

Author: Sophie Laguna

Publisher: Allen & Unwin, 2020

Sophie Laguna is a multiple award-winning writer. Her second adult novel, The Eye of the Sheep, won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2015. 

I read Infinite Splendours with my heart in my mouth. There were times when I wanted to stop reading but the power of Laguna’s storytelling and her stunning craftsmanship kept me in there. The tension in the book is brilliant, as is the descriptive work, particularly the surrounding landscape.

Set in 1953,  the story is about Lawrence, ten, and his brother, Paul, who is eight, raised by their mother in Victoria’s Grampians. The boys’ father, known only through a shadowy photograph, died in service during the war.

Lawrence, a sensitive and clever child, is central to the story. His mother dotes on her son’s school achievements and his future looks bright. He has a favourite teacher and on Fridays, art day, he begins to discover his love and enjoyment of art. A long-lost uncle arrives to stay and takes an interest in Lawrence. Fatherless, the boy is hungry for attention and quickly they develop a bond. Paul, the younger brother, is not at all taken with the uncle and avoids him.

Eventually, Lawrence is betrayed in the worst way possible and his carefree childhood days are taken from him. Shattered and lost, he limps into adulthood, develops a stutter and his younger potential is behind him. Lawrence works for a short time on a local dairy farm. His mother dies and he becomes a hermit, living alone in the family home at the foot of the mountain. Paul returns to bring him food and what little support he will accept. Lawrence discovers his artistic passion again and paints prolifically.

A new family moves in next door with children. The ten-year-old boy quickly becomes a focus for Lawrence as he lives out his own regressed development and faces a situation that could lead to him repeating the wrongs done to him in the past.   

This novel raises questions of psychological and societal importance – the acts of childhood betrayals and the potential or actual impact on the lives of victims.  The pace is slow and leaves the reader nowhere to hide, but it’s a brave and courageous write by Laguna, into a darkness that most of us don’t want to know about, although we do.

Infinite Splendours is a harrowing but compelling read. A story I’ll never forget.

Reviewed by: Heather Whitford Roche, November 2020

Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group

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