8 things I learned at the Melbourne Writers Festival

I’ve always loved the beginning of spring, but I’ve discovered another reason to love it: the Melbourne Writers Festival.  For the last two weeks, Melbourne has been host to an overwhelming number of writers, thinkers and readers.

I only got to see a sliver of what was on offer, but here are 8 things that have stuck in my brain.

1. Roald Dahl’s estate is making a mint.  Penguin Publishing is milking Dahl’s 100th birthday anniversary for what it’s worth.  It’s Roald Dahl Day on the 13th September and there are spin-off events everywhere. IMG_1131But cynicism aside, loads of kids turned out for the Roald Dahl event at the Festival, and their enthusiasm for the Dahl-themed activities was infectious. His stories are as captivating for kids now as they were for us.

2. India has A LOT of languages.  India has two official languages – Standard Hindi and English – but it also has 22 languages scheduled languages as well as classical languages (like Tamil and Sanskrit).  All in all, it’s estimated that India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages.  This makes exercise of translating books in India an interesting one.

3. Even tycoons who’ve made gazillions from social media are tired of social media.  Peter Thiel, who co- founded Paypal and was the first outside investor of Facebook in 2004, is quoted as saying: ‘we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters’.  He’s grumpy because in his view the rate of technological innovation is slowing and our entrepreneurs should be turning their brains to meaningful advancement rather than the latest social media app.

4. Australia’s position on asylum seekers galvanises a lot of the population, but not enough. (See my earlier post on this here).  In his keynote address to the festival, Richard Flanagan spoke about the Nauru files and read some of them out, including a report about a young woman sewing her lips together and guards laughing at her. Flanagan said, ‘when people read these stories – so admirable in their brevity, so controlled in their emotion, so artful in their artlessness; their use, for example, of the term NAME REDACTED instead of a character’s actual name to better show what is happening to a stranger is not an individual act, but a universal crime.’

5. Peggy Frew, who wrote Hope Farm (which I enjoyed but never got around to reviewing) is in an award-winning band called Art of Fighting.cartoffighting_gallery__361x550  She is also very humble and highly personable, despite her prodigious talent.

6. It doesn’t matter if Trump isn’t elected, things won’t be the same again. According to George Packer, an American Journalist, Trump has tapped into something real and sustained.  TeaParty-protesters-KeepGovtOutOfMyMedicare-sign-croppedIn George Packer’s view, Trump’s success is due to his recognition that the Republican’s ideology – ‘anti-government, pro-business, nominally pious’—has little appeal for millions of ordinary Republicans. ‘The base of the Party, the middle-aged white working class, has suffered at least as much as any demographic group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade’. And that won’t change after the election.

7. I need to read more books by Indian authors, beyond the usual suspects (Vikram Seth, Arundthi Roy, Salman Rushdie etc – whom I all love, but apparently you’d be hard pressed to find those authors’ novels in Indian bookshops).  Now on my reading list is: anything by Amitav Ghosh, as well as The Hour Passed Midnight, A Life Less Ordinary:  A Memoir, Walking Towards Ourselves:  Indian Women Tell Their Stories.

8. Picasso, when invited to a home where people owned his paintings, couldn’t be trusted to be left alone with his work because he would start ‘fixing’ it up. I totally love that image of guerilla tactics in the pursuit of artistic perfection!

I reckon that’s not a bad haul of fun, and not so fun facts.  Anyone got any others nuggets of book-ish facts they can share?

This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. Great fun facts — I especially enjoyed the Picasso one 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

  2. 4. So true. I really wish I had been able to see Flanagan speak (and Clarke’s opening address which I heard, via Twitter, was amazing).

    5. Have decided I’m the only person in Melbourne/ the world who doesn’t ‘get’ Peggy Frew (if you’re not sure what I mean, note that I have reviewed two of her books).

    6. Be afraid, be very afraid.

    7. You follow Jenny Ackland’s blog, right? (she’s had a ‘reading India’ thing going this year).

    8. 😀

    • I wish I’d been at the opening night too. Her speech sounded amazing. Flanagan and Stan Grant are doing a gig with the Wheeler Centre shortly. I bet it’d be good …
      I read your review of Hope Farm, and it took the wind out of its sails for me a bit cos I think you’re right. Which is why I didn’t review it in the end actually. But, she’s a very gentle, lovely person and clearly talented in a number of ways. And I did love the character Ian.
      I’ve not heard of Jenny Ackland. I’m onto it. Thanks for the tip!

      • I’d missed that Flanagan-Grant gig on the Wheeler program – will look it up. Hope there’s still tickets available (maybe people will be all festival-ed out and demand will have dropped slightly?!).

        Sorry about Hope Farm… Didn’t mean to take the wind out of your (or anyone’s) sails. I think I get extra-critical around Stella prize time, truly reviewing with other nominees in mind. Certainly this year I compared the Frew with the ‘commune story’ by Jachau, which I thought had more nuance and fine detail. It’s really just comes down to style preference I guess.

        Jenny is lovely and reads widely and from an interesting and varied selection. We met over the fact that we agreed to disagree on Barracuda 🙂

        • I think you should be extra critical. It was a great review because, ultimately, I think you were right. I did still like the book, I just liked it a little less.

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