Brisbane Writers Festival 2021

The Brisbane Writers Festival is back — and done for the year (it’s staying in May, now, and next year is the 60th anniversary). It was lovely to see people again, and sketch in the cafe, and listen to talks on history and life, poetry and family.

Of course, sketching in the SLQ cafe mostly means sketching ibises

I (with Flyaway, although I got in a tangential reference to Travelogues!) was on the “Magic and Myth” panel with Krissy Kneen (The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen) + Tabitha Bird (The Emporium of the Imagination) + Melissa Ashley (The Bee and the Orange Tree).

The Three Burials of Lotty KneenFlyawayThe Emporium of the ImaginationThe Bee and the Orange Tree

Krissy ran a great discussion on three very different books (a novel of murder trials and fairy tale salons in 1699 Paris; a tale of a magical store that arrives by night in a Queensland town and heals sorrow; an Australian Gothic story of secrets and things in the trees; and Krissy’s memoir of searching through Australia, Slovenia, and Egypt for the true history of her grandmother). But there were many common elements too — secrets and generations, loss and what we cling to instead, and stories told and believed in different ways.

I usually have difficulty remembering what happened on a panel, but many people said lovely things about it afterwards, and there were some excellent questions.

I do remember one question on how you judge the parameters of magic/myth when writing it into a ‘real-world’ story. We all had different answers, of course — the fairytales in Melissa’s novel were specifically contained and retold within a historical, non-fantastic setting; Tabitha followed a theme and let the elements grow; I talked about (a) developing an ear for certain types of stories, so you can hear when you strike a false note, and (b) letting the magical elements sit in the setting/story until they start to change each other — and following the consequences.

There was another question, too, on the purpose/use of myth and fairytale. Melissa was specifically dealing with the way fairytales were used to communicate and argue around the restrictions of a society and royal censorship. Tabitha was using them as a way to allow the processing of grief and loss, and the preservation of what is mourned. I spoke about their usefulness as a template, because I find it more organic to use a fairy tale as a structural key than to think about acts and arcs — that’s a matter of familiarity and ease. But I also got onto another favourite topic, about how there are points in time where people sort of agree on how certain stories are to be told (you see it when artists agree what the basic cat should look like, which makes medieval cat drawings look implausible, until you meet cats who look just like them). I find that having a sheaf of alternative templates (fairy tales, for me) lets me shake those ideas loose, and look at them in a different light. So, for example, people are starting to tell post-lockdown stories, and those are starting to converge. But you could pick any number of fairy tales and retell the story through that: “Rapunzel” is an obvious one, but “Little Red Riding Hood” would work just as well (the year that was eaten by a wolf), or even Cinderella — I had just broken new shoes in at the start of 2020, and now I’m having all sorts of problems wearing them again.

I did make it to a few other panels! A few standouts were the First and Last Word bookends, Ellen van Neerven‘s talks, “The World’s Biggest Survival Story” (Melissa LucashenkoBruce PascoeLisa Fuller and Thomas Mayor). And then of course so many wonderful conversations in the green room and the cafe, at signing tables and over drinks.

A particularly memorable panel I went to was “Out of the Wreckage”, in which Kelly Higgins-Devine interviewed Margaret Cook’s A River with a City Problem: A History of Brisbane Floods and Jamie Simmonds’ Rising from the Flood: Moving the Town of Grantham. I still have very vivid memories of the 2011 floods (as well as being cut off, I’d started at the Department of Transport and Main Roads just days before they happened, and since something like 95% of the state’s transport networks were affected by that year’s rains, it was a crash course in the department’s responsibilities!), and was tangentially involved with some of the Grantham relocation. It was a vivid and compelling discussion (and surprisingly entertaining), so I am looking forward to reading these two.

Brisbane Writers Festival

The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen; Flyaway; The Emporium of the Imagination; The Bee and the Orange Tree

I’m going to be on a panel this Saturday at the Brisbane Writers Festival!

WHEN? Sat 8 May 2021

WHERE? Auditorium 2, SLQ

ABOUT? “An enlightening discussion of how myth, magic and a good fairy-tale help us live in the real world by pointing out the fundamental truths of the human.”

WITH? Krissy Kneen (The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen) + Kathleen Jennings (Flyaway) + Tabitha Bird (The Emporium of the Imagination) + Melissa Ashley (The Bee and the Orange Tree)


Brisbane Writers Festival 2013 – Artist-at-large

And I’m back from my stint as artist-at-large at the Brisbane Writers Festival! The final fate of the sketchbook is yet to be decided – in the meantime, photos of most of the pages may be viewed on the album on the BrisWritersFest Facebook page (I don’t think you need to be logged in to see them).

Here is the book in progress on a copy of the program:
BWF - book

It was a little Moleskine Japanese Album (accordion fold) sketchbook. The drawings are with Pitt Artist Pens and a 0.05 Staedtler. I had free rein to run upstairs and down, in and out of panels, perching at the edge of workshops, hanging out in the green room and the cafe, an excuse to talk to anyone and to meet – oh, so many people, watch Briony Stewart (artist-in-residence) construct a dragon, rave about topics and then find a conversation partner had written the book on it, hang out in the festival tent telling ghost stories and reading tales printed on pillows…

I sketched watching panels:
BWF - panel

And watching from above:
BWF - perch

BWF - dragon

And sights sights more familiar to habitués of the State Library:
BWF - pigeon

There are some observations on (rather than of) life:
BWF - observation

And here is the book opened up (also the new blog header), although there are a few more pages not shown here:
BWF - book extended

The last hurrah of the festival was “Glitter and Dust”, where those left standing talked (read, recited, praised) for two minutes each. Sarah Wendell graciously was my assistant, and I opened out the sketchbook listing (as it could not be seen in detail, only in length), some key images from each page. I have reconstructed it as follows, as my notes were written in the pink twilight of the tent and adapted as I went:

An accountant’s shining silver boots
Ibises stalk, possessive, on the grass,
Fingers clutch coffee like a rope to safety
And writers stare into a glowing void.
Twinned, rabbit-headed children.
A dawn of sunflowers,
Cerulean platform shoes,
A Blyton-novel’s worth of uniforms.
The self-abandoned intensity of browsers in bookstores.
Writers eating, holding forks like pens.
Wallace Stevens’ poem of pineapples,
Fishing rods with a catch of ferns,
New friends, hands raised, exclaiming over books,
Professional pigeon-harriers of the library cafe.
Steve Kilbey’s hands.
The Green Lantern impersonating Marianne Dashwood,
Small boys rolling laboriously downhill.
Fairytales peopling the long night,
Fashions glowing in the field.
Tigon, the literary hound, sits pensively.
Serious study in the high green room,
Graeme Simsion marches dully for a point.
Ibises swoop, delighted, on the lawn,
And Red Crow sets a stage for coming night.
[And folding the sketchbook in again] A tickertape of greeting and goodbye.

It is not a poem, but I like to think the tremor in my voice extended the syllables in the shorter lines to create a consistent pattern.

And of course it doesn’t include Elizabeth Wein’s Spitfire necklace and how that directly led to my current emotional fragility on finishing reading Code Name Verity, or how Kate de Goldi’s editing workshop took a detour into poetry recommendations, or discussions of first-person accounts of mastectomies without anaesthetic in 1812, or how Rob Spillman has caused me to now read Elizabeth Bishop’s “An Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore” out to anyone who will hold still long enough, or, or, or…

Brisbane Writers Festival

BWF 2013 Logo

The Brisbane Writers Festival is on, and I am the Illustrator at Large (in contrast to Briony Stewart who is the Illustrator in Residence, and is building a dragon). This pretty much means I wander the State Library grounds sketching, drinking coffee and talking to people, and I am happy with my lot. I am also on a panel on Sunday afternoon with Gary Crew, Gus Gordon and Briony Stewart, discussing visual storytelling.

Here is the beginning of the sketchbook (accordion fold this time, which opens nicely but is also easily caught by the wind and blown about like ticker tape). BWF will be putting it up on their Facebook page as they get the chance, but posting more frequently to their twitter account (briswritersfest).

BWF 2013 sketchbook


Brisbane Writers Festival 2013 I 4-8 September 2013
twitter: #bwf13 / @briswritersfest


Brisbane Writers Festival brings a page-turning experience to Brisbane from 4-8 September.

Delight in the books and writers you love, and discover new ones, as you share in conversations ranging from fiction to politics, science to sport and everything in between. Join in fervent discussion and the ardent exchange of ideas at The Great Debate. Festival highlights include Inspire, remarkable and thought-provoking presentations to make you think, feel and act; Well-Drawn, celebrating and exploring comics, graphic narrative and illustration; and Good Thinking: Public Lectures, when Australia’s leading intellectuals will ask the big questions and present new ideas for the future.

Let the kids loose to play with words at Alphabet Zoo while you indulge your inner-wordsmith at Author+ Masterclasses and, at the end of the day, relax with a drink in the Festival Club to the soulful strains of singer/songwriters and bands.

Browse the program and book your tickets now at


Sketching at the Brisbane Writers Festival

Page 34

The Brisbane Writers Festival was on last week and this weekend. I was in Toowoomba on Saturday (the sketches above are of Aimee and Lisa trying to decide on fabric for a costume for Aimee – I sat on a chair in the store and drew and Aimee said that from the side I looked like Whistler’s mother) but on Sunday, after baking too many Snickerdoodles, I drove in to South Bank. The flower above at bottom right is – I think – a passion flower. Such strange, almost excessively fringed and tassled flowers.

Page 35

I saw a panel on “Writing the City”, with Jeb Brugmann, Gary Bryson, Nick Earls and Miriam Cosic (top right). More a discussion of what they’ve written than the techniques & theory (but I’m used to a different sort of convention!), and the highlight for me was Nick Earls reading selections from his books describing parts Brisbane over the years. They also talked about the culture/’emotional fact’ of a city and how this is relevant both to urban renewal projects and to writing fiction (including fictionalised cities) – something that actually came up in a town planning seminar I was at yesterday morning. I like writing about cities, so I will be thinking about all this for a while.

On the right page at the bottom left is James A Levine (no website), who was signing when I sketched him. I had run into Tim while sitting on the edge of a garden bed drawing pigeons and he and I went over to show the sketch to its subject. We had a very pleasant conversation (and he signed the drawing).