A clear Saturday morning at the tail end of of Melbourne winter, and the first Morning Read session of the Melbourne Writers Festival began in a dark curtained room in Federation Square, just above the Yarra. Sloane Crosley, Gig Ryan, Zoe Foster and Majok Tulba each read sections from their work: four very different writers with four very different stories to tell.
Sloane Crosley (above) was the honorary international visitor on the panel, and was notably charming in the way of so many Americans; a big smile full of white teeth, with a tidy New York accent. She is equal parts witty and delightful, with a girlish mane of straight, dark brown hair tied in a ponytail. From the excerpt she reads, it becomes clear that her personality infuses her writing; equal parts witty and warm and welcoming, with enough quirkiness to keep things interesting.
Crosley spoke of her writing routine. She begins her writing day in the morning while her brain is still fresh. She has rules:
- A certain amount of words have to be written each day.
- She writes fiction in the morning, freelance stories and essays in the afternoon. Freelancing is more like ‘work’ and she finds it easier to execute in the afternoon. Fiction needs a clear mind.
- No checking email until she has written a certain number of words.
- No errands in the middle of the day.
- No naps.
These ‘rules of the game’ appear to work for her, as she has written two books of essays – I Was Told There Would be Cake, and How Did You Get This Number – and she is currently working on her third book, a fiction novel. She’s just turned 34.
Zoe Foster takes a similar approach to her fiction, working in the morning for 3 to 4 hours, or until she has met her word count goal for the day. She tends to begin with a rough plot structure, but never plans the ending. The ending, she said, reveals itself to her through the writing process. Foster admits to not reading other novels in her genre while she is working on her own (a genre she reluctantly refers to as ‘chick lit’), confessing that she has been known to unintentionally mimic the work of other writers.
Gig Ryan‘s poetry went completely over my head. Sorry folks.
Majok Tulba read from his debut novel Beneath the Darkening Sky. As he rose from his lounge chair on the panel, the statuesque native-Sudanese man pleaded for mercy from the audience, revealing it was his first reading. The book tells the story of two brothers who are taken from their village and trained to be child soldiers. While one brother seems to accept their new reality, Obinna struggles against the new order, finding peace only in his dreams and in a friend named Priest. The book has been described as riveting, devastating and beautiful. Of the book, Anna Funder has said “it does what great literature can, which is to make something beautiful out of terror and truth. Beneath the Darkening Sky is a meticulous and noble examination of violence and evil, and of how the most innocent people anywhere can be broken and, possibly remade.”