Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wrap-up of the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Book Festival

On Monday night I heard Raphael Aron speak about Cults, Terror and Mind Control. Very interesting. He said that cults and terrorist organisations both use similar methods to recruit people and to control their thinking, essentially undermining their ability to think independently.

While such organisations often exploit those at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives, no particular personality type stands out as being more vulnerable than another. Intelligence and emotional stability are no guarantee you won't be sucked in; nor is socio-economic background a relevant factor. Scary or what!

Raphael suggests that the solution lies in the government introducing programs into schools to educate kids about the existence of such institutions and the dangers involved. If kids are made aware of the methods used and taught to identify early signs of recruitment, they will be better equipped to resist. The problem, Raphael says, is that while innocent people still have the time and the ability to get out, they don't yet know enough about the organisation that is luring them in to want to get out, and by the time they know enough, it's too late.

Programs educating kids to be aware of stranger danger etc. have been very successful. So Raphael is petitioning the government to approach the issue of cults and terror organisations in a similar way. It doesn't help that many people no longer see terrorist organisations for what they are - seeing phenomena such as suicide bombing as a legitimate means of fighting a battle, and labeling terrorists 'freedom fighters' - and fail to understand that they are cults bent on destruction, with no regard for human life.

On Tuesday I heard Jon Faine speak at The Sunflower Bookshop. Jon's book From Here to There was recently released. In his session, Jon talked about the road trip with his son that inspired the book. They spent six months driving through non-Western countries, most of them ending with 'stan'. The main insights he gained during this time were a renewed perspective on all that we have in the West and take for granted, and an understanding that the world's poorest people are also the most generous.

John was entertaining, personable and inspiring.

And last but not least, the last night of the festival (last night, in fact) began with my own session, a conversation about the controversy Dancing in the Dark has given rise to in the Jewish community. Michelle Prawer gave a dramatic reading from the book, then asked me why it was so controversial. I explained that it had been banned at Mount Scopus College - although five copies were purchased, the principal refused to allow them to placed on the library shelves. She then asked me whether I thought censorship was ever justified.

In fact, I do. I think it's justified to censor material that incites hatred of, or violence towards, other people. I don't think it's justified to censor a book simply because it presents an alternate viewpoint.

The event was well attended, the overwhelming majority agreeing with what I had to say. One orthodox rabbi took the principal's side, claiming that I had written a truly sad story about a girl who gave up her religion and her community in order to dance, and that instead of portraying this as something tragic, I had portrayed it as a triumph, and her as heroic.

I agree that it's sad. Not because she chose autonomy over a restrictive religious lifestyle, but because she lost her family in the process. It's sad that her family couldn't love and accept her for who she was. And yes, she was heroic. It takes great courage to stand up for your convictions, and great determination to pursue a dream against such difficult odds.

My session was followed by Esther Takac talking about her book: Genesis: The Book with Seventy Faces. Esther began by pointing out that our sessions were thematically linked in that both dealt with the idea of respecting and valuing other viewpoints.  Her book tells the stories of the book of Genesis and provides many different interpretations for each of them, including liberal and feminist interpretations as well as orthodox ones.

All in all, a stimulating, thought-provoking and successful festival.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Correcting an Error

Sorry, made a mistake. Thanks for pointing it out. National Novel Writing Month ends at the end of November, not the end of October. So tips for working on the second draft will be posted in December. Enjoy your month of unrestrained and hectic writing...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hello my friends, it's been a busy time...

Have been working hard to finish off my MA (the dreaded exegesis has been completed - cue enormous sigh of relief - and have one more assignment due Nov 1st). Have been missing my blogger friends. How are you all?

The radio program last week went smoothly but don't know if anyone actually listened - none of my friends could find the station, or else they forgot. Nevertheless, the Melbourne Jewish Book Festival is underway. Just got back from it about half an hour ago.

Tonight was a very interesting and entertaining session called My Son/Daughter the Doctor: Doctors as Writers. It was about being a doctor and a writer and on the panel were writer/doctors Serge Liberman, Leah Kaminsky and Howard Goldenberg. Serge spoke quite seriously, Howard read out a very entertaining story he'd written, and Leah related a heart-warming anecdote about a ninety-plus-year-old patient who entered the seniour Olympics and won a gold medal. Her delivery was so engaging that it prompted me to ask her afterwards whether she had studied drama. (She hasn't, but says she is a natural drama queen.)

There was an interval during which a supper of goodies and drinks was served in an adjoining room, and after that a sneak peak at The Pen and the Stethescope, a book of short stories  all written by doctors who are also highly acclaimed authors, including both Australian and international doctor/writers. Some are internationally renowned; others are not, but all are outstanding writers. The Pen and the Stethescope will be launched at Readings Hawthorn on Wednesay November 17 at 6.00 for 6.30 pm. and is open to the public. All welcome.

I'll be back later this week to blog about other events at the Jewish Book Festival, including Raphael Aron's session tomorrow night on Cults, Terror and Mind Control, Jon Faine's session on Tuesday 26 (day after tomorrow) on his new book about travelling with his son, and my own session on Wednesday about the censorship of Dancing in the Dark and the controversy that has ensued.

As of next week, I hope to be back to blogging more regularly. Since NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming to a close and writers the world over will have unpublishable first drafts on their hands, I will devote several posts to tips for assessing that first draft and improving on it with the second one.

If I've been remiss in commenting on your posts lately, it's only because I haven't had time to read them. But that too will change...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Not This Monday, After All...

For anyone planning to tune in to Lion FM on Monday 11th October for the program about the Melbourne Jewish Book Festival, I just found out that the 11th is only the pre-recording. The show will actually be going to air on Monday 18th of October, at 5.00 pm.

Good luck to all of you bloggers out there who are taking part in NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. It's a fabulous idea and a great way to get a new novel underway.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


A competition is underway and you can win a pass to the Jewish Book Festival, which will take place every evening from October 23-27 inclusive. Competition closes Monday October 18. Click here to find out more.

Tune in on Monday

This Monday, October11th, as part of the lead up to the Jewish Book Festival, I'll be interviewed radio Lion FM96.1  Feel free to tune in. The program is called Jewish Life Matters, and will begin at 7.00 pm. I'll be discussing Dancing in the Dark and the fact that it has been banned from certain Jewish schools.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Exegesis Looming

Apologies for having been absent so long. My course (Master of Creative Media/Creative Writing) is nearing completion and I find myself with a great deal of work to do and little time in which to do it. I've finished my major project - an adaptation of my novel as a screenplay, or at least a draft of it - but now I must write my exegis - a report on the research undertaken to assist in my project. If I fail to complete the exegesis on time, the entire two years will be have in vain. So forgive me if I don't write many posts over the next few weeks.

Part of the reason I left it so long was that the more I heard on the subject, the more confusing it became. This could be due to the fact that the class on exegesis writing is given to a cross-section of creative practititioners, so that writers are studying alongside photographers, musicians, etc. And for all the explanations of what was required, we were never shown specific examples.

A huge thanks to Jacinta Halloran, a writer who was in my novel-writing class in Prof. Writing & Editing several years ago, and who sent me a copy of the exegesis she completed a couple of years ago. Thanks to Jacinta's fabulous example, I have a much better idea of what's required.
Jacinta is the author of Dissection, a wonderful, literary novel about a female doctor who is sued for negligence after making an error in judgement. Short-listed for the Victorian Premier's Award, the novel reveals how a single mistake can ruin lives.

Doctors are particularly vulnerable. Years of excellent diagnoses count for nothing if a single serious error is made. This is something every parent can relate to. A mother turns her back for a single second and a child drowns. She is deemed a 'bad' mother. People are so quick to judge, blame and criticise. The one second counts for everything. The hours, days and years she has been a wonderful mother count for nothing.

I remember when my kids were small, how I'd sigh with relief at having made it through another day. It's a feeling that never leaves you, the sheer relief and gratitude that they are alive and well. Equally memorable is the anguish when they are unwell or unhappy. When something happens to someone else's child through a moment of negligence, you think: There but for the grace of God go I.

For those of you who are already parents, be thankful for those acts of grace but give yourselves a pat on the back for all the things you've done right, for the hours, days, weeks, months and years of sheer devotion to your children. And for those of you who haven't had kids yet but secretly think you'll be perfect parents, be warned: There's no such thing. Parenthood may be rewarding but no other job demands such constant vigilence, strength and commitment. Parenthood is the definition of responsibility.

So why worry about an exegesis? If I write it poorly, no one will die, no one will be seriously injured, no lives will be ruined. And how glad I am to have that in perspective! Compared to being a parent, writing an exegesis has got to be a piece of cake!