In our regular series, international writers share some snapshots from their part of the world.
This issue, Morgan Bell tells us about the writing life in Sydney.
By JJ Marsh
What’s so great about Sydney?
Sydney attracts a lot of international artists and entertainers with world class venues that are easily accessible for local people. It is a cultural hub for local theatre, dance, music, film, and authors. There is a thriving gay and lesbian scene and a lot of ethnic diversity, which leads to a rich dining palette at pubs and clubs and restaurants. It is a city of villages with significant urban sprawl and close proximity to the Central Coast, Newcastle (where my family is), Port Stephens, and the Hunter Valley wine region, so there is a broad cross-section of people working, living, and visiting in the city at any one time.
Tell us a bit about the cultural life of the place.
For authors and readers we have the annual Sydney Writers Festival in May, held down at the piers near Circular Quay, The Rocks (Sydney Harbour). Newcastle Writers Festival has been held in March-April the last two years and has been a thriving success. The month of February is the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras cultural celebration, with theatre and film and art, and then culminating in the gay pride parade. We have the short film festival Tropfest in December in Centennial Park Sydney, and the Spiegeltent season of burlesque and vaudeville in January in Hyde Park Sydney. During our summer we have daylight savings hours so it’s a big time for home barbeques and outdoor dining at cafes and restaurants.
What’s hot? What are people reading?
All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, Already Dead by Jaye Ford, and recent hit novels by Claire North, Gillian Flynn, and Michael Faber. Speculative fiction is really popular. Fantasy by Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Haydon, Lauren Beukes, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, and Margaret Atwood, is being consumed at a high rate. The Divergent series has been popular, as has the Game of Thrones series. We read a lot of local talent within speculative fiction, and everyone kind of knows each other, in a six degrees of separation kind of way: Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Janeen Webb, Thoraiya Dyer, Jack Dann etc
Can you recommend any books set in or around Sydney?
Candy by Luke Davies (film version stars Heath Ledger and Abby Cornish) is a based on real life story of romance and heroin addiction. He Died With A Felafel In His Hand by John Birmingham (film version stars Noah Taylor) is a based on real life story of a man living with ninety-odd different people in share-houses in major cities in Australia, including Sydney. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta and Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette are a couple of classic coming of age novels set in Sydney, the former in the 1990s and the latter in the 1970s.
The Harp in the South by Ruth Park, and its sequel Poor Man’s Orange were set in Surry Hills, Sydney in the 1940s. They were family dramas about an Irish Catholic family living in the slums of the time.
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (film version stars Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes) is set in 19thC Sydney and involves a pair of eccentric gamblers attempting to transport a glass church to the north coast.
Tim by Colleen McCullough (film version stars a young Mel Gibson and Piper Laurie) is about an unconventional love between a beautiful builder’s labourer with a learning disability and an emotionally brittle lonely “spinster” (she’s 43, but it was the 1970s) in a rich part of Sydney. The Vivisector by Patrick White is often viewed as a veiled autobiography. It is set in Sydney, and was published in 1970. It posed the question as to whether it was possible to be a human being and an artist at the same time via shrewd analysis of the lifelong struggles for truth, and creative journey of an uncouth fictional painter.
Who are the best known local writers?
Kate Forsyth, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Jaye Ford, Wendy James, Greg Bastian, Pamela Freeman, Kirstyn McDermott, and Kaz Delaney are all big local names in Young Adult and Genre Fiction.
Some of our national treasures include David Malouf, Andrew McGahan, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, and Patrick White.
Is the location an inspiration or distraction for you?
In Sydney the main roads are gridlock during peak hour, so I catch the train into work in the CBD. The trains are packed full of commuters, and I’m a fairly anxious person, so my friend put me on to listening to audiobooks on the Audible app on my phone using headphones. I get to focus on a good story and shut out all the hustle-bustle. Sometimes now I just put the headphones in and don’t play anything, I just think about my own stories.
It has been a bit of a distraction being disconnected from my Newcastle/Hunter writers scene now that I live and work in Sydney City, but I am branching out and attending more write-ins and groups and workshops, and I can still make most Newcastle/Hunter things that are held on weekends. Its funny when I lived in Newcastle I always thought I was missing out on things in Sydney.
What are you writing?
My debut collection of short fiction was Sniggerless Boundulations (2014), which I am working on the audiobook for now, with voice artist Jon Severity. I am currently writing the last couple of short stories for inclusion in my second collection, Laissez Faire, which will be out this year. I just finished a speculative fiction short story for the Novascapes (Volume 2) anthology. I am also very slowly plotting a speculative fiction novel called Daughters of Mallory, a trippy feminist dystopia with a pile of literary, fairy tale, and folklore references.
Sum up life in Sydney in three words.
Hectic, degenerate, opportunity.
Morgan Bell is a traffic engineer, technical writer, and linguist. She was born in Melbourne Australia in 1981, currently resides in Sydney, but calls Newcastle home. She is a member of Hunter Writers Centre, Newcastle Writers Group, and Newcastle Speculative Fiction Group. Sniggerless Boundulations is her debut collection of short fiction. Her companion collection, Laissez Faire, is due to be released in 2015. Her story “It Had To Be Done” was first published in the Newcastle Writers Group Anthology 2012. Her story “Midnight Daisy” was published by YWCA Newcastle in 2013 as part of the She: True Stories project, being awarded a Story Commendation at the exhibit launch, with live readings on ABC 1233 radio and a Newcastle Writers Festival panel in 2014. Her story “Don’t Pay The Ferryman”, an anti-travel piece, was shortlisted for the Hunter Writer’s Centre Travel Writing Prize 2014. Her short story “The Switch” was published in Novascapes, a speculative fiction anthology from the Hunter Region of Australia, in 2014.
Novascapes (Volume 1)