Insights of An Outsider

Venero Armanno, Melissa Lucashenko, Lauren Daniels.

On April 23rd the Brisbane Square Library (which is funded by the Brisbane City Council) hosted three deep thinking authors to examine the theme of “the Outsider.”

The event was organised by Society of Women Writers Qld Inc. , promoted and advertised by both the SWWQ  (and lots of other people) and the Brisbane City Council, and the Brisbane City Council through The Lord Mayor’s Writers and Residence scheme provided funding for the event.

It was presented as a conversation between Lauren Daniels, Venero Armanno, and Melissa Lucashenko.

The Councillor who attended on Sunday representing the Lord Mayor was Cr. Steven Huang from Macgregor ward and the librarian representative who tied it all together was Nadja Beliemier. They both gave warm welcome speeches acknowledging the Elders living and past before speaking. Nadja focused on the role of libraries and urged people to join if they were not already members, and she gave some background on all the speakers. Councillor Huang reflected on the books he had loved growing up. One book which particularly moved him was To Kill a Mockingbird.

After an articulate introduction, quoting the story of The Epic of Gilgamesh, Lauren asked Melissa to read an excerpt from Mulimbimby and read an extract from Veny’s latest book,  Travel Under Any Star.

Melissa after greeting us in Bundjalung language, stressed the strength of her central character, Jo in Mulimbimby, and explained the context of the passage she read.

The four questions (and I am paraphrasing here) asked by Lauren were:

1) How has your family background enriched or influenced your writing?

2) How has your journey been moving between worlds?

3) What do you think the main personality traits of a writer are?  Are they all outsiders?

4) How do you write the ‘gaps’ and mysteries of life?

Melissa shared the story of her Russian and Bundjalung heritage.  The Bundjalung was hidden to prevent them from being removed from their family.  Her mum was poor and had no books, but the library was a savior and a wonderful place to be educated by books.   Of course now Melissa has been able to connect with her Indigenous background and communities.

Veny shared that for him there was an initial feeling of two worlds, one of Little Sicily (full of food, love, family), and the other of Australia (the nightmare zone, school).  There existed a schism which began with his very long name, which was shortened by a teacher to Veny.

He felt his family didn’t accept Australia as much he wasn’t accepted.  But he felt although childhood had its moments, not living in a comfort zone can make you into a great writer.

Melissa then discussed the idea of centre or margin.  Who is the centre?  How you see yourself depends on how much power you have.  She described a difference between Indigenous people who were settled onto missions and those who were able keep a stronger tie to country and come and go and see others come and go. She gave the example of Wesley Enoch and quoted from him.

Veny felt that he came from a much most privileged background, than many Indigenous people experiencing being outsiders.  And at one point in Brisbane being Italian actually became cool.  Especially through the Rocky movies.  Girls who hadn’t wanted to date ‘wogs,’ now asked Italian boys out.

He made the interesting observation that when migrants move they take the time frame of when they left with them, meaning that the culture they have with them and keep alive in the new country is in many ways frozen in the past.  But the country they left moves on! This meant that years later when he travelled to meet relatives to research a novel, they asked why he spoke the way he did, no one speaks like that anymore.  I was especially paying attention to this comment, because my mum has said that her village language has shifted a lot, and I should ask my cousin for help with contemporary translation.

Melissa told us that one of her relatives had passed himself off as Italian as it was cooler than being considered Aboriginal. She felt ashamed that for a time her family had denied their Aboriginality but she understands their reasons for keeping it hidden.

In discussing the writer as outsider, Melissa pointed out the alienated outsider, and individualist is a Western construction.   She wanted to focus on the outsiders who are without power, the people who are outsiders but don’t choose to be – unemployed young people, children in detention.

Veny, felt there is wide road, a middle road, a white bread, approach, and writers can challenge this by writing from outside the middle of the road.   He then got into a bit of a discussion of politics.

Veny quoted an author, Colin Wilson, who writes The Outsider.   ‘Life itself is an exile. The way home is not the way back.’‘  He felt the writer asks questions, without necessarily wanting a definitive answer.  For Veny, writing is about having things to investigate and avoiding a confusion.

Lauren bought Letters to a Young Poet into the discussion.  Writing is not to solve the issue but to leave the issue to linger.


I have never heard of this book, and looking through some of the information about it online, I now long to read it!

From Letters to a Young Poet


Through the presentations of Veny and Melissa, Lauren, added some beautiful quotations, including one from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.   Where Kurtz speaks of ‘the horror, the horror.’  Writers circle around the big questions of life.  What is this horror?  She also asked what can writers do when the world seems to be splitting at its seams.  She was horrified by what is happening in her prior home in America, which she views as experiencing societal mayhem.

Veny argued that  popular fiction, crime fiction,  presents questions even when a crime is solved or answered, because the focus is on why did someone do something,  and this  is this deeper question that will keep people reading and coming back for more from that author.

Melissa felt her major project was to write mostly Aboriginal characters and give them humanity.  She felt that humour and insight and rural settings however could make her work appeal to everybody.  She is however working on some tougher satirical work.

Veny wanted to know if Lauren was asking -‘Can literature get rid of trouble?’ and he added ‘Can books get rid of Trump?’ ‘And that ‘we put great value in the power of books. First, since we’re all in this together and we all hope books will do good, but we know the limits.’

A bit of a discussion of dangerous and banned books then happened, and Veny mentioned that ‘American Psycho’ is still on the banned list of books for Queensland.  There are times when those in power fear the power of books.

Nadja, from library services told us all where to borrow banned books them from! (New Farm Library.)

Melissa also mentioned the troubles Kev Carmody had  with the police in the early days for simply writing the truth in songs.

There were a few questions from the floor, concerning  1) The Americanisation of culture  2) How young writers can find their own voice?  3) Is diversity represented enough in children’s literature?  Do enough people see themselves in literature?

Veny offered some sage advice, that young writers will take a while to find their own voice, but can find mentor texts, that they admire, to be their heroes and help them develop their writing skills.  They can enjoy the process of writing before they make up their mind about their writing identity.

Melissa said,  that diversity is improving in children’s books, and children do not necessarily have to see their culture specifically in a text, but something they can identity with that is universal, but of course there could be more diversity as well, and more seeing of oneself in the stories.  She also gave an example of a piece which she enjoyed except for its depiction of an Aboriginal character.

Lauren, as an American resident in Australia for 17 years,  shared that she had worked with Australian Authors of rich diversity, to ensure they were published.  She didn’t want to see a disappearance of the cultural diversity in the world of publishing.  She pointed out that not all American literature is the same either, it has a rich diversity, which also has gradually come to the attention of the world. (Later I mentioned to Lauren, that the students I tutor at QUT have been enjoying Toni Morrison and many Australians recognise that rich diversity in American literature).

I have done my best to capture the spirit of the discussion, but welcome comments from anyone who was there. Please feel free to add your impressions. A big thank you to the organisers for bringing together a thought provoking discussion.  *Thanks to both Adele and Lauren who assisted in editing this piece.

Highlight of the Forum – Meeting Melissa Lucashenko and Venero Armanno and Lauren Daniels

From Letters to a Young Poet


Meeting the Sandcliffe Festival Presenters: Duncan Richardson

Duncan Richardson is a writer of history, fiction, poetry and educational texts. He is an amateur historian and keen to uncover the hidden stories of Brisbane’s past. In his writing for children, he has brought bog-bodies and dinosaurs back to life and his novel Jason Chen and the Time Banana features the Great Fire of Brisbane in 1864. He has just published Year of Disaster a history book about the various disasters of that year.

 1. Have you been to the Sandcliffe Festival Before?

Yes – I ran a workshop for kids and did a poetry reading in 2015 and a poetry reading the time before that.

2. What are you looking forward to and how did you become involved in it this year?

I became involved because Adele Invited me.  I’ve known Adele since the early 90s when we were in FAW Qld. I’m most looking forward to meeting lots of people who are enthusiastic about books.

3. What is the main focus of what you will be speaking about at the festival (a short sneak peek to get people interested)

In telling a little of my journey with writing, I’d like to focus on the difference between false friends or muses and true living
sparks, when it comes to inspiration.  I’ve known both and it took a while to learn the difference.  If I can help new writers to save time by avoiding the false, that would be great.

4. If you could choose to a favourite literary character, who would you be and why?

In some ways, HG Wells anonymous time traveler would have to be a favourite just because he gets to experience other times.  But he’s not much of a flesh and blood character.  Many of the really interesting characters have such major flaws that I wouldn’t want to be them but I would like to meet them; Holden Caufield for example in Catcher in the Rye or Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Naipaul’s Mr Biswas or Kate Grenville’s Lilian, based on Bee Miles.

You can find out more about Duncan HERE

Unique Journeys

April 29th commencing 9am

Bracken Ridge Library, 77 Bracken St, Bracken Ridge

Join authors Duncan Richardson, June Perkins, and Michael Aird as they talk about their inspiration  and ideas and what compels them on their creative journey, where they are today, and where they hope to be in the future.

Meet the Sandcliffe Festival Presenters: Veny Armanno

Venero (Veny) Armanno was born in Brisbane to Sicilian migrant parents. He is the author of two books of short stories and nine critically acclaimed novels.

In the 1993 Jumping at the Moon was equal runner-up, Steele Rudd Award for Best Short Story collection. My Beautiful Friend was runner-up Aurealis Best Horror Novel, 1996. Firehead was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for Best Novel in 1999 and The Volcano won that award in 2002. The Volcano was also shortlisted for the Courier Mail Best Book of the Year. Veny’s last novel Black Mountain (2012) received wide critical acclaim.

In 2016 he published his second collection of short stories, Travel Under Any Star, and in September this year his latest book Burning Down will be released.

His novels have been published in USA, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Israel and South Korea.

Veny is also a trained screenwriter and teaches creative writing at University of Queensland.

1. Have you been to the Sandcliffe Festival Before?

No, this is my first time.

2. What are you looking forward to and how did you become involved in it this year?

I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s all about and meeting readers and book lovers. It’s always good to (eventually) get away from the desk and actually see and hear what people think about literature in the real world.

3. What is the main focus of what you will be speaking about at the festival (a short sneak peek)

We’re talking about issues of belonging and migration, I think – things I seem to have been writing about for decades. A lot of the discussion will depend on where the questions and conversations take us, but I’m sure Melissa will speak about indigineity, and I’ll be able to speak about European migration to Australia and the establishment of new homes and lives. We’re looking at this through the idea of being (or not being) an outsider.

4. If you could choose to be a favourite literary character, who would you be and why?

Is Batman a literary character? I’d love to be a do-gooder, but not in tights etc. Maybe James Bond, that’d be cool. Except I’m Italian so it doesn’t seem quite right. If I really had to pick, it would be someone like Cesar Castilo from The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love – a Cuban-American migrant who comes to America with big dreams. He is/was a great (fictional) musician, lover, drinker…

To find out more about Veny Armanno

Author Site:

First Sandcliffe event. ‘Insights of an Outsider’

Sunday 23rd April,

11am – 12pm

Brisbane Square Library, 266 George St. Brisbane

Panel Session: Featuring Melissa Lucashenko, Veny Armanno and Lauren Daniels

Organised by Society of Women Writers QLD and funded by Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence program.

Free entry, but library would appreciate bookings so they have some idea of numbers. Please ph: library on 3403 4166.

Dymocks Books will be there selling author’s works

For more information on the festival visit FACEBOOK

Meet the Sandcliffe Festival Presenters: Lauren Daniels

Lauren Daniels has worked in publishing since ’92 with Ziff-Davis in Boston. In ’99, she completed her MFA and moved to Australia where she has edited 70 titles of fiction/non-fiction for the literary publisher, IP, among others, and supports authors who seek publication both here and overseas.

Since winning the Newport Poetry Contest in ’87, Lauren has published work in various international periodicals. The manuscript for her novel, The Serpent’s Wake: A Fairy Tale for the Bitten shortlisted with the 2016 Half the World Literati Award in Singapore and her essay, ‘Maternal Lines’ appears in Australia’s Antic Literary Magazine this year.

 Lauren served on the Board for the Erica Bell Foundation in Hobart and as a Youth Arts Queensland mentor. She taught writing at UQ and TAFE and directs the Brisbane Writers Workshop.

1.Have you been to the Sandcliffe Festival Before?

 This is my first time and the line-up is wonderful. The dinners and panels are a tremendous Queensland roll call.

2.What are you looking forward to and how did you become involved in it this year?

First, I’m excited for the collage of viewpoints. The topics are rich and provocative across the schedule. Late last year, I chaired the Alice Award panel with Shelley Davidow, Kris Olsson and M.K. Hume for the Society of Women Writers Queensland and Brisbane Square Library. The topic was gender bias in the publishing industry and I have to hand it to the Society: they have brilliant events and know how to gather our talent.

3. What is the main focus of what you will be speaking about at the festival (A short sneak peek )

I’m chairing the event at the Brisbane Square Library with Veny Armanno and Melissa Lucashenko for ‘Insights of an Outsider’; a theme that underscores much of their literary work and serves up as a familiar perspective for writers across the globe.

For ‘Write of Passage’, Susan Johnson, Jacqueline Henry and I will be discussing the power of language as a societal catharsis and catalyst. That is both an immensely personal and vastly universal topic and I’m excited to see where it will go.

4. If you could choose to a favourite literary character, who would you be and why?

A tough question, considering all of my favourites are mired in conflict and usually end in tragedy. Still, I’m a New Englander called due south, so call me Ishmael. The consummate writer—though he himself doesn’t write a word—observes everything meticulously and disappears into the action to offer as objective a vision as possible. Ishmael survives an alien, dangerous world captained by a madman and befriends those worth befriending, especially Queequeg. His wisdom is hard-earned as it shapes every page of Moby Dick. There are so many potent one-liners like this one: ‘Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian’, sharp as scrimshaw carved from a sperm whale’s tooth.

To find out more Lauren Daniels visit the following links


First Sandcliffe event. ‘Insights of an Outsider’

Sunday 23rd April,

11am – 12pm

Brisbane Square Library, 266 George St. Brisbane

Panel Session: Featuring Melissa Lucashenko, Veny Armanno and Lauren Daniels

Organised by Society of Women Writers QLD and funded by Lord Mayor’s Writers in Residence program.

Free entry, but library would appreciate bookings so they have some idea of numbers. Please ph: library on 3403 4166.

Dymocks Books will be there selling author’s works

For more information on the festival visit FACEBOOK

Regional Festivals Matter

In the lead up to the Cairns  Tropical Writing Festival  (Sept 14-16 2014) I caught up with Diane Finlay, one of the driving forces behind it, to ask her just why a writing festival is so important to the building of the Far North Queensland Literary Community.

June:  Why is a writing festival so important to Cairns/North Queensland?

Diane: It’s not called Far North Queensland for nothing!

We are along way from many things and for a lot of writers the cost of air travel, hotels and festival attendance simply make it to difficult to do. So bringing a festival to the region seemed like the most logical thing to do.

Writing is often a lonely experience and even getting to a writers’ group can be quite a trek for some. BUT writers are willing to make the effort to travel to a writers’ festival if they can simply drive there.

The festival offers valuable networking opportunities, workshops and for the more confident writers a chance to present in the Public Arena.

 Diane and Tropical Writers Festival banner

June:  How long has the festival been going ?

Diane: The festival began in 2008 with huge enthusiasm from the regional writing community. The festival was so well received that meant it had to be done again

June: What are you planning for the upcoming festival and who is involved in organising it and  sponsoring it?

Diane: The festival committee has everything in place for an amazing line up of both local and interstate talent with some of the presenters recognised internationally.

As always the Public Arena forms the hub of the festival. This is put together by asking regional writers what they themselves would like to present and what talent they would like the committee to attract. In saying that who we want and who we get are two entirely different things!

BUT even in that there are wonderful serendipities – who would have thought that our literary dinner speaker would be Geraldine Doogue?

The Biggest Book Club has become an integral part of the festival – it is a wonderful way to capture the interest of readers. After all writers wouldn’t get very far without readers. We now have this event locked in on Sunday morning.

A great way to start the day – grab a coffee, sit back and enjoy the discussion/ dissection of three wonderful books – Heart of Darkness, Burial Rites and The Rosie Project.The Poets’ Picnic on Saturday lunchtime is sure to capture an audience. There will be poets, storytellers and open mic sessions and an opportunity to enjoy a picnic lunch in the gardens.

The festival is organised by a dedicated team of volunteers some from Tropical Writers Inc – the writers group who started this whole thing and others who are either connected with JCU or like myself heavily involved in the local writing community. Added to the mix for the first time is Melissa Robertson who has come on board as Events manager and Sonja Anderson as a late arrival to lend her skills as a communications specialist to widen the awareness net for this festival.

We have an amazing line up of festival sponsors and partners – those who have either tipped some cash our way or have lent valuable in-kind support. Thala Beach Lodge, Rydges Tradewinds, Cairns Airport, Cairns Regional Council and Cairns libraries, JUTE, Tropical Writers Inc., JCU, ABC Open, TTNQ, Ramsay Health Care, BDO, Collins Booksellers, Blackbooks, Screen Queensland, Queensland Government, Cairns FM 89.1 and last but by no means least – because they have been with us from the very first fledgling festival – the wonderful QWC.

June: What would make it easier to put on more festivals?

Diane: Long term events funding and that is now up to us – we’ve proven the festival’s viabililty and we have an established audience and the big picture in moving forward is very clear in the heads of those involved we just have to commit it to paper and make it happen.

June: What will help the festival survive?

Diane: The willingness of the regional writers to support it – their ongoing enthusiasm and the fact there is a real need to have something like this happening in such an iconic tourist destination. Look what happened in Bali – surely we can do that here?

June: How do you support regional writers?

Diane: The festival supports the regional writers by bringing in workshop content. Whilst QWC does have its regional program that one small organisation has to cover a lot of ground year after year so the festival can help fill the gap.

Also this year we have introduced “Snap up a Local” which is a book launch and book sales event designed especially to support the many talented writers who have published whether it be self published, partner published or mainstream published.

We would hope to keep this as a feature in future festivals. Any tourists attracted to the festival will be blown away by the huge writing talent this region produces.

For more details on the festival head to  their website : Cairns  Tropical Writing Festival  FRIDAY 12- 14th SEPTEMBER 2014