Yassmin Abdel-Magied

Raising my pen as a sword!

Today one of my own is being besieged! I am a writer. I am a woman. I am an Australian. This makes me me and it also makes me part of a small but powerful group. Women in this country who pick up their pens to change the world are a small force and when they have a bee in their pretty little bonnets well…..stand back and take cover….because they become a swarm!

Yesterday (in case you missed the public holiday, dawn services and two-up games) was ANZAC DAY. This is a national day of remembrance for our fallen soldiers. A day to sadly reflect upon WAR and the sacrifices and suffering that come from it. During these uncertain, worrying, tense times, days like ANZAC DAY summon up, not just remembrance, but important reflections of what we can learn from past conflict so that those who died did not do so in vain. The men and women of all colours and creeds who fought in wars past, did so to strive for PEACE, love and tolerance – you know…..the greater good. FREEDOM.

Yesterday, a young woman I have great respect for, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, made a comment on her Public Facebook Page. It read ‘LEST WE FORGET (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine).’ And the National Offence Brigade went freaking ballistic! The hate cannons and buckshot of outrage blew, they sharpened their bayonets and ran screaming for Yassmin’s blood. She quickly retracted the comment and left it as LEST WE FORGET and apologised to anyone she might have offended.  Never mind that other social commentators were busy writing articles in the mainstream media questioning the continued relevance of days such as ANZAC DAY. It was pointed out that the Indigenous Australians got one sorry day while we’re raking up a hundred to say thank-you for past military services. There are also many men and women who fought for our country who don’t march on ANZAC DAY. We are allowed to have this dialogue in this country, thank goodness because you know FREE SPEECH. I understand and respect those who honour the day and I understand and respect those who don’t for reasons of their own.

Now – I’ve only been called UN-AUSTRALIAN a couple of times in my life and each time it has weirdly enough been when I have been calling out racism. I once called Australia Day, Invasion Day (while not very original….it’s still kinda apt, eh?), and I got some poisonous spears and burning torches flung my way. So if every-time I stand up against racism I get given the red unaustalian card, does that mean, ipso facto, that to be a true-blue Aussie, I must be a teeny bit or a whole lot RACIST? Well, fuck that. I don’t roll that way.

I met Yassmin at a writers festival recently and fell in love with her energy, her passion and her infectious laughter. She is a woman who speaks out with heart and refreshing sincerity. The outpouring of HATE….(if I could think of a stronger word I would use it….maybe VILE-BILE would work)….toward Yassmin in the last twenty-four hours, has thrown and winded me. It’s really really sick! And it has nothing to do with deep national offence and the defense of ANZAC DAY or national pride; it has everything to do with RACISM and hate. It seems to me that those who sit at home, swilling beers and eating snags on ANZAC DAY, (most of whom wouldn’t lift an actual finger for their country and certainly haven’t fought any war outside of ones on social media of their own making) act like sharks who’ve come across an accidental school of tuna and work themselves into a frenzy. Opportunistic outragers!

A Muslim WOMAN pointing out that there are not only other victims of war outside of our diggers but that it IS STILL GOING ON RIGHT NOW! Holy fucking hell…..it becomes a battle-field and the drums start beating and the blood-lust bubbles. Seems also to me, that the army of ‘OUTRAGED and OFFENDED’ weaponed-up on social media, sit around just WAITING for something to be outraged and offended by (on behalf of someone else….always) and if that offense has been bristled by a MUSLIM WOMAN then they are become so hungrily frenzied that they are mouth-frothing on the verge of apoplexy. Someone call them a doctor! STAT!

It takes a lot to offend me… offence is a flimsy cloak to hide beneath and I don’t have much call for it. I’ve been eaten by a flesh-eating spider, I’ve given birth five times, I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ve suffered profound loss but being OFFENDED has never caused me much concern because you CHOOSE to be offended. I choose not to be and I’ve been called a lot of things in my time. Not one toss was given.

My fellow AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS stand with me (mostly I hope) when I say that words are weapons and should sometimes only be wielded by those who know what they are doing. Social media is a platform where people say their bit. Freedom of speech. Debate is great. ANZAC DAY…still relevant? Worth a healthy discussion. But to use someone’s words against them with such vitriol, hatred and small-minded bitterness just because everyone else is throwing stones and flinging flint onto the burning mound is school-yard bullying and to my mind not only UNAUSTRALIAN but INHUMAN! Dick-heads should sometimes just zip it!

I showed my children what Yassmin wrote and then what the OFFENDED masses wrote and they were horrified. At 12 and 13 they could clearly see who was in the wrong…who was hateful. Yassmin didn’t incite that hate. She opened a window and inadvertently let the haters lean out and spew forth their hate. Yuk!

As a woman, a writer, an Australian, an atheist, a human being, a mother, sister, wife, pacifist, respecter of values and person with a deep regard and gratitude for fallen soldiers AND concern for those suffering because of war on Manus Island, Nauru, in Syria and in Palestine…..I stand with Yassmin!!!!!

SOMERSET WRAP-UP

Well. I am exhausted!

I have just returned from my very first school literary festival and I was ‘literally’ (see what I did there) blown away by the enthusiasm, excitement and energy of the presenters, the organisers, the attendees and the volunteers. It was a huge success and I feel mighty privileged to have been invited. I was in some stellar company and have come away from Somerset College on the Gold Coast with a suitcase full of books to read and so many ideas my head is exploding with rainbow-coloured matter (as opposed to gray matter, you know, get it?).

I had tried to get some under my belt before the festival. And had some success. I read Fleur Ferris’s ‘Black’ while waiting for hours in the airport in Sydney (because I am that worry-wort Aunt Josephine who gets to an airport many, many hours early….just in case). I read it in one sitting and was ‘scared’ WITless. It was such a page-turning thriller. I also just finished Nova Weetman’s ‘Everything is Changed’. It packs a powerful punch to your solar plexus and gives you some tears (tissues essential). Nova and I share a publisher and publicist and we all met up for lunch on Day 1. Beautiful. Lots of laughs and some deep and meaningful conversations were had. And then I went op-shopping with Nova and I found a pair of HARRY POTTER PANTS! WINNER! Literary party pants. Tick.

As a writer who infamously never gets out of bed or her pajamas, this festival gig-thing was growing on me. I was out in the real world talking to real people who read books, some of whom had read/promised to read mine! I found my former Modern History Teacher and English teacher who popped in to my presentations to lend me some very welcome support. I won’t tell you how long ago it was that they taught me…or you would be gob-smacked by how young I look for my age!!!! Hmmmmm.

There was rain on day one and we all got muddy but thanks to things called warm showers at the luxurious Royal Pines Resort (although Benjamin Law had a bath in his room which I found out too late!), I cleaned up my act and so did the weather for the rest of the festival. I met some wonderful students. The girls from Brigidine College were a lovely audience along with the Somerset peeps. First session. First day. And my VERY FIRST SOLO PRESENTATION EVER! EVER!

I was swear-word nervous and just rabbited on about the best thing about being a writer -WRITING IN BED IN YOUR P’J’S OF COURSE … and the worst thing….the countless crushing rejections. But I managed to explain that the more rejections you aim for ….the more successes you’ll get and the better you will become as a writer by submitting and writing and submitting and writing and getting rejected and writing and writing and submitting and …then bingo success!  And then writing and submitting and on and on and on. I’m sitting on a six rejections to one success rate after five years of writing and  really, I’m pretty happy with that.  Because I write a LOT! I once wrote a book in ten days…..I am no J. R. R. Tolkien….I’m no Shakespeare….but I can bang out a book faster than most agents and publishers can read them! Of course then I have to go back and smooth it over and polish it up. I talked about banishing the dreaded ‘writers block’ (man flu for writers) with caffeine and chocolate (in huge quantities). I was asked some thoughtful questions and some randoms like ‘what is my take on pineapple on a pizza?’. I am fine with pineapple just hold the pepperoni because I don’t do meat….that did not go down well….being a vegetarian is apparently ‘lame’. I managed to have a lot of fun talking to them and did not swear once. Not once.

I missed my family…oh who am I kidding. I did not. And I didn’t miss cleaning up after them or making school lunches or cooking gourmet meals. And the reason MOST of all that I did not miss them, was the breakfast buffet by the pool with just the sound of birdsong for company…oh and the hilarious literary gossip over never-ending plates of food and cups of coffee so that there was no need to eat for the rest of the day. And someone made my bed for me! Bonus!

I had old friends come to say hello and pamper me with good food and wine. I saw my parents. Thank-you Dad for being my date to the Prologue Party. and thank-you Mum for the bizarre cookie jar present! The Gold Coast is my home town and she certainly made me feel welcome. I managed to catch some brilliant presentations by some other speakers and I learned so much about the process and the industry from them. Most of all I loved chatting to the students. It was so heartening to see kids fired up about BOOKS!

This was the most fun I’ve had since the Rock n Roll Writer’s Festival this time last year. I could dig a festival sort-of nomadic existence of hotel rooms, buffet breakfasts, stimulating conversations with award-winning writers, illustrators and film makers. (I shared an Uber with Rachel Perkins which had me a little star-struck).

Benjamin Law did the keynote speech at the impressive last-night dinner. A string quartet played. We dined on fine fare and drank champagne and talked books and books and laughed with budding writers, parents and staff from Somerset. It was brilliant. Thanks to all at Somerset. Particularly Desmond and Jack!!!

I came away stimulated to write a novel called THE WRITER’S FESTIVAL. It will be a chick lit tale about three women authors who attend a writer’s festival in a lonely small town in the middle of the red desert of Western Australia. The festival is being organised by a mysterious billionaire and has dashing writers from all over the globe attending ( and a couple of rich and famous John Grisham-types for romantic comedy/spice). None of the local townsfolk are remotely interested in books or literature and are dragged along reluctantly… but find themselves gradually inspired and intrigued by these strange writerly folk. These three lead women’s lives are connected in ways they do not realise. But someone knows. And that someone is at The Writer’s Festival. And they have been invited along for a reason! That’s the premise. It’ll probably be written in a week or three. I won’t be drawing from real writers that I met at Somerset. Or will I?? Nah. Would I do that? Writers NEVER draw fictitious characters from life. Never. Or do they? Mwhahahahaha….. 

 

RIGHT HERE, WRITE NOW

I am thrilled to pieces to be heading off to the wonderful Somerset Celebration of Literature in March on the Gold Coast. It is one of the most exciting events on the literary calendar and I can’t wait to be a part of it. I know a couple of the other authors attending but am really looking forward to meeting some new friends. I am setting myself a huge challenge. I am going to try very hard to read books by all the authors attending. That may be impossible but I will do my very best. I’ve read all of Ben Law’s books so I can tick him off my list. The Family Law still ranks as one of my all-time favourite reads. I’ve also read books by Karen Foxlee and Nova Weetman and can’t wait to tell them how much I love their writing. I am currently reading Elizabeth Kasmer’s Becoming Aurora and am absolutely entranced by it.

Sophie Hardcastle’s ‘Breathing Under Water’ is on the bedside table waiting. ‘Yassmin’s Story’ by Yassmin Abdel-Magied looks great and will follow Sophie’s. Oh this is going to be grand!

I’ve just finished writing a follow on from HEXENHAUS and that was an epic undertaking because there was a lot of historical research to delve into in order to be able to bring the stories of Jeanne Laisne (Jeanne Hachette) and Betsy Gray to life. Jeanne wielded her axe to save her city from being besieged and Betsy fought for freedom in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Gutsy gorgeous characters.

I am working on a new memoir of my life as a struggling single mum and adapting my first memoir into something for the screen so how I will find the time to read. read, read, I do not know. But I love a challenge. And let’s face it, reading books by such a stellar line-up is not exactly hard work, it’s a real pleasure.

Alison Goodman, Robert Newton, Shivaun Plozza, Libby Hathorn, Emily Gale, Rachel Craw (her books look really good and my teenage daughter thinks so too!), Fleur Ferris (really, really looking forward to Black), Zana Fraillon and many more. Jeepers. That’s a lot of reading material to get through!

I am also very excited to hear Rachel Perkins, the film-maker, speaking. I am a big fan!

I hope to meet lots of readers as well and hopefully some will be keen to read HEXENHAUS. I’ll be bringing my special, good luck pen with me to sign copies.

As an old Gold Coast girl (not so old really) I am looking forward to returning to my old stomping ground to talk to students and teachers about my journey as an author.

Somerset College – March 15-17….here I come.