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Archive for the category “Workshops”

The Art of Lyric Writing

By Emily Davis

In general I’m a bit of a communic-a-tard. This is kind of like being a lactard (allergic to milk), but perhaps with slightly more serious connotations and consequences. I can assure you I can write, and read and speak, and I’m not too bad at a boozy dinner party when I’m tasked with spinning a bawdy yarn (*NB as a slight aside I’d like it noted that having just completed a Facebook endorsed ‘Right Brain Left Brain’ test and I’m a confirmed right brain thinker, which apparently means I enjoy creative story telling; I think best when lying down and I’m meant to be good at Geometry. WTF?!


‘…lyric writing is the salve; the litmus test to happiness.’

Ahem… anyway when one boils down the essence of true communication I’ve always struggled to authentically convey things that I’ve seen in my brain (an image, revelation or something that’s moved me) into a succinct, accessible neat little package of words. The frustration I’ve experienced when I realise I’m unable to explain what I really mean has led to me give up on my quest for a sash-and-tiara placement in the art of eloquent conversation pageantry. (See?…What a wanker, I mean ‘conversation pageantry’ says it all)

What the hell does this have to do with the price of eggs?

Lyrics. That’s what. The art of song writing is something that has taken me many years to comprehend, and I’m by no means an overly successful lyricist. Well not by the usual measures. I’m not famous for it, I don’t earn much money from it, and I’ve never had an affair with one of my dancers because of it. I don’t even have dancers. On the upside, my lack of commercial success has allowed me to approach song writing with a highly personal agenda; and writing lyrics seems to be the most glorious part of the process.

When you’re nostalgic, affected, romantic, easily amused; when you dream every night and have forever, in colour; when you like booze, read poetry for FUN and you like music, and you’re a communica-a-tard, lyric writing is the salve; the litmus test to happiness. You become the grand poo-bah of your own inner insecurities and quirks because suddenly you have a tool to freely and deliciously speak your mind. You can, through the course of a single verse, convey an aesthetic, mood, or an entire life story. You can finally connect with others without having to explain at length in conversation, that which made your cogs turn or your head spin, or your heart sing, or your stomach churn.

I can’t tell you how many songs have been love letters; how many verses have been film trailers to dreams I’ve had; how many choruses have been self-help mantras that have gotten me out of an existential pickle; how many opening lines have been eulogies to the ones I’ve loved.

So now you know. Lyric writing gives my thoughts and visions and dreams and feelings a mouthpiece. It lets me nail down those things that govern me, and confuse me, and it lets me place them side by side; a series of neat little vignettes that line the shelves and cavities of my mind and heart. And this is something that I’d like to share with you, because once I learned how to trap the montages of my mind and bed them lyrics, I suddenly found that I needn’t bother with failed conversation; rather I should just open my mouth and let the song say the rest.


Emily Davis; troubadour; conjure woman; ritual maker and story weaver. Emily has performed at WomAdelaide and PeatsRidge Festival and supported Clare Bowditch, The Audreys and Kate Miller-Heidke. Her two solo albums have been played on Triple J, Nova FM, and the ABC. Davis is currently writing her third solo album due for release in Spring.

Emily will be holding a half day workshop called Trapping the Montage on lyric writing at the Centre.




Who Are We?

By Dr Ros Prosser

Who we are and how we came to be who we are is not easily accounted for. Who we are in a heat wave is not simply the dripping, sweating and distracted Adelaidean, now living in perhaps the hottest place on Earth. We could see ourselves in this place as the makers of our own situation, or the end product of a range of processes, both formal and informal that have contributed to our present day realities. I’m always looking at how we get to be here, twhoareweo our thoughts and desires, our actions and inactions, our subjectivities if you like. Tapping into this and developing a style of writing that can account for a range of ways of seeing is to develop a creative critical practice and a creative critical eye. To incorporate into writing a sense of the minor and the major, the personal and the greater world, to understand the conditions we live under is to enable a type of writing that works toward answering the question of who we are.

Scientists and explorers ask questions as a constant requirement of investigation. The processes involved in answering the smallest and the biggest questions require constant and repetitive actions of scientific method. Applying this to writing practice through a set of techniques that aim to get to a different style, a hybrid style is only one way to produce meanings that may illuminate the moment we live in. The workshop I am running on the 8th of February will present a series of exercises designed to develop thinking and writing across the boundaries of genres.

Dr Rosslyn Prosser is a Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide. She publishes in the areas of life writing, poetry, prose, fictocriticism and performance, and has won a Dean’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching.


Don’t Give Up Your Day Job

By Paul Greenway


I always open my Travel Writing Workshop with this first rule of travel writing (although I ignored it myself).  While it is possible to make money writing travel articles for magazines and websites, it is unlikely – but certainly not impossible – that you’ll earn a decent living. But you can at least subsidise your travel costs (or maybe even get some free trips) while indulging in your love of writing.

Before you start, however, you’ll need to be honest with yourself and determine your motivation. Are you just writing for yourself, family and friends? Do you really want to be published and read by the public? Or are you more driven by the desire to make money? Your answers will determine the level of commitment you will require to become and remain a travel writer.

An increasingly popular alternative is to create a travel blog through a specific website, such as This allows you to write what you want when you want with no editorial interference. In this way, your thoughts and experiences can be read quickly across the globe, but, of course, your chances of making any money are extremely remote.

To earn an income, you’ll almost certainly need to publish articles through recognised travel magazines, newspapers and websites.  But the good news is that writers are always still needed to write these articles, as well as guidebooks, for the incredibly escalating travel industry. There are pitfalls and potholes to avoid, of course, about pitching editors, retaining copyright, negotiating fees, sending photos, and so on … and so on.

But perhaps you may want to also think a little outside the box, as I have: eg publish your own guidebook for a place or readership not currently covered; write a movie script or novel based in an exotic country; or get out your still- or video-camera and create something different.

C’mon along and learn about all of this – and so much more – at the Travel Writing Workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre on Saturday, January 18 2014.

Paul Greenway wrote and co-wrote 30 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, as well as numerous travel articles for magazines, newspapers and websites across Australia and Asia. More recently, he wrote Tuttle Travel Pack: Bali & Lombok, and is currently writing and providing photos for Journey Through Bali, both published by Periplus (Singapore). In late 2013, his first novel, Bali & Oates, set almost entirely in Bali and the first of a trilogy set in SE Asia, was published. Paul can be contacted through his website:

Food Writing is Not Really About Food

By Barbara Santich 

It might come as a surprise, but food writing is not really about food. Food is not usually the main focus. More often, food writing is about people and their experiences of growing, sourcing, cooking, offering and eating food; it’s about their relationships with food, their memories associated with food, the place of food in their lives. Writing about food is writing about life.

Food writing can take many forms, from restaurant reviews to travel-and-eating stories, from memoir and fiction to recipes and market descriptions. It can explore the origins of a particular dish or explain the evolution of certain culinary traditions. Why did parsley and garlic come to represent à la provençale? Is laksa derived from a Chinese noodle soup? And when and where were noodles invented?

Food writing can be imaginative or persuasive, sensuous or educational. Food can be as much a means of expression as the focus of the writing. It might have the role of nuancing character – the choices a person makes, the way she eats – or of enhancing a setting. It can help create tension in a story: how will he react to the dish she has spent the whole day cooking? In these contexts food is less the topic than a tool of expression.


Above all, food writing should be enjoyable to read and appeal to a broad audience – hence the importance of describing flavours and textures in an honest, lively way that engages readers’ senses.

The workshop I’m running on 17 November will review a variety of styles and forms of writing about food, examining why the authors have included food and how they have written about it. It will discuss the ways to express a taste experience in words, the value of metaphor and the clichés to avoid. You’ll be asked to taste and describe a mystery food and complete a couple of brief writing tasks which will also serve as editing exercises. At the end of the day you should have a better understanding of the role of food in enhancing the appeal of your writing. Bookings are essential for this workshop.

Barbara Santich is an internationally renowned food historian and food writer. She’s the author of six books, including the award-winning Looking for FlavourThe Original Mediterranean Cuisine, and In the Land of the Magic Pudding: A Gastronomic Miscellany. Her latest book, Bold Palates: Australia’s Gastronomic Heritage was shortlisted in the nonfiction category of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

The Urge to Tell

By Steve Evans

We all form opinions, and more or less continuously. You finish reading a book and ask yourself, would I recommend it, and why? Perhaps you began to realise early on in which direction such thoughts were heading. On the other hand, maybe you got part way through and were later surprised at having to revise your first impressions.

And once others know that you have read a particular book, heard a CD, or been to a show, a few will be bound to ask what you thought about it.  Was it good, bad or indifferent? You’d better have made up your mind.

Even when you haven’t been asked, you may well feel the urge to tell. If you had the chance to do so for a reward beyond the personal satisfaction of airing your opinion, where would you begin?

There are important principles to observe when writing reviews, and very useful techniques to employ. These need not be scary at all. For one, I suggest to anyone struggling with how to start that they kick off with a simple and yet very productive trick.

Rather than open a blank document on your computer or turn to an empty page and wonder what to write, imagine you are sitting down for a coffee with a friend and the topic of a book you have just read comes up. You tell her, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve just read it’, and she replies, ‘So, what did you think? Should I read it?’  You have two minutes of casual talk to convey your main reactions, without divulging spoilers. The emphasis is on natural conversation rather than formal or researched argument; nothing forced.

Apart from the issue of whether you would edit your answer to cater for the peculiarities of your friend’s tastes, this should identify major elements for a review. You can (and should) always edit how you frame these later, but it allows you to begin in a more relaxed way.

Other advice? Read reviews. There is a good reason for would-be writers of any kind being told to read a lot, and no less so with reviewing. See who writes in a manner you like, and analyse why. You’re reviewing the reviews. But where should you be going to do that?

Writing reviews as a form of critiquing involves another valuable dimension.  It means that you are part of a community that shares ideas and opinions about what is possible and desirable in the arts. If you gain a profile as a contributor to that debate in the process it can be a stimulating activity, and if you get to see movies, read books, hear music, and attend stage shows for free, all the better.

For other tips and hands-on practice, why not be attend my workshop, ‘Writing Short Reviews’ on 10th November?

Steve Evans is a regular reviewer of a wide range of classical, pop and rock performances, both live and recorded, and of books in poetry, fiction and nonfiction genres. He teaches Creative Writing and Literature at Flinders University, conducts writing workshops, is a mentor in poetry and prose (from short fiction to novels, and nonfiction), edits texts of various genres, is the author and editor of 11 books, and has won numerous prizes including the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship.

Writing to Do Good in the World

By Walter Mason

I recently did an event with author, psychotherapist and healer Sharon Snir and I was struck by how she described her writing as a way of making peace in the world. I am used to the idea of writing as a form of therapy, or of social and political expression, or even as some kind of spiritual calling. But had I really ever considered that it might be a way of creating a more peaceful world?

Think about it, for a moment. In writing about someone or something, we are increasing understanding and facilitating connections that might otherwise be difficult to make. A clear example for me comes from my childhood. I grew up in a small town in North Queensland among men who had fought in the bloodiest battles in New Guinea during World War Two. Their attitude towards Japan and the Japanese was not enlightened, to say the least.

SA Writers Centre_ Cambodia_Writing for peace

But my eccentric local library was filled with back issues of an odd magazine called ‘Pacific Friend’, produced out of Japan with the express purpose of rebuilding Japan’s reputation in the West. In its pages I learned about the tea ceremony, Ikebana, Zen, Mt. Fuji and all the Japanoise clichés that we are so familiar with today. And it worked.  I became quite enamoured of Japanese culture and conceived an obsession with that country that continues to this day. I had been formed by magazine diplomacy.

These days I am a travel writer, and I never see my writing specifically as championing the culture or country that is my subject. That would be too didactic, and I am a person who flees reflexively from the didactic. Instead I concentrate on people, recording my observations of them, the things they say, the attitudes they hold, the strange fixities they exhibit. For better or worse, I want to write about the condition of humanity, and I always seem to recognise the things that we share, no matter how exotic the outward forms of expression. I am, I believe, bringing people closer together and contributing towards the sum of human understanding in my books. It has become the thing I explicitly want to do.

If we are writing any kind of non-fiction or memoir the chances for us contributing to peace and good are great. But it is not certain, by any means. Words can do harm and cause division, and almost our entire critical and academic corpus is concerned with hurting one person or another’s feelings. That is a tradition, and those who want to work within it are welcome to. I even understand the need for such harshness, but that doesn’t mean I have to be a part of it.

Instead I encourage writers to write to build. To build understanding, to build a sense of global community, to build on the collective memory, that it might be preserved and taken into another generation. Despite what people think, writing can be funny, insightful and true and still not contain bitchiness, cynicism and great big slabs of churlishness.

No matter what, the writer of memoir and creative non fiction will, at some stage, and perhaps frequently, offend and upset somebody. This is inevitable and unavoidable. People are possessed of all levels of sensitivity, and might exhibit some surprising and even bizarre Achilles heels. Sometimes what is true and seemingly inoffensive, even slightly positive, might be viewed as a terrible slight by the subject of a piece of writing. It has happened to me and it will happen to you. But you can salve your conscience when this happens by reflecting on how many people have been pleased and illumined by what you wrote, and also by the purity of your intentions. If everyone who reads you hates you and is offended, though, it might be time to reconsider your peace-making strategies.

There is a moral element to writing, particularly in writing non fiction. We need to take our duties seriously and be aware that as writers we are exercising power and privilege, even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes (like when we check our bank balance). Blithely writing things that are nasty or harshly judgemental might work stylistically. They might be funny, improve the flow of a story and, dammit, they might even be true. But one day you will have to look that person in the eyes. Or, worse still, talk to their mother. That is the measure by which I judge my writing. I have deleted and re-written many a paragraph with the consideration: “Will this person still come and pick me up at the airport if they read this?”

So now I choose to write to do good in the world. It doesn’t mean I have become boring or preachy. I can still be witty, arch and even, occasionally, wicked. But I can also live with myself and, for the most part, confidently hand my friends copies of my books to read. Is it time to start taking seriously the effect your writing will have in the world?

Walter Mason is a writer, blogger and part of the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of two travel memoirs, Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia. Walter will be presenting as part of the Life Writing/Memoir Bootcamp happening soon at the Centre.

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