Katherine Susannah Pritchard and her typewriter (c) Marisa Wikramanayake
Blog,  Writing

Day 4: Freedom to write, freedom for writers

Day 4 already. Well, nothing was going to happen on Day 1 given how tired and jetlagged I was.

Today, most of the day was pretty boring. I had not slept well the night before. So the day was full of waking, sleeping, doing things I needed to do like eat and so on. I thought about the book a lot.

And then I did my makeup, changed, called an Uber and went to see my friend Vicki Laurie interview Peter Greste at the WA State Library.

So three things happened today on Day 4:

  1. Peter Greste pleasantly surprised me. I was very happy about that. Thank you Peter Greste.
  2. My uber driver was a former pop star from Vietnam from the pre-Youtube era. I am not kidding. Go to Youtube and find Khanh Dang Kin. There is like one video of him singing uploaded by a fan. We need to make V-Pop a thing hey.
  3. I walked in and saw so many people I knew who were genunely happy to see me.

Pen International’s new WA chapter helped organise the event. Pen International helped get Peter Greste released. Apparently the IFJ states that 262 journalists are listed as being imprisoned each year and PEN International counts writers as well and their number jumps up to the 700s. So it isn’t just #pressfreedom but freedom to write and freedom for writers.

Which is interesting given that the main point of a KSP Writing Fellowship is to be able to carve out the time to give yourself freedom to write. We throw the word around lightly and of course it means something to us in that aspect of having time and space to write, free from everything else you otherwise have to think about.

But it means so much to other people. In the news, Mansoor is being jailed for a social media post against the UAE leaders. Writing is a solitary action but we have to remember that we exist in solidarity with other writers too. We cannot just simply shut ourselves off and not care about people who are effectively our colleagues.

It is also why we cannot condone statements by writers like Lionel Shriver because you need to care about your fellow writers and if you do, then you need to not appropriate their cultures for a laugh or for a dollar and claim that you have every right to do so.

It is why we cannot condone statements by writers like Germaine Greer yesterday who may have had good intentions but has come from a place that invalidates the experiences of those undergoing traumatic things just because she herself has not experienced these things as being traumatic to her.

Both of these writers have the freedom to write but they have to consider the fact that they are arguing for things (Shriver in who can write what and Greer in changing the laws) that ultimately restrict the freedoms of other people, including writers.

Do your work but not at the expense of others.

Onto Peter Greste – please go buy his book First Casualty and if you are in Perth, go see him this weekend at the Margaret River Writers Festival.

Now I tend to find myself having to explain things to people who have the best intentions and want to know and learn but are not necessarily up to speed on the finer points of what is ok and not ok or why something might offend certain people or why there are certain things people actively choose to do or actively choose not to do.

Having to explain these things to people, even if those people are eager and willing to learn and have great intentions, well it gets tiring after a while. And it is also jarring to hear people who don’t know this stuff make errors by saying things. And I get that people don’t know but my advice is generally, check before you say something especially in public, just always doublecheck and have that question in mind of “is this respectful?” etc.

And I didn’t know Peter Greste because he had been Africa based writing for Al Jazeera for many years but he was a fellow journalist and human being and so I was all about him and his colleagues getting out of jail in Egypt. To me, it didn’t matter at the time – I just wanted him out so I supported the campaign.

And last night I was surprised and impressed. He acknowledged his privilege. He stated very clearly that he was sure that if his first name had been anything other than a white name even if he had still been an Australian citizen, he probably would not have received the amount of support he did. He spoke about how much harder it was for his fellow colleagues. He referenced the fact that the idea of who he was as a journalist was what was seen as a threat rather than him as an individual and that nowadays journalists are participants rather than observers in such reporting. He spoke about how he could not do much reporting especially in his area which was Africa because he was still listed as a terrorist in Egypt and it caused too many problems with travelling around and working there. He talked about how the War on Terror is a nebulous idea and how loosely defined the notion of what is a terrorist can be depending on who is defining it.

So, go buy his book. Penguin published it, Boffin Books is selling it in Perth. Have a listen to him speak. I was pleasantly surprised.

Onto my uber driver.

My uber driver is a top notch gardener so we mostly chatted about that and then he played me his songs and showed me the video and translated some of the lyrics. When Youtube hit Vietnam, they didn’t have good internet coverage and no one knew what they could do with it at the time. So he ended up giving up music when he moved over to Australia and now he drives uber and does other things to pay the bills. He has 35 songs written and is a bit terrified to write songs in English.

I said “No. Go for it. Do what you need to do to pay the bills. And then do your music when you can because you must also have a bit of what makes you happy.”

I wanted to blog about him on Day 4 for two reasons:

1. I don’t think people in this country understand the sacrifices people make to migrate here. I don’t think a lot of people understand what it feels like to put in the work to get degrees and PhDs and then to move and find that you cannot pursue what you studied and are passionate about because things are inherently unequal and stacked against you and so you do what you need to do to survive. I don’t think a lot of people understand that – they think they are struggling till they meet people who actually are but that sort of eye opening situation rarely seems to occur. So I wanted you to know his story. Of how proud he is to be able to create a garden full of fruit and flowers for his wife. How it took eleven monthsand now he has mangoes, longans, sour sops, limes, lemons, strawberries, oranges. How he has 35 songs now and previously had five albums back in Vietnam. How he studied music at the top school in Vietnam and then felt he should give it up. How he thinks that because of his level of English he won’t be able to get far in the industry here.

2. I wanted to tell people to keep an eye out. Stories come from anywhere and everywhere. Sure, sometimes I don’t want to talk to anyone either. But I am thrilled I got to chat to him today. Stories give you perspective and stories expand your horizons and stories connect you to other people too.

Onto all the people at the event on Day 4.

I met people who read this blog. How wild is that? Hello! *waves* I mean people apart from the person who calls herself my surrogate mother, Robin Bower, whose books you should check out. She was there with Jane Hammond, a friend of hers I have met before with whom I had a great conversation about the inner workings of characters and people. And who is now switched on to Audrey Daybook which is a magazine I just wrote a piece for.

Rashida Murphy, another writer, whom I credit with getting me into this KSP Fellowship thing in the first place was there – she nagged me to enter and so I finally did. THANK YOU FOR BELIEVING IN ME!

Also thanks to KSP for retweeting the link to the blog posts.

I got to see Caroline Wood from Centre for Stories and Margaret River Press. Paige Taylor from The Australian. Kathryn Shine, Martin Saxon, Martin Turner, and Tiffany Venning were there and Joseph Fernandez from Curtin.

These are all people I value greatly. Over the years spent in WA and volunteering and working, these are the people who make the effort, who show up to things, organise things and put in the time.

It is both lovely to see them and also sad. Being in Melbourne now, I miss them greatly.

It was lovely to walk in and be hailed and be valued by so many. It is also annoying because I wish I was here. There were, and are, good reasons to be in Melbourne.

This is what happens – you carry your home on your back yes but you also leave pieces of yourself everywhere that you go. Everywhere is home.

I came back after a pitstop to get some dinner. And then started writing. I wrote 1775 words. Not quite the amount I wanted to reach but at least it was over the goal of 1666.

So now total words written at KSP are 5,761. And total words on the entire project are 8,445.

Halfway to the ten thousand written at KSP goal. Most of the way to ten thousand in total.

I am going to have smash it out tomorrow or Saturday because Sunday may be taken up with all the packing to leave and I have to leave by noon and also have a lunch to attend. Tomorrow I plan to attend one of the writing groups and just write.


TEA DRUNK: One mug.

CAT APPEARANCES: None as yet but two instances of faint meowing. Is it a ghost kitty? And Rashida Murphy confirms the existence of the cat. She calls it “her cat” and thinks it belongs to a house at the bottom of the garden.

THINGS LEARNED: V pop is amazing, uber drivers are cool, Peter Greste is pretty cool too and I love and miss all my friends.

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