Ubud 2019

Thoughts and reflections on the Ubud writers and readers festival 2019.


The festival starts today. What am I going to get out of it? I know what I am going to get from the panel discussions and interviews. Many insights, many snippets I can use in my writing. But it is the workshops that interest me the most. I’ll have opportunities to collaborate with and learn from people from all over, people outside RMIT. I will be scared. But I won’t learn if I shrink inside myself and refuse to participate with relish. Who cares what others think? Me, I’m afraid.

Creative Karma Workshop

Karma is a consequence. It doesn’t regard what you try to show the world. Karma knows what’s in your heart. You cannot fool it. It knows your true intentions. Karma will win out in the end. The consequences of your actions will come back to either bite you or shower you with blessings. So, you may as well clean up your act, find expression for the sincerity and compassion in your makeup, and reap the rewards. We all have good in us. We love our families and our friends. But I can’t help thinking that karma is more universally attentive.

Karma is a place of no judgement. How does that relate? Is it getting your ego out of the way and let your ideas flow? It is about not letting ego drive your intentions.

Doing the right thing by yourself and the world

Being kind to yourself the same way you are kind to others

Loving and desiring what you have

Writing mental health

Rudi Wasnawa documents images of people with mental illness in Indonesia. I see bewilderment, helplessness, above all resignation. Captives of a society that can afford to only imprison and restrain, often within the family home, manacled or feet in stocks, surrounded by shame and stigma. What will highlighting the plight of these poor innocents achieve? It arouses applause, but what about action? Other panellists are in tears. What happens next? The mentally afflicted in poor countries are the true human flotsam.

Suddenly the images hit me in the guts. Seymour bursts in on a wave of guilt and despair. My poor darling beautiful brother. What did we do to him? We abandoned him. We left him in chains. He had no chance. My God, how we all failed him. What was my duty of care? I know, in the cold light of day, that I wasn’t exclusively responsible. Even my immediate family wasn’t exclusively responsible. All my relatives bear some responsibility. Society has to shoulder some of it too. I could not rescue him by myself. My father, with all his fucking influence, could not rescue him. He was totally abandoned to rot in a shocking, squalid, ill-funded system that ultimately killed him. An innocent cast out. A wonderful, vibrant human jewel bullied until his sanity was destroyed. Then, when he became totally dysfunctional, he was put away for good. He escaped, and Police came looking for him. He was taken back to Angoda and put in chains. Angoda, hell on earth.

Lemn Sissay

Lemn means why. Awesome guy, talking about his memoir. Cultured, very English, totally without self-consciousness. Born in England to a teenage Ethiopian mother, fostered to an English family, went in search of his real family after he grew up. Anger is an expression in search of love. Karma is a consequence of your true intentions.

In private

I cried for two hours.


Guy Gunaratne

Author of In our mad and furious city. Longlisted for the Man Booker.

It all came out naturally because he had no idea what to do with it. Getting it published did not occur to him. So, he wrote freely, with no pressure of expectation.

What does it mean to belong to a nowhere place? Do you have to leave the place to make something of yourself?

Turn an aggressive moment into a creative one.

Don’t intellectualise in the middle of the game. It stops the flow of ideas, stifles imagination. it takes you out of the precious moment. This is it. You have to stay in the moment to get it all down. Intellectualise afterwards.

He’s written about extremism, confronting one’s own propensity for extreme behaviour. Not associating, but also not thinking that extremists are a different species.

London is a city you can love, but it won’t necessarily love you back.

His character pulls snot up his nose. How evocative, how true of so many Indians and Sri Lankans.

You have to find the story of your character. How? First, get to know your character as well as you know yourself. Get to know all your characters well, even though you will show them differently.

Listening to another wildly successful author, does anything set Guy G apart? Nothing, really, nothing that anyone could not achieve. One thing they all seem to have in common: they are immersed in their craft. And their craft is not just writing books. They are obsessed with documenting people. I must read his book for character development.

Imagining the past

I want to be engaged in a variety of learning activities, psychological, philosophical, anything, all of which will inform and lift my story writing.

Where does inspiration come from? Toni Jordan imagined NYC in the 1930s. One can research these things. I am writing about Colombo in the 1950s and 60s relying entirely on my own memory. I am using fictionalised versions of real people.

Writing historical fiction requires deep knowledge of the period and setting. How does one find out how people lived, what they cooked in, how they went from place to place, the smells, their lavatory facilities, what their homes looked like, what they talked about in the street, methods of communication, content of news? Individuals don’t carry the historical era on their shoulders. History is hindsight.

There seems to be a balance between the period and the individual. One must depict the period through the characters, but not at the expense of the characters’ humanity. Individual hatred and reconciliation are personal, but collective hatred and reconciliation are no more than lip service.

Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? Every situation has its heroes and villains. Colonialism is an evil thing, but it doesn’t mean that the evils of colonialism reside in the heart of every colonist.

The historical fiction writer does not have to be one hundred percent accurate in the depiction of the period, but sufficiently accurate not to misrepresent. A human story, after all, is a story about people. The period and setting wash around them, but it is the characters that are important.

Bali’s art activists

I walked away the moment I saw Rudi Wasnawa on the panel.

Workshop: Spoken word beyond Slam

Melanie Mununggurr-Williams is beyond awesome.

An introduction to poetry slam.

Exercise: what do I want to say about myself?

Emotion: Anger with myself always pretending I am self-sufficient, that I don’t need the support and comfort of others, that I don’t need them to show they love me.

Sight: I see an invitation I have rejected to a family gathering. A birthday celebration.

Smell: I smelt the aromas of my own cooking, the meal I’d be eating on my own that evening.

Touch: I felt hot soapy water on my hands while washing up.

Sound: The crackle of my stir-fry. The TV made haphazard noises in the background.

Taste: A swig of red wine, a young, cheap shiraz, befitting a reluctant solitary evening at home.

Highlighted nouns and adjectives.

The first rewrite:

I’m angry with the mirror man / Self-sufficient? Ha / I rejected an invitation / my brother’s birthday / a family gathering / i shook my head / this person has important things to do / i did them / finished early / what now? / pick up the phone? / just go? / I shake my head again / I cannot show I need them / even my family / I’m lonely, low / I want their embraces to smother me / but I wash the dishes instead / hot soapy water quells and soothes, for a moment / dinner aromas swirl from the crackles, up my nose / I stir, add chilly / a burning palate might take my mind away /I reach for a glass of young, cheap shiraz.

I stop writing. It’s all morbid rubbish. I’m a far happier person than the above portrays. A positive spin will authenticate it.

I no longer cower before the mirror man / that faceless malevolent pretender / who puts on my face and mocks my vulnerability / I will not toughen up / I will crt, so watch out / I can see you now / poised to hurl shame like a heap of cow dung / it’ll hit me, I’ll wear the stench for a little while / and then I’ll wash it off and learn how to duck / next time I’ll be ready / you said people don’t like me / but I am learning to ignore you / and respond instead to my affection for all people, for everyone in this room, for everyone in every room, in every space, everywhere/ walking, standing, sitting, squatting, running, sleeping / get away, get away, get away from thinking about what people might say or think / pour out my heart


Time to stop chastising myself, time to stop looking at myself through negative prisms. I must be positive about myself. That should be my default perception. This is all I want to say. Let’s move on to constructing a slam poem.

Think of an emotion. Then use all the senses one by one to say something associated with that emotion: sight, smell, touch, sound, taste. I’m too tired to practise now. May as well go to sleep. Do some reading perhaps until I get sleepy. Lots of writing in my notebook.


Behrouz Boochani

No friend but the mountains. Speaking from Manus prison (not Manus Regional Processing Centre, as the government insists). Fucking Kevin Rudd could not implement what was in his heart because his gutless ego got in the way.

A passionate writer will find a way to communicate through his writing. It’s an unstoppable force if the writer doesn’t stop himself. BB is a journalist; he’s made a movie. Like Guy G, his passion to communicate radiates through many media. But he resorted to his own language to tell his story.

The politicians never mentioned Behrouz Boochani by name. The closest they got was referring to him as ‘this individual’. To call him by his name humanises him, gives him an identity and a place in the world. Politicians do not have to resort to using bureaucracy and laws to torture and damage people.

We can stand in a refugee’s shoes. If we don’t it is because we choose not to. If you don’t recognises a person’s humanity it is because you choose not to.

Domestic spaces

Moderated by Astrid Edwards

Definition of poverty (and inequity) : a woman who leaves her children and goes into the city looking for work that entails looking after someone else’s children. In Asia, affluence is being able to outsource domestic work to maids, cooks, gardeners, chauffers etc.

I am suddenly struck by an inequity staring me in the face. Every word uttered in Bahasa is translated into English for people like me. But not a word in English is translated into Bahasa for the Indonesians in the audience, some of whom, at least, might not understand English so well. Another definition of inequity (an poverty) : being treated like a second-class citizen in your own country.


I think all of us were pretty whacked yesterday. I noted that we all turned in early. I was asleep by 8.30 and slept through, more or less, until 4.30. The heat and noise and dust and sweat and difficulties in getting around are taking a small toll. By Sunday I will be ready to return home. This trip is a real joy, but there is joy in it coming to an end too. There is joy in the prospect of taking back my learning and my experiences. It is not an academic experience. It is visceral. It is learning about myself. It is accepting myself, liking myself, reaching out, enjoying company without trying to be acceptable and impressive. I am fine the way I am.

I must write more poetry. Poetry is an outlet for my vocabulary and values. I need to publish and broadcast what I have to say. I want the world to know. Go ahead and do it.


So, my Bali trip is almost ended. I am about to turn off the lights and begin my final sleep on this stunning island. Bali truly got under my skin this time. I am a seasoned traveller now, and my life and my mind are both stable and content. And I came here to write and learn more about writing. I came here to augment my writer’s toolkit with devices for freeing up my imagination. All these things happened. I am happy and exhilarated. I also experienced profound grief. I cried for two hours after seeing images of chained and manacled mentally ill Indonesians. Seymour jumped out at me. I could not cope. I can cry even now. Like I said, Seymour was abandoned by the world. He was destroyed, first by parents who had no clue about parenting, by siblings who struggled with their own problems, by relatives who were quick to blame but who would not go out of their way to help, and finally by a society that locked away its mentally ill humanity and threw away the key.


Just boarded a small, crowded aeroplane for the journey to Adelaide. My row is full. No chance of an empty seat to stretch out. No matter. This is Jetstar’s lowest, most budget economy offering. The closest to a cow I have ever felt. Looking forward to the end before we have even left the ground. I am looking forward to resuming reading, and reacquainting with Gary and Sam, my beloved protagonists. The gym and audiobook walks await too, as do fruit and veggie juice, oat breakfast, bananas, Bock, piano, home.

This has been the perfect holiday with experiences unlike any I normally have at home. The only stand-out similarity was the weekly $5 AIA voucher I continued to earn. The eleven days were packed with activities. I am all the better for them.

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