Sydney Writers’ Festival 08 Part 2

May 23, Friday

Consul-General Maria Lazaro held a reception at her house on Onslow Avenue in honor of Sir Butch Dalisay and Sir Wendell Capili and invited all the heads of Filipino organizations in Sydney and the writers for Salu-Salo. And in true Islander fashion, I was nearly late. I had never been to that part of town, so hoping I was doing the right thing, I caught the bus to Taylor Square and from there caught another bus that cut across Kings Cross and dropped me off close to the Avenue.

I was brought up to the house by a guy who was waiting outside the little gate and the Consul General personally came out to greet me in the foyer and welcome me into her house. She led me to the patio and introduced me to everyone else, and we had wine and Filipino food and social chitchat (and I was neither too overdressed nor underdressed, so that was a relief. Anyway, everyone was pretty much a lot older than me so I think I would have been excused if I hadn’t looked like everyone else, hehe.) The social chitchat was interesting because I never had to do it so alone before and I think I barely scraped through sounding socially presentable. I mean, I was pretty much hobnobbing with some of the Filipino elite in Sydney, and I was never really famous for social diskarte at any time of my life. (But holding the champagne glass helped. It helps to have props, really.)

Anyway, I got to know the other Filipino writers as well and what goes on and about the Filipino writing scene in Australia. I also talked to the Vice Consul and ex-Consuls and had some questions (ahem, comments) about Philippine passports and stuff. It helped that the occasion was pretty informal because I was really, tremendously feeling my age (or youth, whichever works) and feeling rather out of place; I think everyone was at least ten years older than me or so, and was the head of what committee, had published which book, was the editor of another, or was the husband or wife of so-and-so. (And there goes the champagne glass again.) And I met Sir Capili again (the last time I had seen him was 5 years ago in UP) and Sir Dalisay again after the 2007 Palanca awards.

Definitely a good night and one huge learning experience. Afterwards I walked to the bus stop, realized that for some reason I had forgotten that the bus that had taken me to Onslow would NOT take me back to Taylor Square, and hence had to walk across Kings Cross myself back to the Square, which after 9pm at night I really wish I could have avoided.

May 25, Sunday

Launch day!

My family and I took the train to Casula and got to the Powerhouse Arts Centre a bit early so we hung around at the…erm, wilderness behind. (Casula’s quite isolated; I couldn’t see any other building in the area aside from the Powerhouse.) Anyway, Mark, Joy, her brother Allen, and her mother came over too after a bit to join my barangay support.

The launch began with some of the more prominent writers (Merlinda Bobis, Robert Nery, and Xerxes Matza reading Cesar Aguila’s piece, who couldn’t come because he caught the flu) talking about their work and Sir Capili relating the history of creative writing in the Philippines and its links with Australia. It was like being in university again, really.

Halfway through the seminar, my mother discovered that Amando Doronila (for the uninformed, one of the top political analysts in the Philippines; I had to read his columns when I was studying in UP) was among the audience as his daughter Noonee was one of the writers as well. This created some buzz in my barangay-support, which was particularly composed of my whispering to Mark, “Look, Amando Doronila’s here!” and him snapping his head up and going “What? Where??!!” in amazement.

Anyway, the book was launched afterwards by the editors and publishers and we all trooped out to the lobby for signatures and pictures and exchanging contacts with each other. Which was essentially the most fun I had in the Festival and the most surreal experience, actually getting to sign books that had my story in it. I met Mr. Doronila too, who gave me his contact details so that I could inform him the next time I return to the Philippines, and “we’ll meet.” (Wheee! Starstruck!) And I got a whole slew of contact details and business cards from the people around me who are pretty much in the business of writing and publishing.

I didn’t get to display my copies of Philippine Genre Stories as Kenneth had requested (there was no table for it), but I did give copies to Mr. Doronila, Cuong Phu Le (one of the coordinators for Salu-Salo; he’s a dear), Sir Capili, Erwin Cabucos (one of the writers), Merlinda Bobis (the current ruling Filipino-Australian writer. ‘Nuff said.), and Kon Gouriotis (the director of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre). Whoo.

While waiting for the train back to the CBD, we met a journalist covering the launch named Kristine Lapez. She works for the Sydney branch of ABS-CBN and is currently a student at UTS, but she had studied in UNSW before, and before that UP, and before that at Hong Kong International School. Small world, huh? Mark, my brother and I had plenty to talk about with her on the train back.

So. First publication in a book. Have I mentioned I’m really happy about it? XD


Sydney Writers’ Festival 08 Part 1

May 22, Thursday

By the time I had officially woken up, Chichi and Pei Pei had already gone to work in the CBD. I hurriedly slapped some margarine on two slices of Chichi’s raisin bread, gobbled them up, and caught the bus to Queen Victoria Building for another bus to Walsh Bay to attend five seminars there.

1. The first one was From Pen to Reader at the Sydney Philharmonic Choir Studio.

What does it take to win the ear of a publisher? Leading international and Australian publishers discuss international and Australian publishing trends and what it takes to get noticed.

So we had publishers from Random House, Penguin Books, Allen & Unwin, and Faber Books in a panel and each talking for ten to fifteen minutes till the Q&A section. Some paraphrases of quotes (Yes, I did take notes.)

Anton Chekhov said that people aren’t stupid because they can’t write a novel, but because they can’t conceal it when they do.

Never presume you can write to the market. The most successful writers lead, not follow books.

A unique voice is not a wacky one but one that says the same thing with a voice never heard.

There are more writers now than readers.

1. Prepare. 2. Revise. 3. Write the best 50 pages. 4. Get an agent. 5. Don’t copy. 6. Don’t write for the market.

When you submit a cover letter introducing your novel, mention the novels that the house has published, and if you can, compare your work to those novels.

Publishing is a very optimistic business. When we pick up a manuscript, we think, “This could be the one.”

When you’re writing non-fiction, you don’t have to be as engaged. But when you’re writing fiction, you can’t afford to be cynical about what you’re doing.

Publishing is an emotional business; as a writer you have to understand that you have to willing to engage with the editors.

Publishing is about relationships and community; get into them.

Build relationships with agents – success breed success.

Keep both academic rigor and readability when you write non-fiction.

You can give personal information to the publisher. If you (the writer) have a personal “quirk”, God help us, then that could actually be quite useful to marketing your novel.

Then I traipsed off for a lunch break at a McDonald’s at Alfred Street.

2. The next seminar, Tales of Obsession at the Sydney Dance Company Studio 4, wasn’t as engaging, I think, and admittedly I attended it just because they had canceled one I had wanted to go.

From fundamentalist belief to bridge building and compulsive counting, David Davidar, Vicki Hastrich and Toni Jordan consider the thrall of obsession in their novels.

3. The third one was The Future of Reading in the Philharmonic Studio, which won out after a dilemma of deciding whether to attend that one or Cities on Edge, which were both going on at the same time.

E-publishing has been met with equal measure of enthusiasm and dread as publishers, editors and writers grapple with the Web’s ability to connect readers and writers more quickly and intimately. Leading publishers talk about the trends in digital publishing.

I was really excited about this one because I thought it was going to talk about being published online in collections or e-zines, which are places I do submit my stories to, and to discuss the value (or lack of it, if that’s what some people think) of being published online rather than in print. Instead, the panel discussion was about the market of digital publishing (i.e. e-books, e-book readers like Kindle, digitalizing libraries, etc.) so that was rather disappointing.

But I did get a very interesting crash course on the dotcom wave that hit publishers during the 90s, the behavioral changes it takes to adapt to e-books vs to iPods, how the UK market was initially very nervous
about digital publishing (the publisher, Will Atkinson, described it as the madwoman in the attic: it’s here, it’s part of the family, but we just pretend it doesn’t exist), and the speculation that if libraries were digitized, then there would be no need to go to the library to read because everything would be online, but this would also mean that there would be less people who are actually going to buy books. Food for thought there.

4. Next seminar! Grit at one of the Dance Studios.

How do we write a sordid reality? Why are writers so compelled with doom and gloom? Philippe Claudel, Cheri Dimaline, Merlinda Bobis and Rhyll McMaster discuss.

It’s really a bit difficult to keep taking notes when novelists talk because their content is quite subjective and specific to their novels, especially when it’s already 4pm and you’re starting to flag. But a general consensus among the writers was that the world, face it, really is a dark place and it’s our job to show this truth to the rest and maybe find the light at the end of the tunnel.

I met Sir Butch Dalisay after this talk (he was in the audience) and exchanged pleasantries. Afterwards I bought Merlinda Bobis‘ book, The Solemn Lantern-Maker, and got her autograph and introduced myself and my involvement with Salu-Salo. Ma’am Bobis is, as SIr Capili argued a few days later, pretty much the leading figure of Filipino-Australian writers; she’s written novels and is a creative writing professor at the University of Wollongong.

5. Last seminar! It was already 6pm by this time and I was tired and I thought I’d just stick around for half of Screenplays that Sell and zip to the CBD to meet up with Chichi for dinner. I ended up staying the whole seminar. It was very different from the general spirit of the seminars I had already attended.

Story consultant, author and lecturer, Michael Hauge provides tips and techniques for getting your script read by people in power.

To start with, even before the seminar began, a random guy came in and took the stage and started talking about how if we wanted to go to Hollywood, then there was a website where we could hire agents. Not endorsed by the Festival, of course, and he had to be escorted out.

Michael Hauge’s from Hollywood and he’s worked with the big people in Warner Brothers, Paramount, New Line, CBS, etc. and with Morgan Freeman, Kirsten Dunst, and all of that. He really is all that tinsel, and the sort who’s churned out (and plugging) his self-help books and DVDs about making good scripts. And he made it very clear that what he was going to talk about was the Hollywood industry – happy endings and such. All about selling to big production companies. He wasn’t going to talk about indie or artsy movies, though in a way his lecture could still apply. But the Hollywood moviemaking business. All that flash and glamor.

I sat up at this point.

The number one goal, he said, in moviemaking is to elicit emotion. People go to movies to participate, not observe.

I scrambled for my pen and notebook.

If I were to write all my notes down, which I took non-stop and were as much as I would take in an hour of university lecture (awake), this post would never end and I would never get around talking about the launch. So here is everything in bullet points. I’ll probably explain in another post in the future.

The following, according to Michael Hauge, are observable from all successful Hollywood films.

Principles of Storytelling

  • There must be a hero.
  • Create empathy with that character: 1. Make him a victim of an undeserved, unfortunate situation 2. Put him in jeopardy 3. Make him likable 4. Make him funny. 5. Make him powerful.
  • The hero must desperately want to achieve a goal: 1. To win 2. To stop 3. To escape 4. To retrieve
  • There must be some conflict.
  • There must be the need for courage in facing these obstacles.

The Hero’s Journey

  1. Outer journey of achievement
  2. Inner journey of transformation, in essence, from fear to courage

6 Stages and 5 Turning Points

  1. SET UP. By 10% of the script, the hero is given an opportunity to move to Stage 2
  2. NEW SITUATION. By 25%, the hero has to realize his goal
  3. MAKING PROGRESS. By 50%, he is faced with the point of no return.
  4. COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES. By 75%, he is given a major setback.
  5. FINAL PUSH. At the climax of the film, he resolves his goal.

Hardcore commercialism and playing up to the market, man. All I can say is I wish writing were that simple and formulaic.

Then I caught the bus back to the CBD and had dinner with Chichi at BBQ King in Chinatown.

The End of Chapter Sydney

That’s it. I’ve found it. I’ve finally found it. I went to Sydney to do what I had to, and came back with more.

There were many occasions at work when this situation happened. I would have finished the lesson and would have given the class time to do their exercises. And while they did so, I would daydream of what I would be doing if I were still in Sydney, still studying for my Masters and still living in New College. And one of my students would catch me and go, “Miss, why are you smiling?”

I’ve always seemed to be plagued with short transitions. Nine days after I left Beijing, I was in Sydney. Two weeks after I left Sydney, I was working in Hong Kong. A year each. There never seemed to have been enough time, ever, to properly withdraw just when I had begun settling in, though Lord knows I’ve mentally tried preparing myself every time.

That I still had to get over my life in Beijing was very obvious when I started out in Sydney. That I had to get over in Sydney when I came to Hong Kong was much more discreet and less noticeable because there were so many other things happening at the same time, and primarily because I thought I had already learned the art of moving on. Of course I hadn’t; it was still as powerful and distracting. I’m not the sort who likes a place or city just for what it is; it’s the people who make all the difference. And I didn’t just miss my life and friends in Sydney; it was a pretty active “missing,” a longing that I was back there.

With whom? With “everyone else.” It was magnetizing, that pull towards the “everyone else” of Sydney, that everlasting hymn, “I wish I were back in Sydney.” And while Sydney didn’t really feature much in my sleeping dreams (I was much too exhausted the first few months to dream), that was what my mind kept going back to. (The fact that it went on for months is slightly disconcerting. Not getting over Beijing for months I understand; it had been my first time living alone. But Sydney? I thought I had more credit than that.)

Imagine what was running through my head when I realized I had a reason to spend a week in Sydney. Huff puff.

So I went and had a blast. Then one day when I was there – I’m not exactly sure what happened, but something just melted away and I was left with the thought and feeling that I was not going to miss Sydney anymore.

I was done. The coin had flipped, the tightrope had given way. I was actually and finally through with Sydney 06-07. Over. I don’t know what precipitated it. It was strange, as if something had been taken away from me, just like that. Never more that pang of nostalgia and wishful thinking – just air. It was a relief, a huge relief, to think of Sydney and not feel anything, even while I was there.

I had planned to have a last look of Sydney as the plane was taking off for HK; instead I fell asleep and woke up later grumpily wondering why take-off had been delayed and realized that we had been in the air for half an hour. It doesn’t seem to matter any more. I mean, I still miss everyone in Sydney even now, but it’s a lot more distanced now. My life has nothing to do with theirs, and theirs have nothing to do with mine anymore. I think I’ve finally reconciled myself to that.

“And that, my friend, is called closure.” Pretty much. I still love the life I had Sydney and everyone in it, and shall always look back with fondness, but it’s different now. It’s not going to be as vivid nor as real anymore. I’ve made my peace with Sydney.

So does this mean that Sydney 06-07 is finally and truly over?

I guess it is. It’s really about time.

(Details on the Sydney Writers’ Festival shall follow.)


How often do you find the right person?

I watched the movie Once last night. The love story is reduced to meaningful glances and earnest attempts that eventually have to give way to the reality of circumstances. It’s beautiful, in all its small, quotidian, unspoken ways. When Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova sing together, the honesty of it is just astonishing. There’s one part I love when the Girl (Marketa Irglova’s character) starts singing the lyrics she’s written for the Guy’s music while walking on the way back from the convenience store at night where she bought batteries, and the camera follows her all the way home in one single shot. It’s so simple but so absolutely brilliant.

I went to the Parson’s music store at Festival Walk yesterday to play on their guitars because I wanted to try an effect that I can only get from steel ones. I went to my little guitar corner there and borrowed a blue Washburn. There were so many people playing on the pianos and the drums I could barely hear myself. The Washburn was beautiful; smooth strings, clear sound. And I got my effect scratching out a more upbeat Stairway to Heaven.

I got an invitation today from the Philippine consulate in Sydney to attend a reception to be hosted by Consul General Maria Theresa Lazaro; it’s in honor of the Filipinos speaking in the Sydney Writers Festival – Sir Dalisay and Sir Capili. Smart casual, yeah!

All Set

1. Itinerary for the Festival

2. Place to stay (i.e. Chichi’s – yay!)

3. Flight tickets

4. Visa

5. Work leave


Gleebooks, a Sydney-based bookseller, is supplying the books for the launch of Salu-Salo at Casula Powerhouse by the Sydney Writers Festival. They contacted me this morning, asking me if I have any published books available; they want to get in touch with “my” publishers or distributors for copies for the event.


Maaaan. So flattered that they’d think I’d already be published in other books. I don’t think anything’s gonna come out of it since this is going to be the first book that’s ever published me and I’ll be telling them that (though am thinking if I can drop PGS‘s name, for anything), but still. Wow.

I’m actually still pretty freaked out about the whole thing in general.

Good Day

1. Sign copyright clearance form for Casula Powerhouse.

2. Get leave from work.

3. Get a tourist visa for Australia.

4. Get air ticket.

Work today was really good. My Year 7s have gone to Orlando, Florida for World Classrooom. Taught past simple vs past continuous to the Year 8s – and they showed a real interest in it! In tenses, for heaven’s sake. They asked intelligent questions about the past continuous (e.g. “Could you switch the order of the simple and continuous when you combine them in a sentence?”) and were really into the textbook exercises. The sky must be falling.

Continued the lesson on summaries with the Year 9s, which went really well too. Could have heard a pin drop when they were doing the summary exercises paragraph by paragraph; they were scribbling away like mad. Must have been something in the cafeteria food. Incredible. It’s been a really good day.

Now back to American Idol 7.



1. Two stories of mine, “Bordertown” and “Benito Salazar’s Last Creation,” are going to be published in Sydney in a book titled Salu-Salo: An Anthology of Philippine-Australian Writings. It”ll be jointly published by the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Liverpool and Blacktown Arts Centre.

2. The book is going to be launched on May 25, 2008, by the Sydney Writers Festival. Which is only the biggest literary event of its kind in Australia and one of the biggest book fairs in the world. And the guestlist for being a writer is invitation-only, and I’m going to be receiving one.

3. I’m going to ask for leave from work, apply for a tourist visa, try to get cheap airfare, and go to Sydney to attend the launch and see some friends. And hopefully rub shoulders with writers and editors and publishers there.


The Twilight Express

Whoo. Issue 3 of RUBRIC, the online creative writing journal of UNSW, is out, with my story “The Twilight Express.” (Yeah, UNSW has two literary journals: RUBRIC and Unsweetened.)

For RUBRIC, I was actually part of the editorial team, which was interesting. If you have a story in yourself, they ask you to leave while they evaluate it and put it into a vote. It was actually pretty nerve-wracking.

Corridor Film Clip

Elizabeth Adams, a 3rd-year media student of the University of New South Wales (UNSW), has interpreted my poem “Corridor” into a film clip (yes, with my permission) for her thesis as part of unsweetened TV. You can find the clip here. I really enjoyed her interpretation because it’s such a polarity from what I had in mind when I had written the poem. My thanks to Elizabeth!

Sunrays and Saturdays

I love waking up to Saturday morning. The night before is always the best sleep I get all week. And on the morning itself I can enjoy a proper breakfast in pajamas, with the sun streaming in, a bit of light Vertical Horizon playing, and a little table filled with milk bread, cream cheese, yogurt, and a cup of Earl Grey.

I think I’d go with the Jews on this one. Saturday is indeed the true Sabbath, haha, and I always make sure that I thoroughly enjoy this day of rest. The atmosphere of Saturday is one of lightness and endlessness of possibilities. Everything is possible when you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep and not having been grudgingly awakened by the alarm clock to a state of denial. It’s so restful that I feel like going back to academic study again, haha. I remember in Sydney that Saturday morning was always the best time for me to actually study because that’s when my mind feels the least warped. And yes, it seems like a loserly way to start a Saturday morning, but that was how it started anyway.

Vertical Horizon has a song called “Sunrays and Saturdays,” which finds Saturdays as one of the little best things in life.

Open the window
Let the sunset in
If only for the last time
Let me see you smile again

I’ll take my records
You can have your books
I’m sorry I never read them
But it says so much about us

Always trying
To make love out of care
The perfect recipe
But something wasn’t there

And I wish you
Sunrays and Saturdays
Perfect starry nights
Sweet dreams and moonbeams
And a love that’s warm and bright
Sunrays and Saturdays
Friendship strong and true
Oceans of blue and a room with a view
To live the life you choose

You’ll write me letters
I’ll call you on the phone
A wire away from touching
And never quite alone

We’ll get to know ourselves again
And we’ll heal our hearts
It’s not that we’re bad together
We’re just better off apart

Always trying
To have one and one make two
And even though it never worked
I still feel love for you