First published on Artshub.com.au Sept 22 2004
'Through darkness to light' - the 2004 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in Bali ran from October 11-17.
Sydney Playwright, Jan Cornall talks about her Bali Writers Retreat, still going ahead despite the recent Jakarta Bombing, and the first Ubud Writers Festival, at which she is a guest writer.
When I was in Bali in June 02 I stayed at a small family run guesthouse called Ketut’s Place in the beautiful hill town of Ubud. I was so entranced by the experience of Ketut’s I had the idea to come back within 6 months and run a writer’s retreat there. In October, tragically, the Bali bombing happened, and with it, my and many others dreams for returning were put on hold. Last year after reading Janet De Neefe’s Bali memoir and cookbook Fragrant Rice, I contacted her and discussed the idea of a writer’s retreat in Ubud. She loved the idea and told me she and a Tasmanian writer Heather Kurnow were organising a writers festival in Ubud in ’04. I asked if they needed any help. I joined an advisory committee and twelve months down the track, the festival and retreat are happening!
For four days before the festival a number of writers (both beginners and experienced), are joining me, at Ketut’s peaceful family compound, for 4-5 hours a day of workshopping, focused on the pleasure of writing.
With simple relaxation and visualization techniques we will learn how to use the senses to evoke imagery, content and atmosphere, in the telling of our most powerful stories, how to tap into the deep source of our creativity and bring pleasure to the process of writing.
If this sounds indulgent, it is! But the idea is to take the struggle out of our writing, to remember the joy and pleasure it can give us, rather than seeing it as a great weight and burden.
In between workshopping we will journey into the beauty and inspiration of Balinese culture on afternoon and evening excursions, bringing the richness of our experiences back to the group and learning how to transform them into good writing.
Now if that wasn’t enough pleasure for a writer to endure, you can stay on when the Ubud Writers Festival kicks off on the last day of our retreat, with a welcome dinner and traditional performance for guest writers and participants at the Ubud Palace.
Janet De Neefe, Heather Kurnow and the Festival Committee have lined up an impressive list of guests and venues. They are expecting over 1500-2000 people to attend and last minute bookings are being encouraged.
Heather Kurnow gives the following update:
So far, the Festival has attracted over 70 writers and cultural workers from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India, Europe and the USA.
The Festival will focus on several key themes: These are: Through Darkness to Light, Indonesian and Western perceptions of Bali post 2002; Pressing Concerns, which will include discussions by and with Southeast Asian book and magazine publishers; From Page to Stage [Writers and performance]; The Long Way Home [Travel writing and identity]; Children of the Gods [Children’s and young people’s literature]; with one day being devoted to lifestyle, coffee and tropical cuisine.
Highlight events will include: Keynote addresses by Goenawan Mohamad [Indonesia]; the attendance of prominent Australian media personality George Negus; a poetic drama using life-sized puppets from Singapore, composed by the poet Felix Cheong; a wayang kulit [puppet drama] in English, based on ancient Balinese literature, by one of Bali’s famous dalang (puppet master); a new dramatic collaborative work by Darwin dramatist Sandra Thibodeaux and a Balinese writer [to be announced]. The Threads of Life Textile Arts Center of Ubud will present a program of dance and music from the island of Sumba, together with a unique textiles exhibition.
There will also be cooking demonstrations and discussions by culinary and restaurant experts from Southeast Asia, and an East Coast Palm Sugar and Sea Salt Tour for writers, who will entertain each other with poetry and narrative readings over a café lunch.
Writers of and specialists in children’s and young people’s literature will attend from Australia [Dr Virginia Lowe, Ron Brooks, Anita Heiss], Bali [I Made Taro] Jakarta [Dr Murti Bunanta] India [Arup Kumar Dutta] and Hong Kong [Nury Vittachi]. There will also be a well-developed program of activities for the local Ubud primary schools, with the aim of encouraging the love of reading and creative writing among Bali’s younger generation.
Janet and Heather and their helpers are to be applauded for their determination and hard work in getting the festival up and running with little capital or local arts funding to work with.
While my work on the advisory committee was simply to give suggestions every now and then, I’m hoping to be more useful at the festival site. As well as being a guest writer on the Writing For Performance panel and running a workshop or two I hope to be volunteering in a very hands on way: pouring drinks, giving directions, welcoming and greeting as many people as possible.
I’m very excited to have the opportunity to make contacts with writers and readers in the region. Australia is so close to Indonesia and until now our literary exchange has been limited.
After the Bali bombing so many of us wanted to do something to help. Since the recent Jakarta bombing, the main response of those already booked to go, is a renewed determination to be present in Bali, in defiance of the scaremongers (terrorists, governments and the media), who want to keep us at home with our teeth chattering.
In a time when Government leaders make decisions that serve their political agendas rather than their people, it is the role of the artist to provide a vision for the future. And all the more reason, I feel, to build a solid bridge of communication between artists who have so much to contribute to one another, and to encourage a stimulating exchange of ideas and inspiration between Australia and our close Asian neighbours.
So why not join us? Combine your passions for writing, reading, travel, holiday. There are a few plane seats left I believe, so book now.
Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has gone from strength to strength and is now in its seventh year. It takes place every October in Ubud Bali. www.ubudwritersfestival
Jan still leads writers retreats in Bali. For info about this years Backstage Bali Writers Retreat, July 24 -30, go to: http://www.writersjourney.com.au/journeys/backstage-bali/