Sara Khamkoed on Anxiety and Creativity at the Byron Bay Writers Festival with Mia Freedman, Andrew Knight and Ramona Koval

Ramona Koval , Andrew Knight and Mia Freedman (left to right) discuss Anxiety and Creativity at the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograh Sara Khamkoed

Ramona Koval , Andrew Knight and Mia Freedman (left to right) discuss Anxiety and Creativity with Chris Flynn at the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograh Sara Khamkoed

How do anxiety and creativity relate to each other? As an artist and writer I was particularly interested in this discussion at Byron Bay Writers Festival. I often feel great pressure and anxiety when a deadline looms for my creative work. Yet is this anxiety a help or hindrance to creativity?

Mia Freedman, Andrew Knight and Ramona Koval discussed the highs and lows of creative life with Chris Flynn as they reflected on how anxiety affects them.

Mia Freedman gets anxiety if she doesn’t keep busy. That is why she ended up having a panic attack at a health retreat, of all places.

Creative people may be more open to talk about how they are feeling. As a writer Freedman knew she should write about her anxiety, but needed perspective and to be honest about the fact that she needed medication before she was ready to. It’s only in the last four months that Freedman was finally able to discuss this on her blog Debrief Daily. She said that when you are open and honest people give it back to you.

Ramona Koval said she has been obsessed with reading all she could read and knowing all she could know. This was driven by anxiety and the worry that she wouldn’t be accepted in the literary world. However, there is something to be said for surviving anxiety and growing from it as a writer and human.

The process of writing as agony, said Andrew Knight, you have to go slightly mad to do it.

Most of Knight’s writing has come from being an anxious youth. He spent a lot of time in his own head. When Knight struggles to get an idea he finds it sheer living agony.

Koval had a different view, insisting that writers are lucky. ‘It’s really not that hard! If I can’t work it out I go for a walk or have a nap.’ she said.

‘Try sitting and thinking for hours, it absolutely hurts your brain,’ replied Knight, ‘especially if there is nothing there!’

There is a difference between anxiety and stress, according to Freedman. Stress is helpful, while anxiety is not indexed to anything.

Other people’s opinions used to matter a lot to Knight. He believes it was a matter of ego. Now Knight has reached a level he describes as ‘sexual implausibility’ where it really is about the craft. The craft is all you have left in your senior years”.

Freedman suggests learning what self-soothes you and using that. Freedman likes exercise and a big cup of tea, so she travels with a big mug. Obama only has two suits so it frees his mind for other decisions. By locking the foundations in place, Freedman believes she can be more creative in her life.

So is anxiety associated with creativity? It certainly seems to be the case for these writers, as it is for many creative people. Yet how we deal with this anxiety appears to be the important part. Therefore, I’m off to make myself a nice big cup of tea.

 – Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University. Sara covered the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review.

For further information on the Byron bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The Juxtaposition of Beauty and Ugliness: Sara Khamkoed Discusses John Dahlsen’s Session at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

John Dahlsen speaking  with Jeni Caffin o at the Bryon Bay Writers Festival. Photograph - Sara Khamkoed

John Dahlsen speaking with Jeni Caffin at the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Photograph – Sara Khamkoed

Protecting our environment is of vital importance in contemporary society. Artists and writers have the ability to highlight environmental issues in a way that is accessible, thought-provoking, and at times beautiful.

John Dahlsen is a contemporary environmental artist and author of three books; An Accidental Environmental Artist  (Alpha Academic Press 2014), An Artist’s Guide to a Successful Career (Common Ground Publishing 2013) and Art Insights (One Creation 2009). Dahlsen uses recycled materials to examine how time affects the landscape and the place of humankind within this.

Dahlsen said he originally went to the beach to clean up rubbish. As he filled garbage bags full of debris he became intrigued. ‘I was so excited finding all this plastic on the beach; I got my pallet and I left the beach clean’ said Dahlsen. It was this moment that inspired Dahlsen to use rubbish in his work, eventually becoming known as a leader in the field of environmental art.

Dahlsen finds some unusual objects while scouring the beach. Once he found half a pair of plastic broken dentures. About half an hour later he found the other half, both of which he has incorporated into his work.

Environmental ethics are important in Dahlsen’s work. Not many people want to know about garbage patches. Dahlsen said the government needs to find a solution. He suggested that fishermen who overfish the ocean and create much of the rubbish should go and clean it up, being paid by weight for what they collect. ‘The only issue is who is going to pay?’

Making something beautiful with a sense of aesthetics is important to Dahlsen. He feels it’s a tightrope of working with something ugly and creating something beautiful.

The Absolut Dahlsen. Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2004

The Absolut Dahlsen. Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi, Sydney 2004 – Photograph from artists website

Dahlsen  described how he once spent many hours in his studio sorting rubbish into piles like yellow, red, thongs and bottle tops. Yet whenever he found brown plastic he would always throw it into a corner. When he decided to document his piles of rubbish by standing on a ladder and photographing them he became aware of the brown rubbish. He realised ‘Oh my god, this is so beautiful. Who am I to judge brown?’ This was a profound moment for him.

In the juxtaposition of beauty and ugliness sometimes things can be viewed as neither- they just are. By shining a spotlight on the rubbish that is washed up on beaches, John Dahlsen not only creates amazing works of art to be enjoyed, but will hopefully help to generate change in the way we respond to waste and care for our environment.

-Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University. Sara covered the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review.

For further information the Byron bay Writers Festival go to http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

John Dahlsen’s website can be found at http://www.johndahlsen.com/

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The Byron Bay Writers Festival on the Road: Sara Khamkoed Encounters 5 Writers in Alstonville

Rochford Street Review at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

BBWF2015_5Writers5Days5Towns_A3 Poster 2Byron Bay Writers Festival has been on the road with The Five Writers Road Trip. This adventure involves five writers visiting five towns in five days.

I was lucky enough to see the five writers at their fourth stop in the little town of Alstonville. The audience was entertained with book readings, insights into the writing process and a discussion on how readers have responded to their work. The writers included Zohab Zee Kahn, Mark Dapin, Chris Flynn, Lian Hearn and Ellen Van Neervan, with Zachary Jane as MC and chair.

Zachary Jane asked the writers about how they researched for their books. Ellen Van Neervan said the research for her book Heat and Light was 20 percent personal experiences, 20 percent observations and 70 percent imagination (with a total of 110 percent, which is what it took to write her book!). Zohab Zee Khan- whose book I Write is a collection of his slam poetry- said that his research comes from living life; what he reads in the paper, hears in conversations and sees on the news.

When discussing how the writers felt when their books were published, Lian Hearn said that when her very first book was published many years ago she experienced a strange feeling she described as shame. Her book, which had come from herself, was now outside herself. Mark Dapin and Chris Flynn agreed about this feeling of shame. Dapin said that it’s a cycle of shame and aspiration. He gets good and bad reviews but the bad reviews affect him more and he remembers them. Flynn agreed, saying ‘I used to be suspicious of people who said they liked my book’. Hearn then added that after shame comes affirmation. ‘It’s wonderful to write something that reaches people all over the world. It’s a see-saw, you’re either extremely elated or in the depths of despair’.

Ellen Van Neerven’s book Heat and Light reaches young people sometimes. She said ‘I hope this helps them know they aren’t alone, that their difference can also be a strength’.

Zohan Zee Kahn also described how he reached people though his love of poetry, motivational speaking and telling stories. He described a moment after performing some poetry, when a woman came and told him ‘I really needed that’. The woman went on to explain that she had been planning on killing herself that weekend, but that hearing Khan had changed her mind. Khan said he went to his car and cried. He explained we are all just people and concluded: ‘There are power in words’.

For those in the Northern Rivers you can still see The Five Writers Road Trip at their final stop on 6th August from 7.00-8.30pm at The Hot Wok Restaurant, Murwillumbah Golf Club, 233 Byangum Rd. For bookings call The Hot Wok Restaurant on 6672 4041.

You can also see all five writers at The Byron Bay Writers Festival from the 7th – 9th August. For more information and bookings see http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

– Sara Khamkoed

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Sara Khamkoed is an artist and writer based in The Northern Rivers. She is currently completing a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts/Secondary Education with a second major in English at Southern Cross University.

For further details on the Byron Bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The program for the festival can be found at  http://issuu.com/nrwc/docs/bbwritersfestival2015-program-v7

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Closer to the Centre of Things: Rochford Street Review Previews the 19th Byron Bay Writers Festival

The 19th Byron Bay Wrtiers Festival runs from 7th to 9th August 2015

Rochford Street Review at the Byron Bay Writers Festival

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Once upon a time, many, many years ago, a poet friend stood on a beach at Byron Bay and, gazing wistfully out to sea remarked “this is as close as I can get to the New York poets without leaving Australia”.  Looking back I wonder if, technically they were correct. Would you be closer to the New York School if you stood at the top of Cape York, or Lord Howe Island, or even Sydney in 1968? At the time, however, it seemed strangely appropriate to think that we were closer to the centre of things balanced, as we were, on the very edge of Australia.

Of course such seriousness did not last long. I believe the next comment had something to do with Frank O’Hara being run over on a beach and noticing some ominous tyre tracks leading down from the dunes. This was well before the event of the Byron Bay Bluesfest, or the Byron Bay Writers Festival, but there was still a lot of creativity happening in and out of town, in cafes, bars and parks. In those days the trains still ran through to Murwillumbah and I have a distant memory of a poetry reading on the station platform.

But Byron Bay, like the rest of us, has grown up at least a little and, while there may still be vibrancy on the streets, most of the cafes are now upmarket and poetry and writing a little harder to find. That is until the annual Byron Bay Writers Festival comes around. This year marks the 19th year of the festival which is held in the Arts & Industrial Estate (turn left as you head towards Byron along Ewingsdale Rd after turning off the Pacific Highway (is the upgrade finished yet?).

The Festival proper kicks off this Friday (5th August) but some events are already under way. A series of workshops, run by Moya Sayer-Jones,  Zanni Louise, Mandy Nolan, and Krissy Kneen among others will run at various locations around Byron in the 4 days leading up to the festival. The Five Writers Road Trip (5 Writers, 5 Towns in 5 days) kicked off on 1 August in Coffs Harbour before moving to Grafton on 2 August, Casino on the 3rd, Astonville on the 4th before finishing up at Murwillumbah on the 5th. The five writers undertaking the tour are Lian Hearn, Zohab Zee Khan, Ellen van Neerven, Mark Dapin and Chris Flynn who conduct workshops and discuss books and reading during panel discussions at each stop.

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These days, of course, the prestige of a Writers Festival depends on their guest list, the balance between international and local names, established and emerging and so on. After Sharon Olds recently made the trip to Mildura it was with some interest to see who was making the trip to Byron Bay in Early August. I shouldn’t have been worried because, despite a handful of last minute cancellations (Helen Garner, Joanna Rakoff and Osamah Sami), there is an impressive line up of local and international talent at this years festival.

One particular highlight for me would have to be British-Pakistani Political commentator Tariq Ali in conversation with Kerry O’Brien (Bush in Babylon must have one of the best cover designs of the last two decades). For the more literary minded other international guest include the 2015 Booker longlisted Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma and the Mexican-based writer, Jennifer Clement, whose novel, Prayers for the Stolen, was shortlisted for this year’s PEN Faulkner Award for Fiction.

For the local writers Kate Grenville speaking on her most recent book, One Life: My Mother’s Story,  on Saturday at Byron Bay Library would have to be high on the list of must sees. I saw Kate speak on One Life at the Sydney Writers Festival this year and I can tell you you are in for a treat.

David Hallett with special guests Daevid Allen (at his final public performance)  at Writers at the Rails, Byron bay 1st March 2015.  - Photograph by David Hancock

David Hallett (left)with special guests Daevid Allen (at his final public performance) at Writers at the Rails, Byron bay 1st March 2015. – Photograph by David Hancock (http://www.davidhancock.com.au/)

The tribute to poet, guitarist, singer, composer and performance artist Daevid Allen on Saturday at the Lone Goat Gallery is also something to pencil in. Allen, who died in March this year, founded the band Soft Machine (named after a William S. Burroughs novel) in the 1960’s and took part in the 1968 Paris uprising where he apparently handed out teddy bears to police. After touring and performing and living in a hippy commune Allen returned to Australia in 1981 he returned to Australia and took up residence in Byron Bay. He continued to work on performance pieces and poetry as well performing Jazz, Acid and psychedelic rock as well as a genre called space rock. His official website can be found at http://www.daevidallen.net/daevidallen/ index.html. The tribute to Allen will be MCed by poet David Hallett who organised Allen’s last public reading in Byron Bay on 1st march this year. Also reading and remembering  will be  Vasudha Harte, Riddhi, Frank Khouri, Willie McElroy and Robert Gibson.

Other writers to keep an eye out for include Emily Bitto, winner of the latest Stella Prize, James Bradley (http://cityoftongues.com/), Jane Caro, Matthew Condon, Robert Drewe. Ramona Koval, Sofie Laguna, winner of this years Miles Franklin, Angelo Loukakis. Moya Sayer-Jones and many many more.

The Arakwal Bumberlinpeope gathered for thousands of years on the land we now call Byron Bay to tell their stories and sing their ceremonies. If think of the Byron Bay Writers Festival of existing in such a tradition then it becomes much older than the 19 years of the current festival. Lets see this gathering of writers and creativity in a much larger and longer tradition in the Northern Rivers and maybe we can build some links to the ancient stories in this land. Rochford Street Review  wishes everyone taking part a happy 2015 Festival!

– Mark Roberts

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For further details on the Byron Bay Writers Festival go to  http://www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au/

The program for the festival can be found at  http://issuu.com/nrwc/docs/bbwritersfestival2015-program-v7

Sara Khamkoed will be covering the 19th Byron bay Writers Festival for Rochford Street Review

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