Meet MRF Author: Amal Awad

We’re a few days out from our exciting Readers’ Festival extravaganza, and we couldn’t be more enthused. But before we get carried away, allow us to present someone pretty special - another of our glorious authors.

In our final instalment of meeting MRF authors, say hello to Amal Awad.

Amal Awad is a Sydney-based writer, journalist, author and screenwriter. She is a regular contributor to SBS Life, and has written for publications like ELLE, Frankie, Daily Life, Sheilas and Junkie. In 2010, she published her debut novel Courting Samira – a tale of Muslim courtship and coming of age in contemporary society – which was a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.

Her book Beyond Veiled Cliches – The Real Lives of Arab Women explores the real lives of Arab women both in Australia and in the Arab world. Her latest book is a look at ageing, illness and life — Fridays with My Folks stems from personal experiences, but expands to a much wider, more universal discussion about life, suffering, coping and hope.

To spend some time with this fabulous woman, be quick to snag tickets to her events:

Meet Amal Awad

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What book/author has had the biggest impact on your career?
Watermelon by Marian Keyes turned on a switch. I have always loved stories, I have always been a voracious reader. I played with being a writer, but that book - irreverent and hilarious but not in such a heightened way that it seemed implausible - got me thinking about the power of humorous storytelling.

How did you get into the writing business?
In a very roundabout way. I graduated from uni with an arts/law degree and practised briefly before an inevitable reckoning: practising law was not my path. I went into editing legal encyclopaedias, then sub-editing trade magazines. It was there I first started to write features, and occasionally I would have a Heckler piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald. My writing career grew from that experience.

What’s your ideal reading setup?
Comfortable chair and a hot drink.

Coffee or tea?
Coffee.

Kindle or Paperback?
Paperback.

Early riser or night owl?
Night owl.

Favourite book of all time?
Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi.

What are you reading right now?
White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad — I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advanced copy. This is an important book.

Get your last chance tickets for the Mudgee Readers’ Festival here!

Blind Wines, Blind Books

Ahead of our Blind Wines, Blind Books session this Saturday, Blind Wines wine genius James Horsfall has been busily matching Mudgee region wines with books by our programmed authors. Take his book and wine pairing advice and sit back with some Festival books and matching local wines:

Queerstories with Gilbert Blanc
This wine is drawn from three different grape varieties: Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling — all blended together to make an interesting, stimulating and versatile wine that suits a wide array of foods. Often differences between grapes are highlighted, with some wine snob types preferring their wines unblended and uniformly varietal. I say pfft to that! This wine shows that diversity brings interest and richness; it often makes us better. This wine is undoubtedly going to keep you good company as you read through this collection of LGBTQIA+ stories — diverse and exciting, stimulating and challenging.

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The Mother in Law with Heslop Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Cabernet Sauvignon is a complex, full and rich wine. It is a wine that rewards patience and needs time in the glass to express itself fully; it is a variety that is undoubtedly full of intrigue. The tannin structure of Cabernet Sauvignon makes it very long-lived but at times makes it a tough wine to drink in its youth. If Cabernet Sauvignon is not harvested fully ripe and treated correctly in the winery, it has quite unpleasant characters. However, the Heslop's Cabernet Sauvignon is harvested at its optimum ripeness and displays beautiful full ripe fruit flavours. This wine is a deep, complex red perfectly match for this complex, suspenseful read.

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Want to try some more Blind Wines pairings and test your own book and wine matching skills? Join James at the Mudgee Art House for Bilnd Wines, Blind Books this Saturday!

Meet MRF Author: Benjamin Law

Ddi someone ask for a funny and talented writer? Oh right - we did - when we asked the legendary Benjamin Law to be a guest at our Mudgee Readers' Festival. And guys - we can’t even believe it’s on in one week’s time! Less! Ok, we’re getting carried away.

So about Benjamin… He is the author of the memoir The Family Law, the travel book Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East - both of which were nominated for Australian Book Industry Awards - among other fabulous titles. Meanwhile,The Family Law is now also an award-winning TV series for SBS, which Benjamin created and co-writes. Benjamin has also written for over 50 publications in Australia and beyond — including the Monthly, frankie, Good Weekend, theGuardian, the Australian, Monocle and theAustralian Financial Review— and has a PhD in creative writing from QUT. Sheesh, talk about overachieving!

Devastatingly (unless you got a ticket), his coffee/breakfast date at Pipeclay Pumphouse has sold out, but you can catch his wit and charm at these events, where tickets are still available:

  • Listen Up! - talking podcasts with talented writers + podcasters

  • Queerstories - a delightfully enjoyable evening including dinner

So without further ado…

Meet Ben Law!

What book/author has had the biggest impact on your career?

Hard to pin down. But from overseas, David Sedaris – seeing what he could do with personal essays changed how I saw writing generally. And locally, writers like Marieke Hardy and John Birmingham made me understand my writing didn’t have to be one single thing. If they could write across platforms and genres, and write across serious and silly, then so could I. 

How did you get into the writing business?

My first published piece was a letter to the editor at Rolling Stone magazine as a teenager. I was named “Letter of the Month” and they sent me a Panasonic stereo as the prize. “Obviously,” I thought, “writing is a very well-paid career path.” From there, I did a writing degree, edited the university magazine, did work experience – then worked – for street press, and got writing for newspapers and magazines from there. 

What’s your ideal reading setup?

In my usual place: at night, after a shower, when I’ve rinsed off the day, and in my bed with my legs interlocked with my fella who’s reading something entirely different. Either that, or an overnight train in India. 

Coffee or tea?

Tea. I don’t mind coffee, but I’ve never needed it – I probably have one coffee a month. I have green or oolong tea every day though.

Kindle or Paperback?

Paperback. 

Early riser or night owl?

Bit of both. I go through phases. Right now, it’s early riser, but that isn’t out of choice. I’m not a morning person, but I do like the sense of getting a headstart on everyone else. 

Favourite book of all time?

Can’t possibly answer that. Let’s approach it another way. I nominate The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander. 

What are you reading right now?

Non-fiction: Fake, by Stephanie Wood. Fiction: Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James.

Grab your Mudgee Readers’ Festival tickets quick before they all sell out!

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Meet MRF Authors: The Finishing School Collective

A collection of badass women writing brilliant books? Sign us up!

We caught up with three of the fantastic Finishing School Collective women, scooping everything from their favourite books to whether we should buy them tea or coffee when we get to meet them. It’s an amazing introductory to the writers who will be gracing us with their presence at the upcoming MRF.

You can catch these ladies + more of the FSC gang at these events:

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Take Five With…

Sheila Pham

1. What are you reading right now?
Purple Threads by Jeanine Leane, which is wonderful. The Situation and The Story by Vivian Gornick is a brilliant book about writing I've been intending to read for years.
2. Favourite book of all time?
The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell is timeless. I regularly re-read Persuasion by Jane Austen too.
3. Coffee or tea?
Coffee before 10, tea all day long.
4. Kindle or Paperback?
I never fully converted to ebooks. Moving house was a huge pain last year given the amount of books that had to come with us!
5. Early riser or night owl?
I've always been an early riser, which is just as well nowadays since I have a two-year-old.

Eda Gunaydin

1. What are you reading right now?
Crowds and Party by Jodi Dean
2. Favourite book of all time?
Don't judge me, but it's The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut
3. Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, Turkish
4. Kindle or Paperback?
Paperback
5. Early riser or night owl?
Early riser!

Faith Chaza

1. What are you reading right now?
I just started Room for a Stranger (Melanie Cheng)
2. Favourite book of all time?
Ooh. hard. I think it's a tie: Zoo City (Lauren Beukes) and Girl Meets Boy (Ali Smith)
3. Coffee or tea?
Both. And often.
4. Kindle or Paperback?
Paperback (usually a library copy)
5. Early riser or night owl?
Night owl (although I feel more like a bat)

Meet MRF Author: Sophie Hansen

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We caught up with the fabulous writer behind the Local is Lovely blog, Sophie Hansen. Sophie kicked off her career as a journalist, spending over two decades working as a features writer.

In 2013, she set up her Local is Lovely blog to create a community of people who love supporting farmers by sourcing, sharing and celebrating good seasonal and local food. Sophie and her family raise deer according to holistic practices and Sophie has also recently published the gorgeous cookbook A Basket by the Door.

Sophie has been awarded Australian Rural Woman of the Year in recognition of her commitment to rural communities, giving us yet another reason to adore her. She also runs a podcast, My Open Kitchen, which is gearing up for its third season.

So where can we catch the lovely local at the Mudgee Readers' Festival, we hear you ask? Sadly, her High Tea event has completely sold out (she's very popular!) but you can still join Sophie at:

Meet Sophie Hansen

What book/author has had the biggest impact on your career?

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M.F.K Fisher's The Art of Eating - I adore the way she writes about food and culture and the joy and satisfaction of a shared table of good, simple food. She’s also very funny and opinionated and writes like a dream. 

How did you get into the writing business?

I studied print journalism at university and from there found myself working in food media first as an editorial assistant for Australian Table magazine then features editor. From the get go I loved writing about food and the people who grow, cook and share it. I now mostly write for my own blog and online pages and in April this year my second book A Basket by the Door was published by Murdoch Books.

What’s your ideal reading setup?

My old blue and white arm chair; a battered old thing I bought at a garage sale when pregnant with my first child Alice. It was my nursing chair, but now lives in a sunny spot in the living room. Sitting there with a cup of tea and a good book and a good hour to read is my all time favourite thing.

Coffee or tea?

Tea first thing in the morning then coffee after 9am!

Kindle or Paperback?

Definitely paperback! I know Kindles are much cheaper but I spend so much work time in front a screen, it’s like shifting into another gear when I open a book.

Early riser or night owl?

Early riser. I try to get up around 5/5.30 most days to get a jump on the day and have my tea and the kitchen all to myself before the house wakes up and the chaos begins.

Favourite book of all time?

That is a really difficult question! I have always loved a good Gothic classic so would probably say the Count of Monte Christo. That or My Family and Other Animals. And yes, I know they are light years apart in style and setting but they both transport me into another world and that’s’ what I love about reading.

And most importantly, what are you reading right now?

Overstory by Richard Powers. I’ve only just started but absolutely loving it so far.

Meet MRF Author: Chris Hammer

Chris Hammer was a journalist for more than thirty years, dividing his career between covering Australian federal politics and international affairs. His first book, The River, published in 2010 to critical acclaim, was the recipient of the ACT Book of the Year Award. This year, Chris’ book Scrublands is the feature of the One Book One Community initiative, where copies of his book are distributed around Mudgee and everyone’s encouraged to enjoy it before the festival rolls around.

MRF attendees are then invited to a fabulous conversation about the book with the author himself during the festival. The One Book One Community event will be held on Saturday 17 August at 10.30am at the Town Hall Theatre, and while the event is free, bookings are essential. The discussion will be hosted by Michael Bourke.

Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.

You can also catch Chris Hammer at the Generation Me or Generation We? panel and Business or Pleasure? - but for now, get to know Chris Hammer with our cheeky little Q&A.

MEET CHRIS HAMMER

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What book/author has had the biggest impact on your career?

Probably Peter Temple. I loved his crime books, particularly Broken Shore and Truth. He was also my writing teacher when I studied journalism in the early eighties.

How did you get into the writing business?
I was a journalist. I wrote two non-fiction book and liked the process, so tried my hand at fiction, not knowing how well it would go. I wrote Scrublands over four or five years, almost as a hobby, but I was lucky that my brilliant agent, Grace Heifetz liked it and agreed to represent me.

What’s your ideal reading setup?
On the beach, on the train, under a tree on a sunny day. On the couch, in bed at night, wherever.

Coffee or tea?
Ha! Both. Good espresso in the morning, tea in the afternoon and evening

Kindle or Paperback?
Paperback, definitively.

Early riser or night owl?
Night owl. Always have been.

Favourite book of all time?
God, there are so many. Maybe Catch 22.

And most importantly, what are you reading right now?
Normal People by Sally Rooney. Just wonderful.

Meet MRF Author: Rosalie Ham

The brilliant author of worldwide sensation The Dressmaker is coming to Mudgee for this year's cracking Readers' Festival. Rosalie's novels have sold over 150,000 copies in Australia and around the world, with The Dressmaker becoming an award-winning film starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth. Her latest book is The Year of the Farmer.

Rosalie is the headline speaker at our Long Lazy Lunch on Sunday 18 August, hosted by Alice Grundy at The Cellar By Gilbert - a sell-out event if ever we saw one! You can also catch her at the From Page to Screen and Stage panel on Saturday 17 August.

We caught up with Rosalie to ask her all the important questions (and a few fun ones) ahead of her debut at MRF.

MEET ROSALIE HAM

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What book/author has had the biggest impact on your career?

Most of them, but in particular Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Austen’s humour, wit and observant eye was a revelation to me as a young teenager. Also, her luminous female characters, the suspense, intrigue, love, hurt and the triumphs of everyday drama in a small community spoke of the universal. That story helped me understand the way I saw things.

How did you get into the writing business?

I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember, but it was the writing course at RMIT that galvanised all my writings and guided me towards the publishing industry.

What’s your ideal reading setup?

Flat on my back in bed, two specific head pillows in perfect place and a book resting on the other specific reading pillow on my chest, reading lamp just so.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee, double shot.

Kindle or Paperback?

Paperback

Early riser or night owl?

A night reader, late riser.

Favourite book of all time?

I usually cite All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy but of late I’ve been captured by Amy Bloom’s White Houses. And recently when I was asked that question someone responded, ‘Wouldn’t it be the first novel you published since it started it all?’ It’s a good question.

And most importantly, what are you reading right now?

I’m at a critical stage in my writing so I’m reading stories that won’t ‘sway’ my ‘emotional arc.’ I’m enjoying This is Shakespeare by Emma Smith and Uncommon Arrangements, Seven Marriages in Literary London, 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe.

To learn where to find all your favourite authors and cracking events, check out the MRF Program and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet our youth intern!

The Mudgee Readers’ Festival is passionate about developing skills, opportunities and interests for young people in our regional NSW town, and thanks to support from Create NSW and Express Media we are able to bring a youth intern on board this year. Meet Hannah Edensor!

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

Hello there, I'm Hannah; a 27-year-old freelance writer from Sydney who made the (somewhat rash) decision to swap UberEATS and a 9-5 job for a less stressful life in Mudgee. It's been almost two years, and while I miss having 7000 choices in takeaway restaurants, I've honestly never felt more at home. I enjoy hanging out with my boyfriend and two beautiful dogs, buying house-plants, cooking, and practicing yoga. I don't enjoy how big spiders are in the country. 

What excites you about being involved with the Mudgee Readers’ Festival this year?

I fell out of my reading habit for a while, but since moving to Mudgee, I’ve rediscovered my passion for a great book - and seen how many I've been missing out on! So being able to immerse myself in fascinating stories, share cracking book recommendations, and put my writing skills to good use is basically my happy place.

What are you hoping to get out of the experience of being our first ever youth intern?

I'm really excited to work with such a cool community of locals in Mudgee; seriously, everyone is so engaged with everything going on here, and it's a nice feeling to be a part of that. I'm also keen to expand my network and find opportunities to work with more local businesses, as part of the Festival and beyond.

And most importantly, what are you currently reading?

I've just finished Delia Owen's 'Where the Crawdads Sing' and Stephanie Danler's 'Sweetbitter' - two very different books, but both magic in the way they're written and the worlds they've created.

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