Review: Salman Rushdie at MWF

salman rushdie author

Some people’s eloquence has the effect of making you feel both a little smarter having listened to them…and a little despairing at your own comparative lack of eloquence. Which is how I felt listening to Sir Salman Rushdie speak at the  Melbourne Writers Festival last week!

The session was billed as one where he’d speak ‘about major themes in his writing, his life and the contemporary world: freedom of expression, religion, pop culture, current events, East-West relations and the role of the artist in shaping our understanding of the world.’

So just a few topics to touch on then!

I was interested in hearing him speak on these issues because of how I suspected he’d been personally affected. I also need to admit that Salman Rushdie is one of those authors that’s been on my ‘must read’ list forever, but I hadn’t ever read one of his books. After listening to him present, I immediately went home and bought “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”. His language is stunning – and the story is much more engaging that you sometimes expect ‘literature’ to be. So in addition to being inspired by the session, I’m excited to have stories to look forward to reading.

But back to the session. It was truly an honour to listen to him speak: to know you are listening to a person who has given real and deep thought to so many issues, who keeps education and investigation alive, who champions the role of the writer, and who maintains a fantastic sense of humour and humility.

As Salman covered so much in his presentation, I thought I’d distill a few of the key thoughts that shone through. And make the recommendation that should you have the opportunity to see him speak, you should definitely take up the opportunity!

Writers as society’s collective memory

Writers delve, writers tell unpleasant truths – and Salman believes that writers have become the collective memories of a society. He points out that the passing of time is often what determines what ‘truth’, what stories, are told. What becomes “history”.

When writers document what actually happened at the time, how people actually thought, we’re able to preserve this history.

Literature and Power structures

Creators of literature and ‘power structures’ are often at odds.

Human beings are the only creatures that tell stories – and these stories are told to help us better understand each other

As such, he asserted that ‘censorship’ – which is essentially limiting stories that are told – is an “existential crime”.

He also pointed out that we live in an age where there are ‘incompatible narratives’ can become quite violent-people die: he noted Israel and Palestine as a current example.

Salman asserted that writers are one of the few groups who have come out with dignity are the writers from Israel. He said “The very few voices saying something worth listening to.”

Opening the Universe

Great artists try to ‘open the universe’ a bit more. For writers to perform this act, Salman asserts they can’t do it sitting in the middle/safe ground. Great writers go to the boundary – the visible or invisible fences – and push.

Many would prefer writers didn’t do that work of opening the universe – and that’s why artists often find powerful forces pushing back.

But he gave a number of examples where great art outlives the dictator … and says that art often outlast its oppressors.

Sadly, it was noted that it may also outlive the artist and not be recognised till they’ve years after they’ve died.

So he made the very good point that “Art doesn’t need defending, but writers do.”

On keeping a story current

Salman said “If you are my kind of writer, you want the story to last”. This is why he tries to write more about past events, rather than current events, to avoid a story ‘dating’ too quickly.

He said he “tried to find where my characters private lives intersect with major moments in history”.

Can writers change the world?

How can writers change people? Salman says a single book can rarely change anything.

However, we are often swayed by what we read that we enjoy.

So when you love a book, it can change the way you think. So it can change you.

We don’t love that many books – but those what we do can deeply impact us.

Finally – why pain in life is not always something to be avoided

“Pain is an extraordinary window that shows you things you wouldn’t have otherwise seen.”


Image source: The Times

Fancy a seaside trip? Top five sunken cities

Sirens and superstition. Voyages into the deep. Mythical or just undiscovered? Sunken cities are as fascinating if they are real or exist only in legend. Preserved in a watery shroud, they offer tantalising hints to historic events. Those yet to prove their existence become a beacon of unknown, a tempting treasure for explorers and storytellers alike. Here are my top five mythical sunken cities.


5. Atlantis: You can’t possibly have a list of sunken cities without including Atlantis. Such a huge myth that has lasted for eons that it’s no wonder it’s hard to let go of. Written about by Plato as a vision of a utopian island; and widely believed to have sprung to life from his imagination. But there is an argument that he was inspired by older texts and that it may well have existed many years before, wiped out by a volcano or earthquake/tsunami before Plato’s linage was conceived.

4. Vineta: A mythical city supposed to be submerged in the Baltic Sea, off the southern coast. As many of these legends go, it was the general naughtiness of the inhabitants that lead to the sea rising up and swallowing the city. It is said that it reappears at times to act as a warning for future revellers – misbehave at your peril!


3. Mu: Not quite a city, more a whole lost continent. Mu is the legendary Motherland of all society – believed to be written about by the ancient Mayans, referencing it as their homeland that was destroyed and sunk after a cataclysmic event. Augustus Le Plongeon (1825–1908), a traveller and writer, was the first to popularise the ‘Mu’ myth, claiming he had translated the ancient Mayan writings that told of this even more ancient continent. Where is it? Buried in either the deep blue of the sea or our collective imaginations.

2. Kitezh: A Russian sunken city, thought to be lying at the bottom of Lake Svetloyar. The legend goes that on the impending invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century, rather than fortifying their city, the citizens of Kitezh prayed instead for their redemption. The Mongols, seeing the city unguarded, moved to attack, only to be astounded by water shooting up around them. Before their eyes, the city was submerged into the lake and away from capture. It is said that only those who are ‘pure of heart and soul’ will find their way to Kitezh, and when the the lake is calm you can hear the bells chiming and people singing in the city below.


1. Ys: Another mythical city that succumbed to its own depravity. Ys is said to be of the coast of Brittany, built below sea level and surrounded by a dike to keep it from flooding. It was given by King Gradlon to his daughter Dahut, who then turned the city into the capital orgy destination in the land. She apparently enjoyed not just wild sex with many men, but also beheading them afterwards. The city wall had a great gate, with the only key held by the King.

The legend goes that one of Dahut’s lovers convinced her to steal the key from her father and give it to him. The lover was in fact the devil, and he opened the gate, flooding the city. Dahut was turned into a mermaid and the city was lost. It is said that when Paris falls, Ys will rise again.


So next time you’re thinking of jetting a character off into a mythical city, why not pack them a wetsuit and dive into a sunken city?

Looking for more lists? Here’s our top ten favourite fonts and our top five creative writing ideas.

How to… Make a vintage-style photo in Photoshop

There are a million ways you can use Photoshop, and while I’ve used it for work for many years I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do. There are also a million different ways to do the same thing- so this post is about one simple way I create vintage-style illustrations, I’m sure there are many other ways!


I’m using Photoshop CS5, and the images are a combination of stock photos (from iStock) and my own images.

1. You will need a photo or scan of paper texture (preferably brown, but not too dark), and a picture you want to make ‘vintage-y’.

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2. Create a new document to the size you need and copy and paste the two images into it.

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3. Make sure the ‘paper’ layer is below the ‘picture’ layer. Select the blending mode ‘Colour Burn’ from the Layers palette on the ‘picture’ layer

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TIP: The ‘Colour Burn’ blending mode can make bright colours very bright, especially if you are blending reds/yellows over brown; if your picture is looking too lurid you may need to tweak the colour in the ‘Hue/Saturation’ adjustments or by using the ‘Curves’ option.

4. Create a new layer above the ‘picture’ layer. Using the paint bucket tool, fill this new layer with a brown colour.

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5. Using the circular selection marquee, draw a circle (holding the ‘shift’ key down if you want a perfect circle). Make sure your circle is centred. From the ‘Select’ menu, click through the ‘Modify’ option to ‘Feather…’. A pop-up box will prompt you to enter a value. I feathered my selection by 100 px, my document was 1000 x 1000 px. Once you press ‘Ok’, hit the delete key. You have now created a vignette.

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TIP: You may want to experiment with different shades of brown depending on the dark/lights in the picture below. You could even try using a colour instead.

6. On the layer with the vignette, choose the ‘Colour Burn’ blending mode from the layers palette. Voila! You now have a vintage-styled photo to use how you please.

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Now go for it- vintage-up all your favourite pics!

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Check out some of our other how to’s… How to install and use google webmaster tools, how to write a book, how to survive the apocalypse… plus plenty more


Friday words and pictures

Here’s a little selection of pictures and words to brighten your Friday. Happy almost weekend!


There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Emily Dickinson

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Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps’ nest.

Matsuo Basho


When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

And when I come to the garden ground,
The whir of sober birds
Up from the tangle of withered weeds
Is sadder than any words

A tree beside the wall stands bare,
But a leaf that lingered brown,
Disturbed, I doubt not, by my thought,
Comes softly rattling down.

I end not far from my going forth
By picking the faded blue
Of the last remaining aster flower
To carry again to you.

Robert Frost


Here’s some more poetry and pictures: a little about Haiku, some found poetry and inspired by vintage styling.

Working Creatives: Meet Stephanie Doyle

Creativity is a huge field, with ‘creatives’ work in all sorts of pursuits. So far in our Working Creatives series we’ve met designer and photographer Clint Sutherland and radio personality Carly Portch.

This week we’re featuring marketer turned entrepreneur Stephanie Doyle. Stephanie has taken an idea, turned it a key product, designed it stylishly, manufactured locally and now it’s found in the most personal of spaces across Australia: bedrooms.

Meet…bedroom design entrepreneur Stephanie Doyle


Stephanie Doyle was a career marketer of more than 20 years. A little over a year ago she decided it was time to shake things up. She took a chance and moved in a different direction to start her own ‘bespoke bedroom design’ business, Tuft and Buttons.

Whilst her background is marketing communications, at the beginning of her career she also studied product design.

She is inspired by a passion for beautiful bedroom furniture and was disappointed by the mass market imports that have flooded the market. So she decided to fill this gap by creating Tuft and Buttons. She started with a bang too, with one of her bedheads featured on the huge home renovation show, The Block.

One year on, her goal remains the same – to design and manufacture exceptional furniture that is locally made.


Everyone should own… a beautiful, comfortable bed that is your sanctuary.

Happiness is… spending time with loved ones and listening to the happy laughter of shared memories and new adventures that are being planned.

I collect books about… travel destinations. Planning my next adventure is always exciting and turning the pages of a glossy picture book is so much more inspiring than browsing online.

I feel most creative when… I’m relaxed and spending time with my friends. I love bouncing ideas around and bringing a concept to life.

My cheap thrill is… having crispy bacon when I’m out for breakfast. This doesn’t make me a very good vegetarian, but I can’t help it. I just love it and it puts a smile on my face!

My next adventure is… to France and Italy, to explore the country-side and be inspired by traditional manufacturing methods.


Right now, I’m inspired by…. Jeffrey Alan Marks. An established, US-based interior designer, I love the way his style is fresh and contemporary yet timeless. Each project is entirely different and clearly demonstrates the personality of the client

The best gift I’ve ever given was… last week – it was a booklet of 70 love notes to my mother on her 70th birthday. Each note was handwritten and designed by different members of our family and we recounted all the quirks and traits we love about mum. She loved this gift of precious memories.

The best money I’ve ever spent was… my ticket home to Melbourne. After living in London for five years I was ready to come home and be enveloped by all my favourite things and places. It marked a defining moment in my life and the start of my next chapter as a business owner.

The best way to make a statement is... to be confident and articulate. Know yourself and back yourself – you won’t regret it!




Changing fashions…in book cover design. Six original vs current covers.

It’s wise to remember that the “perfect idea” or “perfect solution” doesn’t stay perfect forever.

The idea of what makes something ‘great’ is far from static. It changes over time – sometimes it only takes months, or a few years – but what was once the ideal becomes passé. It’s affected by everything from technology to taste to design trends.

This is really changes in ‘fashion’ – which is noticeable in areas far outside the clothing industry.

Book publishing is a prime example: Books and book jackets look extremely different now than they did even ten or twenty years ago.

You can see variations in everything from fonts to imagery to text. And of course with ‘classic’ books, their nod to the original period is notable – but still somehow more modern.

We’ve collected a few classics and pictured their original (or an early) edition against their modern counterpart. Even if some of the original jackets didn’t look so worn, you can immediately place the old versus the new.



“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published by the Homewood Publishing company, circa 1900. “Through The Looking Glass” was published by Donohue, circa 1904. Image sourced from Forgotten Book Marks.

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great gatsby cover




A spot of science on a surprising way to boost your creativity

exercise creativity

I’ve long been an avoider of exercise. Not because I’m not an active person, but because exercise for exercise’s sake just seemed like a waste of valuable work/reading/crafting/writing/learning/relaxing time.

But over the past few months, I’ve had a change of heart. I’m training for a 50km fundraising walk and I’m exercising at least five days a week. And I’m not just feeling the physical effects, but also the mental effects. I feel more focused, more energised, in the hours after exercising. I wondered if this was just me – a placebo effect or a way of patting myself on the head! – or whether there might be some science to it?

And it turns out, according to some exploratory scientific research, it’s likely I am actually more creative post-exercise. According to this study, immediately afterwards – and then for up to two hours afterward – subjects were judged more creative (based on the use of several tests: Figural’s tests A & B and the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking). So there were immediate and residual effects to the exercise on creativity.

Does this mean all creatives should become gym-bunnies?

Not at all – it’s only an ‘exploratory’ study after all. But like with the effects of music and creativity, it does give you another creativity tool to help generate ideas should you be in need of a boost. And if you already exercise, perhaps this suggests you should schedule your most creatively demanding work challenges post a morning walk or gym visit rather than spending the first hour of your workday checking emails.