Telling tales

Thu, 26th May 2016

Sunshine Coast writers are making their mark on Australia’s literary scene, but say lack of funding is a major plot hole. WORDS: Richard O’Leary

The recent announcement of another literary festival on the Sunshine Coast, and the 21st staging of  Voices on the Coast next week, has some people predicting we are on our way to becoming recognised as a region of writers. So is this a new era in our literary tradition or the breaking of a false dawn? My Weekly Preview spoke with a number of authors across the Coast about writing, the creative scene, and whether or not our literary story is going to have a happy ending.

Steven Lang

Lang has written two novels and has won a number of prestigious literary awards. He is the organiser of the Outspoken writer’s festival and lives in Maleny.

What motivates you to keep writing?

Writing is simply what I do. Over the years I’ve made decisions about how I live, and what I regard as central. Other than my family, books and writing have been the two things I’ve focused on more than any other and this sort of thing becomes cumulative. What might have been no more than an ambition to start with, a dream, has come to define how I see myself, how I exist in society and the world. We all try on various coats throughout life, looking for one that fits. With writers, this process is slightly different because when we try on our coats, all the time underneath, we’re telling ourselves quietly, ‘this coat isn’t who I am, the real me is in here, taking notes’.

What advice would you give to writers just starting on their journey?

Read. In my case, and in the case of every other even remotely successful writer I know, the desire to write has come from reading books and from an almost visceral need to become part of the community of books, to contribute to the conversation and to emulate the works of writers they have loved.

Why do you think this region is so prolific when it comes to writing?

Is it? There are people writing all over Australia. Melbourne has set itself up as the City of Literature, which is a great thing. Sometimes I’m very envious of that, of a whole culture which thinks writing is important. Generally, I don’t get the sense that the Sunshine Coast thinks writing is that important. We’re very lucky up here in Maleny with our many bookshops and festivals – clearly there are a lot of readers who either live here or visit. It’s important to have readers. Sometimes I find myself astonished that there are still people out there, in the era of the internet and instant screen satisfaction, who are prepared to sit down and read a book from cover to cover. 

What is needed to take the Sunshine Coast to the next step towards becoming a well-known writing region?

Funding for literature in Australia is woeful; $2.5 million last year, federally. Which, incidentally, is a tiny fraction of what the government earns through tax on the sale of books. The average earnings for a writer in this country is $13,000 a year. 

Is there anything holding us back from becoming more successful?

See the answer above. Although I might add that the role of the [Sunshine Coast]University in the larger writing community has been disappointing at best. They have a significant creative writing department, but they play an extremely minor role in supporting festivals or writers outside of their immediate academic circle. 

How important is the growth of literary festivals to the future of writing in this region?

Enormously so. One of the delights about organising Outspoken has been the discovery that there is a hunger for intelligent conversation in this region. 

Inga Simpson

Simpson is the critically acclaimed author of three books and lives in Eudlo.

What keeps you motivated to put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – each day?

I guess it’s a compulsion. I always have a story going on in my head, a project in the works. I don’t feel so good if I’m not writing. It’s making things up, and that combination of creating things in your imagination; crafting them on the page into hopefully, eventually beautiful sentences and paragraphs, and a story that engages the reader.

What advice do you have to aspiring writers setting out on this journey?

Get into a routine, just writing a little bit every day, even if it is just 15 minutes. But stick with your story, if you step away and leave it for too long it makes it hard to go back to and you start to procrastinate and start cleaning out the cupboards.

What is a writer’s life like on the Sunshine Coast?

As someone who is inspired by the natural world, I think it’s a great place to write. It’s part of the reason I live here, and why I moved here, so I could have a bit more space to write. Literally. I live on a bush block, my studio is surrounded by trees, I can’t see a man-made thing. Everywhere I go there is just such natural beauty, that’s part of my inspiration and why I love living here.

Is there a literary scene? Do writers help other writers?

As far as the community, I have to say I’m probably not the best person to ask. I’m a bit of a hermit. There are some great hubs of activity on the Coast, Outspoken up at Maleny is this rolling festival that has Australian and international authors in a conversation style format with Stephen Lang every month or so. I go to that and catch up with people.

My sense is that there is a vibrant writing community, a lot of emerging writers coming out of the [Sunshine Coast] University courses, some of whom I’ve had contact with. We’re lucky to have that course there and they’re doing good things, and it’s a growing program and university and I think that’s a great boon for the Coast.

Does living in the region influence how and what you write? 

Absolutely. I’m very much shaped by the natural world in what I write and the subject matter, definitely. I’m writing a nature writing memoir, which is about where I live, and about my tree change. One of my books was set here and this one will be too. It’s where I live, get around, walk and take photos. I think it’s definitely shaping my senses and my subconscious. 

Is there anything the region needs to take it to the next step to make it a more well-known writing region?

Yeah (she laughs). Some funding from the council. I noticed in their last glossy brochure of their vision that the arts had finally crept into it. Some way of co-ordinating that creativity and the artists doing things – some sort of annual or monthly program that drew attention to that and promoted them, and funded them in some organised way would be great. 

Aleesah Darlison

Darlison is the author of more than 20 children’s books and lives in Buderim. She will be appearing at Voices on the Coast and the Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival.

What motivates to keep writing?

A desire to create and share interesting and inspiring stories. I always feel very passionately about the topics or subject matter I’m writing about and I like to think my stories can generate that kind of passion in others too.

What advice would you give to writers just starting on their journey?

Don’t expect to become an overnight sensation. It takes considerable time – often years – to develop your craft. To become a successful, published author you need to write every day, surround yourself with supportive family and friends, network and connect with like-minded people.

What is a writer’s life like on the Sunshine Coast?

It’s amazing. You can really flourish here as an author or illustrator.

I moved here from Sydney about 18 months ago and I was a little worried that I would feel isolated or that there wouldn’t be any opportunities here for me. I’m glad to say that’s certainly not the case. There are loads of other authors here and plenty of opportunities for work on the Sunshine Coast, in Brisbane and throughout regional Queensland. 

Why do you think this region is so prolific when it comes to writing?

Fresh air, a laid-back lifestyle and inspirational surroundings are sure to breed great writers and great artists. The way we live also gives us time to write – a much-needed factor when perfecting a manuscript ready for publication.

Is there a literary scene?

My area of expertise is children’s and young adult literature, so I’m talking about people like Peter Carnavas, Dave Hackett, Michelle Pike, Elaine Ouston, Allison Paterson, Gregg Dreise, Judy Paulson – just to name a few. We all help and support each other, whether it’s offering feedback on a manuscript, giving advice about publishers and where to submit work, or sharing opportunities and information about upcoming events. People in our industry are always generous to one another.

What support is there for writers?

Support for writers comes in many forms – through the Sunshine Coast Library Service, the Sunshine Coast Council with its funding opportunities and arts event initiatives. The various bookstores on the Sunshine Coast support each other too. 

Casey Ardron

Ardron has just released his first book, an adolescent adventure called Xavier Wintersbee. He’ll be appearing at the Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival.

What motivates to keep writing?

Easy answer – a passion for the dramatic and the love of telling a good tale. I honestly get excited at coming up with the twists and turns of the plot. I never get tired of talking about the characters and the storyline. 

What advice would you give to writers just starting on their journey?

Write for the love of writing, and not because you want a bestseller. And of course, to finish what you start. It’s no coincidence that the theme of my first book is patience – without it, there’d be no book. And if it takes years to finish, then so be it.

Why do you think this region is so prolific when it comes to writing? 

To write, you need inspiration. And here, you’re surrounded by inspiration – the sea, the hinterland, the mountains. When it’s so easy to be inspired, writing comes easy, no matter what the subject. 

Is there anything holding us back from becoming more successful? 

Our laid-back nature here on the Coast is a great thing. But sometimes, it’s easy to be too laid-back. It’s good to be patient as an author, a poet, a musician or any form of artist. But if you have a talent, and a passion, don’t be too patient. It’s a fine line between being patient and lazy. Just get started and don’t stop – no matter how good the waves are.


Outspoken is an extended literary festival taking the form of occasional conversations with writers in Maleny.

It has attracted some of Australia’s best and most popular authors, of both fiction and non-fiction, such as Kate Grenville, Tim Flannery, Henry Reynolds, Graeme Simsion, and Thomas Keneally. Its list of internationally acclaimed writers includes Alexander McCall Smith, Patrick Gale and Ann Patchett.

Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival – September 9 to 11

The inaugural event will be held in Coolum and celebrate the Sunshine Coast’s Aboriginal heritage and surfing culture. The festival will bring together Australian and international writers (including journalists, environmentalists, photographers, poets, performers and musicians).

The original line-up includes journalist Sean Dorney, children’s author Aleesah Darlison and ‘Uncle’ Herb Wharton.

The organisers of the festival want it to become an annual event.

Voices on the Coast 2016 – June 4 to 8

Voices on the Coast is a youth literature festival on the Sunshine Coast presented by Immanuel Lutheran College and the University of the Sunshine Coast.

It includes two student days held at the University of the Sunshine Coast, plus a number of additional community events aimed at adults, emerging writers and readers.

The student days target students from Year 4 to Year 12, with more than 130 talks and workshops. The student days are also open to adults.