In keeping with tasteful tones of past and present, the regular venue for Melbourne Lit Group is housed beneath the sandstone levels of Federation Square, in and bordering the historic Federation Wharf vaults. The restaurant overlooks the banks of the Yarra River, around which the city of Melbourne has grown.
(Click the following link for more information and atmosphere – http://www.australia.com/en/places/vic/fed-square.html)
Melbourne Lit is one of many writers’ groups advertised on the Melbourne Meet Up website (http://www.meetup.com) which site boasts 990 writer members in all at the time of writing. An old, Qwerty-keyed typewriter features centre stage of their web page, bearing a notice, ‘Every Saturday and Every Wednesday at 3 p.m.’ Text and details further reiterate this information.
‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this group must be something. A meeting twice weekly means it’s popular and buzzing.’ Susan Roberts, one of my writing buddies (https://susanrobertswriter.wordpress.com) and I were accustomed to meeting only once a month at the South African Writers’ Circle in Westville, South Africa (sawriters.org.za). This was before she immigrated to Australia and I arrived for a visit.
Thank goodness that Sue reads like she writes – prolifically with perfection, every jot and tittle. I might have missed it. In small print beneath the article is an update: The group is meeting fortnightly on Saturdays at the moment guys and not as indicated. Thanks!
Sue pre-booked us a spot at the table of eight guests for Saturday 21 November, 2015. She was assured that it could be found in the back corner of Riverland Bar and Café ( referred to on the website as café and on Riverland’s web site as bar), by the ATM. After a few attempts to locate this particular haunt of supposed fame (the table that is), and several discussions with confused waitrons, we discovered that the ATM had been moved; exactly how long ago remains a mystery that nobody wrote about.
Slightly perturbed by the lack of patronage at the hesitantly indicated table, especially as we were on time, we hovered on bar stools, conscious that we were the only females between the ancient stone back of the room and the water’s edge. A waitress brought a jug of water and eight glasses. We supped like two wallflowers with nothing better to do on a cool, spring afternoon, in the heart of what is renowned as the world’s most liveable city. Its social artery, the river, was hidden from view by a glut of rowdy imbibers. We wondered if beer was the only drink on the menu, a slight concern for Sue who, probably swayed by the term café, was anticipating her customary pot of tea.
After about twenty minutes, another lady joined us. She was a little flustered from trekking around Melbourne in a misdirected haze of equally faulty though more disturbing directions. The group facilitator, Steve, arrived just before three-thirty with an effusive rush of words to explain that the meeting was not intended to start until that time. ‘The website,’ he said, ‘stated three to accommodate everyone who tended to have trouble finding their way there on time.’ Sue will correct me if I have misquoted this – I think there might have been a gap between what I actually heard and what I understood. Steve had lost himself in a book shop on route. I stifled a chuckle.
A fifth person arrived just as our facilitator excused himself to get a beer. We ordered tea and hot chocolate (it was on the menu) and prepared to bury ourselves in a promised manuscript for critique. There was still plenty of space for the three no-shows. It was disconcerting. I consoled myself with the thought that, if nothing else, the experience would make a comic blog post (or an ‘Agatha Christie’ type plot).
There we sat; an organiser, three pleasantly maturing women and a sweet lady who told us she writes horror. Go figure. Our great expectations swaddled for another time, we prepared to settle in for a peculiar afternoon.
Well, what the dickens! Charles Dickens himself would have been equally surprised – shells (not duck) opened and ‘swans’ came forth with plenty of ‘Pip’s’ potential.
Imagine my excitement to discover that the lost-and-found lady, who introduced herself as Anita Trevi, was an acclaimed twentieth century artist who had brought her catalogue of artwork and poetry with her. At humble invitation, we read and commented on some of her verses and I, for one, realised we were in the presence of greatness as we paged through photographs of artworks akin to surrealist icon, Salvador Dali.
Unlike the famous painter, Anita is Italian, very much alive and hardly known online. There is a one page display of some of her artwork with a photograph of her as a younger reflection of the vibrant enthusiast she still is (https://www.instagram.com/creativeartist43/). It was placed there by a friend. There is so much untapped scope to market her paintings online, if there are any left.
Salvador was accomplished at self-promotion (http://www.biography.com/people/salvador-dal-40389). I doubt he considered online marketing in his day, and yet the Spanish artist who died during the inception of the worldwide web has ‘reams’ of web space dedicated to him.
Anita’s face was pregnant with story and it was a pity we didn’t have more time to explore the palette behind her life as an artist.
Helen, the horror writer, was also intriguing although I shy away from a genre that has the ability to reduce me to a jellyfish in tights, no matter how well written. The only horror story she told us was about the cost to edit a work she was paid $20 (AUD) for. I wonder if her editor will be a main character in her next thriller.
Such are the challenges of aspiring writers. Anita’s catalogue must have cost a small fortune in Italian lira, but she has sold most of her paintings and has turned to writing. So far, Sue and I seem to have done most of our work without losing too many South African Rands to the pockets of professional proof readers and style editors. Editing seems such a lucrative profession that I am seriously considering a career change. I think there could be a good market for it in Australia, starting with a web page or two and a few horror stories, at half the price of course.
Like Anita, Steve, whose own bio must be fascinating, had also brought work for critique.
From my experience at the hands of sharp judges, I am conscious of the need to be sensitive and encouraging when it comes to evaluating the creative work of others. Steve’s overview of group activities, born out by a snippet from the group page, viz., “Our group is friendly and loves gentle critique, discussion about publishing and anything that we can find to make us better writers,” reminded us of the eggshell nature of our task.
We discussed Steve’s manuscript which was well organised and shows passion and promise for the future. We wished him every success with the second draft of his novel. The rest of our time was free for socialising and getting to know each other. Steve departed in search of another book shop, leaving us with renewed expectations, new friends and lots more to write about.
P.S. Of course, communications that matter (http://www.matternatter.com) are never far from my thoughts. To the three no-shows and the other 982 writers in Melbourne – you missed out!
Try and get to the next Saturday meeting (5th December at time of blog), starting at 3.30 p.m. You will find a designated table in a small room (on the way to the toilets), nowhere near the ATM. The Riverland Bar (and Café) is beneath the Yarra side of Federation Square. Go down the steps to the walkway, turn left and then do a U-turn to take you down the ramp to the river. You literally have to walk through the Riverland Bar to get to the designated room on your right.