Panellist Aira Chilcott from Canberra is the fourth Panellist to bring a report after a Press Service International Young Writer Conference, and this report comes after the Sydney young writer conference on 1 August held at Petersham Baptist Church.
The first was given after the 2013 conference in Melbourne by the late Tony Dunkerley. Liz Hay sent the second after the New Zealand Wellington conference in April last year, Gavin Lawrie the third after last year's annual conference in Tweed Heads, now the fourth is presented by Aira Chilcott, a retired high school college teacher.
Aira initiated her report thus: "With apologies, sort of, to Banjo Patterson....There's a stirring in the suburbs round the church at Petersham, Where a ripple of young writers has amassed, From far and wide they travelled as excitement gripped their hearts, In wordsmithing to celebrate prowess."
I'd nominate Aira Chilcott as the Australian Poet Laureate for such an introduction and this report provides a thorough overall critique and finishes with an analysis with recommendations and suggestions:
First off Aira Chilcott made these observations:
- People were excited to be there – definitely a worthwhile gathering
- Many people did not know each other and occasionally meeting each other for the first time was a bit awkward
- The history and global context was very interesting and valuable
- The strategies given by Jeremy Suisted and Sophia Sinclair were excellent and people need to take that all on board
- Hopefully Russell Modlin will collate what we did in small groups because it would be nice to see what other groups thought
- It seemed for the people in my group that the hardest thing was to start their article each month, then to be on time (except for the rare ones who did theirs early!), and where to get inspiration
- Consistently I heard that people wanted "feedback".
- It was wonderful to have most air fares covered by scholarships to enable most to be there and also to use the church hall
Aira Chilcott emphasised the value of Russell Modlin's culture input, the history of the young writer ministry by Laura Veloso and that of Christian Today by former editor David Chang. The small groups proved invaluable for vision discussion and Aira herself was part of Week 2 group which consisted of - Charley Goiris (Melboune), Alex Gillespie, Tim Robertson, Meenal Chandra and Grace Mathew (Sydney), Brad Mills and Sam Rillstone (Auckland), Matt Browning (Rotorua) along with Aira.
The afternoon session was central to the program. Aira writes of this:
"Jeremy talked about writing as worship. Originally Christians had God in every sphere of their lives, not just in a temple – radically different from the culture around them that had to go to a temple to meet with god or worship him/her. Luke chapter 10 verse 27 – write with all your mind. He also gave some excellent strategies to use in preparation for writing: learn to plan, use a toolbox (blue letter bible), read good books, wrestle with scripture – chew over it, don't just grab a verse – understand the context, keep practising, challenge yourself – go with the unfamiliar, saturate in prayer, work with symbols, seek significant memories – ask why?, embrace the unknown – be ok with uncertainty, journal and record, think deeply, pray constantly.
Sophia asked how to distinguish our articles from other prose? Devotional, sermon, comment writing – we effectively do the latter. Write unashamedly from a Christian world view bias, persuasively, topically, provocatively, critically, in order to lead to discussion. Need a catchy title. Steer clear of jargon – if you must use it, explain it. Link the end with the beginning. Unfortunately she ran out of time.
Aira Chilcott recommendation / suggestions
- The speakers could be miked, or they need to speak (much more) slowly in order to be heard – the reverberation in the hall worked against them being heard easily. NZ people spoke very fast and sometimes their accent got in the way of "my" hearing as well.
- Suggest a deliberate ice breaker before small groups, then mix the groups so people meet more new people.
- One of the activities in small groups could be to discuss the things people find difficult – and then to spend a bit of time praying for each other about these issues. God is the source of our inspiration and I'm convinced that He is interested in people doing their best for Him and is only too willing to help if we ask – and corporate prayer is hugely important.
- This elusive thing called "Feedback"! Sophia sends things back for editing. Fellow Panellists have offered to discuss articles with the writers – doesn't happen much, but maybe that's a function of not having met the people. I actually wonder whether the "feedback" people would like is simply on the level of "yes we liked it" or something affirming, that their topic or idea was worth writing about rather than the technical aspect of editing and correction. It is hard to write in a vacuum, but then the very fact of being published is affirming.
- I wonder about inviting all the panellists – I was surprised at how positively people viewed my presence and several said they'd like to meet the rest!
- I also wonder about an overnight stay – yes it costs more but there's more time to interact with each other and building relationships is important. We could finish in the evening with the awards presentations, but have a bit more time for strategies/small groups. Also people could visit someone's church in the morning before leaving and maybe do some touristy stuff.
Aira Chilott concludes: "Overall I am very grateful to Dr Mark Tronson for inviting me! I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and meeting so many wonderful young writers whose names and photos I had only seen online. You are so much nicer in person! May God bless you heaps as you seek Him and write for His glory!"
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html