When Robert Sidler joined the Clunes Writers’ Group, it was with a degree of trepidation. Now he is a published author whose works feature in an anthology from Australia’s famed book town.
Each autumn, the tiny town, 36 kilometers north of Ballarat, is the destination for writers and readers to share their stories during the annual Clunes Booktown Festival.
It seems appropriate then that there is a book that shares the stories of Clunes’ own writing collective.
The Clunes Writers’ Group officially launched Unmasked: An Anthology at the Clunes Neighborhood House in May.
It is a collection of the group’s short stories, poetry, prose and haikus from the past two years.
Group helps build confidence
For many of the 18 contributors, including Sidler, it was their first time as a published writer.
Clunes Writers’ Group convenor Patsy Skinner said people who joined the group were often surprised, not just that they had a story to tell, but also by how others were in those stories.
When Robert [Sidler] first came to us from Ballarat, he didn’t know anyone here.
“In the early days when he was coming, there weren’t a lot of men either.”
Rhonda Christian’s works had appeared in an earlier Clunes Writers’ Group booklet titled Write Along. However, she said, seeing her words appear in a professionally bound book that had the potential to appear in a bookshop or library gave her a real sense of satisfaction.
“It gives you a sense of validation,” Christian said.
“I think [seeing your work in a published form] validates those thoughts and ideas because they are able to be appreciated by other people.
unmasking writing talent
Unmasked, as an idea, was born two and a half years ago.
Members from the group were locked down like just about everyone else in Victoria, with little to no opportunity for face-to-face contact.
Over the next two years, Unmasked grew into a collection of 150 individual pieces. Some are stories of 1,000 words or more. Others are poems with fewer than 20.
“We began by feeling like some of our writing [during that time] should be shared,” Ms Skinner said.
“We wanted the opportunity to put it down in black and white, so we felt like we were really authors of our own work.
The Clunes Writers’ Group includes well-known Melbourne poet Ken Smeaton and Castlemaine Poetry Readings prize winner Gail Oliver.
Others had not even attempted creative writing before joining the group.
“This bunch comes from so many different backgrounds and from so many different places,” Ms Skinner said.
“We have people who have moved [to] Clunes in the past few years from the big cities, from other states, but we also have people who have lived in Clunes all their lives and like to write about the great environment we live in.
“There are writers like Ken Smeaton who have been in the Melbourne poetry scene for many years, but there are also writers who have come along to the group with no experience and who are very unsure about it.”
Sidler read his piece Once Again at the Unmasked book launch:
For a moment I thought I couldn’t write anymore
Or was it
I didn’t want to anymore
Words were somehow too hard to find
Or put into pictures
Then I looked in a dictionary
Stuck my head in a thesaurus
Listened to some songs
Found something to write about
A touch of motivation
A taste for creation
And once again the joy,
The pleasure and the pain of writing
was upon me
“He is a writer who can put his words and thoughts down very quickly. Quite often, he will compose a poem in a matter of minutes,” Ms Skinner said.
“His ideas and thoughts just seem to resonate with other people.”
Judi Palmer moved to Clunes in 1998 and joined the writers’ group in 2018.
She said joining a group helped get things going, but it was not the only way to start writing.
“You have to just sit down and write,” Palmer said.
“A lot of people [in the group] write because they had a traumatic experience. Others write anecdotes from their day-to-day life.