All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Melbourne Writers Festival Recap – Part 2

on September 1, 2013

MWF13Continuing on from my wrap up of the festival Part 1 (which you can see here) the second session I attended on Saturday the 24th August was Exploring Antarctica. I have a huge fascination with Antarctica – I love reading books set there, I watch documentaries set there and I’ve even looked at going there. Short answer to that is, I’m way too poor for that! So I live vicariously through literature and others who have been there.


L to R: Moderator Zora Sanders, Jesse Blackadder and Robin Burns

One of the women in this session was Jesse Blackadder, who I heard at the Morning Reads session, reading from her book Chasing The Light which has been added to my TBR pile. The other person speaking was Robin Burns, an academic who has interviewed many women who live and work in Antarctica and spent time herself down there as well, staying at Casey. Both women had slide shows to go with their talk and some of the photos (which I will include here, apologies as they are just pictures of pictures!) were truly beautiful.

Jesse Blackadder spoke first. She said that she wrote Chasing The Light basically because she wanted to go to Antarctica. What she loves about Antarctica is that it’s unique among the continents in that it’s not owned by anyone. She’s been to Antarctica twice and found herself really inspired by Ingrid Christiansen, who was one of the first women known to have seen Antarctica in around 1931. Women had been applying to go on expeditions to Antarctica from the early 1900’s and in 1937, 1300 women applied to an expedition. None went. It was very much seen as a place that was not suitable for women, or that women could not possibly be included in.


When Jesse Blackadder went to Antarctica, she said that she was amazed by the colours – the shades of blue in particular and that nothing had prepared her for that. She was infected with a bit of Antarctic ‘madness’ and tried swimming there, but it was summer – true Antarcticans have the ‘mid-winter dip’ where they cut a hole in the ice and swim in it.

Blackadder went to where her story was set and stood where her characters stood. For her, that brought the story together and gave her an understanding of history. However, not all of what she learned was pleasant – she has to research deep sea whaling in the 1930s, which she found absolutely devastating. 40,000 whales were killed in the year her book is set.

Chasing The LightJesse Blackadder then talked about the cover for her book, Chasing The Light which is published by Harper Collins. When she first saw the cover, she assumed it was photoshopped. However, the photo is real, taken in Russia. The woman in the picture is a twice world-champion free diver and is free diving in the photo, with others around her who help arrange the wrap that covers her (she’s naked). Also during this shoot the model fulfilled a dream of diving with Beluga whales and there was a shot of that as well (which I missed snapping as I was too busy scribbling the details down!). For Jesse, this picture on the cover of her book summed up all of the themes in her novel.

Jesse has also written a children’s book entitled Stay: the Last Dog in Antarctica. It’s based on the (true) story of a Guide Dog collection statue which was kidnapped from Hobart in 1991 and taken to Antarctica where it has remained ever since. The Stay of the book has adventures in Antarctica but longs to get home back to Hobart with the money she has raised for the Guide Dog Association, which is the purpose she has been trained for. It sounds very cute and although it’s recommended for 8yos+, I’d like to read it to see if my eldest son (5) might like it!

StayAnd because no mention of Antarctica is complete without reference to these:

IMG_8506Next was Robin Burns – in 1966 she farewelled a friend going to Antarctica and said that one day, she would study the effects on men on having women down there in Antarctica. In 1995/6 she did indeed study the challenges of scientists working in remote areas – many different sorts of remote areas, including Antarctica and she spent time at the Casey station.

How times have changed – from 1937 where 1300 women were rejected to even take part in an expedition, women have now occupied every single position on Antarctica including that of helicopter pilot and diesel mechanic.

Burns talked about some of the challenges that people in Antarctica face during their day-to-day life: you need to find someone to go out with you, every time you leave the base or the camp. Going out alone is a definite no. You need to layer clothing and weather proof your equipment. She also mentioned the ‘mid-winter dip’ and added further information that the stairways to get in and out have to be covered in rugs or some sort of material to stop people’s skin sticking to it as they clamber in or out (that got a shiver of fear throughout the audience, thinking of precisely how cold that would be!)

One of the things I was interested in is why people (in particular women) go there. There are quite a lot of reasons – some for the sense of privilege at witnessing such (mostly unspoiled) beauty. It’s a challenge, it’s something different. The weather, the isolation, the silence can all be a drawcard and also a negative. For Jesse, her characters went there for three reasons: to be first, for the place in itself, and for their personal journey.

Just Tell Them I SurvivedRobin Burns’s book, Just Tell Them I Survived! Women In Antarctica which is a collection of interviews celebrating women who live and work in Antarctica or who have lived and worked there, from the first women scientists in the late 50’s, to current day, published by Allen & Unwin.

Up next: My first Sunday 25th session Life Lessons on writing historical biographies and how it tied in to my previous session on historical fiction.

**Please note: the photos of Antarctica included in this post belong to Jesse Blackadder.







One response to “Melbourne Writers Festival Recap – Part 2

  1. […] Festival towards the end of the month. I’ve posted a couple of recaps for that here and here and will have a couple more coming up in the next couple of […]

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