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At the Newcastle Writers Festival – by Ryan O’Neil

Last week I appeared on a panel at the Newcastle Writer’s Festival with Maria Takolander and Abbas El-Zein to talk about short stories. The panel was called ‘Nowhere to Hide’ and was hosted by Karen Crofts, who started off the panel with some great questions, before giving the bulk of the one hour session to the audience for question time.

I had spent the week before the festival reading Maria’s short story collection, The Double as well as Abbas’ The Secret Maker of the World. Both were excellent, and I highly recommend them. (They’ll definitely be appearing in my selection of 100 great Australian short story collections at some point, and I’ll talk about them more then.) It was only as the panel opened that I realised that the work of Maria, Abbas and myself, though very different, had one thing in common; we were all immigrants. Maria moved to Australia when she was (from what I can recall) five or six, while for Abbas and I it was much later in our adult lives. Frank O’Connor once said (or if he didn’t, he should have) that the best short stories are about outsiders, and written by outsiders. Reading Maria and Abbas’s collections, I had been struck by the fact that many of their characters were outsiders as, in fact, were many of my own.

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