Di Jenkins

Varuna Alumni Monthly Features 2017

Varuna Alumni Association: the craft, the writing life


The Varuna Alumni Monthly Feature is prepared each month by Varuna's Alumni News Editor Diana Jenkins.

There are interviews and articles and we encourage you to express your views using the Comments form at the end of each Feature.
Please drop the News Desk a line if you’re so inclined – your feedback is ALWAYS welcome and very much appreciated.

An Invitation to Alumni: Contribute to the Alumni News & Monthly Features

If you have some news you wish to share with other alumni, or if you have a hankering to interview other writers, or have a great feature bubbling away in the back of your mind, the Varuna Alumni News welcomes member contributions. Please send no more than 1,000 words to the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for consideration. Contributions should be attached as a Word document, and include any JPG images relevant to the piece.

Update your Alumni Profile

If you’d like to update your profile in the Varuna Alumni Directory, please email 100 words or less, plus a JPG (150px wide) photo of yourself, to Vera at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

View Alumni Features from:    2018    2017    2016    2015    2014    2013    2012    2011    2010    INDEX

Alumni Feature November 2017


Between the Awful Noise and this Terrible Silence

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Dreaming Recently I’ve been dreaming about my neighbour. Two of them lived in the apartment – a couple – but I never dream about him. Only her. The most recent dream was two nights ago, in which she materialised in my apartment’s private courtyard, behaving as though it were hers. The thing you need to understand about my dreams is that they are always childishly literal: I dreamt of her trespassing on my property because she spent the past year systematically invading my family’s privacy. Imagining her taking over our private outdoor area was merely the extension of a situation in which the sanctity of our home was already compromised on a daily basis.

Alumni Feature October 2017


Alumni Interview: Mark O’Flynn

Interview and introduction by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Mark O'Flynn

I first met literary all-rounder Mark O’Flynn at Varuna’s 2012 Strategy Day, which took place at Leura’s Fairmont Resort just as Jansis O’Hanlon was about to take the reins at Varuna. It was a great day, full of ideas and energy, and from memory Mark and I first bonded over a group team-building exercise that involved constructing some sort of tower from paper. Our group’s tower was a triumph, I tell you, a triumph. And we had rather a lot of fun doing it too. Since then, we’ve caught up a few times thanks to Varuna events and Sydney Writers’ Festival run-ins. I usually pepper him with questions about his work teaching creative writing to prison inmates – because I can think of few paid writing jobs more fascinating and stressful – but this month it gives me great pleasure to welcome Mark here to discuss his Miles Franklin shortlisted novel, The Last Days of Ava Langdon.

Alumni Feature September 2017


A Life Sentence

By Diana Jenkins


Oh, for Christ’s sake, who’d be a writer?
Your own mother thinks you do it to spite her.
But it’s a lifelong affliction
Far worse than addiction –
A dark hole in which lives a spider.

Alumni Feature August 2017


Cause and Effect

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Anne Enright This month, your Features Editor is happily ‘at large,’ as it were. I’m writing this from France, beginning with what I’ll call the Anne Enright Effect.

Some of you may remember Enright was a guest at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, immediately following which I bolted two of her novels, The Green Road (2015) and The Gathering (2007). I avoided The Gathering when it published to acclaim, winning the Man Booker the same year; as soon as I caught a whiff of the child abuse theme, I concluded at the time that I’d really rather not. I have difficulty stomaching such material, whether in fiction or no, but the day I finished The Green Road, I found myself scanning the shelves of a local bookstore for one of its predecessors. The Gathering was the only Enright on the shelf.

Alumni Feature July 2017


Alumni Interview with Mark Brandi

Introduction and interview by Alumni Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Mark Brandi Nothing makes me happier than reading a great novel – unless of course that novel is penned by a Varuna writer, in which case, there’s always an extra skip of joy in my heart. So imagine the little jig I danced after finishing Wimmera, the gripping debut novel by Mark Brandi. Not only do I get to celebrate the success of a member of the Varuna Alumni Association, I get to invite him here to the Alumni Interview Suite to tell us about his book. It’s a beauty.

Alumni Feature June 2017


The Solace of Shared Stories

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Diana Jenkins Surely one of the great joys of any writers’ festival is discovering new authors to adore. This year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival was no exception, as readers from Sydney to the Blue Mountains were once again moved, challenged and delighted by writers from around Australia and the world. Refuge was the theme of this year’s festival – the first for Artistic Director Michaela McGuire – and god only knows we all need a bit of that from time to time.

Or do we?

Alumni Feature May 2017


The 2017 Eric Dark Memorial Lecture: Crossing the Line

by Professor Wendy Rogers (Interview and introduction by Features Editor Diana Jenkins)

Wendy Rogers For those of us in Sydney and the Blue Mountains, May is one of the hottest months of the year, despite the rapidly plunging mercury. Yes, it’s Sydney Writers’ Festival time again, with the Varuna SWF program serving up an extraordinary array of Australian and international talent in Katoomba. Undoubtedly one of the Varuna SWF festival highlights is the 2017 Eric Dark Memorial Lecture, to be delivered at the Carrington Hotel by Wendy Rogers, Professor of Clinical Ethics at Macquarie University.

Alumni Feature April 2017


Alumni Interview: Katherine Johnson

Interview and Introduction by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Katherine Johnson This month it gives me great pleasure to welcome novelist Katherine Johnson to the Alumni Interview Suite. Katherine will be a guest of the Varuna Sydney Writers’ Festival in May, wending her way back to the mountains after first staying at Varuna a decade ago as an aspiring author. There’s something especially gratifying about Katherine’s trajectory; she personifies ‘the Varuna writer.’ Her development and ongoing success represent a prime example of the work Mick Dark hoped the National Writers’ House would do when he first gifted his parents’ house to the writers of Australia. Here is a gifted writer, based in Tasmania, whose debut manuscript won a place on a Varuna program, an award that led directly to publication. Six years later, her second novel travelled the same path: it too won a Varuna award before being published to acclaim. The very concreteness of Varuna’s role in nurturing Katherine’s talent not only rewards the work of so many unsung heroes who work so tirelessly behind the scenes, it also stokes the flicker of hope for those of us still dropping crumbs in a dark wood, writers for whom the path to publication is far less straightforward.

Alumni Feature March 2017


Writing from the wound

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Hanya Yanagihara

Finishing A Little Life by American author Hanya Yanagihara, several impulses struck simultaneously. The first was to put a pillow over my head and scream and weep myself to sleep. The second was to jump on the bed in a mad frenzy of joy and relief that it was finally over and I could start reading something else instead. I’m free! Free! The third was to begin an immediate internet search on Yanagihara to try to discover what the hell would drive someone to write a story like A Little Life, a tale so awful, so often, that I think a little piece of my heart broke in a way I will never be able to mend. Why? Why would she do such a thing to me?