What’s God got to do with the Sydney Writers’ Festival?
Anna McGahan, Susannah McFarlane, Scott Monk and Claire Zorn on their write stuff
Sydney Writer’s Festival is no stranger to strange ideas. Or dangerous ideas. Or ‘I can’t believe anyone believes that’ ideas. But get a load of a SWF panel this Sunday: four Christian authors, talking about their writing and “What’s God got to do with it?”
What on earth is that going to be like?
“I’ve never really encountered a panel like this at Sydney Writer’s Festival,” says panellist Claire Zorn, author of young adult novels including The Sky So Heavy and winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Young Adult Fiction.
“It’s an opportunity to talk about the way my work is impacted by my faith.”
Zorn will be joined on the “What’s God got to do with it?” panel by actor and author Anna McGahan, celebrated publisher and author of children’s books Susannah McFarlane (the EJ Girl Hero series) and Scott Monk, whose novels for teen males (notably, Raw) have been HSC staples. Host of ABC Radio National’s Soul Search, Meredith Lake, will guide the SWF session which its panellists know may challenge the audience. But hopefully in an unexpected way.
“Christians are just normal people and we do have voices,” says Monk about what might be the most surprising thing to come out of the SWF panel. “And we’d like to share some of those voices in the public square.”
“I hope they won’t be shocked,” continues McFarlane about anyone who attends the SWF panel. “I hope they will be amused, interested, possibly relieved that we are normal people writing interesting stuff about everything.”
The “What’s God got to do with it?” panel is a mix of award-winning, high-selling authors who, largely, have not written explicitly Christian material. All are keen to share how much their personal beliefs shape what they do and how a Christian perspective can empower their pens. Again, perhaps not in the way you think or fear.
“There’s always that fear that we are trying to brainwash people or push an agenda in our books,” admits Monk, who twice previously has been part of SWF. But Monk says he and his panellists all have that same concern and they definitely don’t want their writing to stumble into being manipulative. “We want to reflect real people with real lives and real struggles.”
Zorn is conscious of not injecting her books with any indoctrination. “I don’t have an agenda and my writing is about a secular world and I write for a secular audience,” says Zorn, who was involved in SWF’s 2015 Schools Programme. “But I do have Christian characters in my stories.”
Having been involved with publishing or writing children’s books which have sold more than three million copies in Australia alone, McFarlane hopes that her young readers or their parents “wouldn’t be alarmed” about her personal faith. McFarlane puts a slightly different spin on agenda – one that acknowledges a reality of anyone’s writing.
“I mean, everyone writes with an agenda. It’s just whether they are upfront about it. Everyone writes through a lens and I can only write as I see life.”
“Christian writers are always wrestling with these issues in different ways which maybe a secular audience hasn’t thought about.” – Scott Monk
Best known as an actress in TV mini-series such as Underbelly, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Anna McGahan’s first book is being published in September. Metanoia: A Memoir of a Body Born Again is McGahan’s poetic encapsulation of her own conversion experience. But, again, it’s probably not what you are thinking.
“Its not intended as a proselytising text. It’s not intended to persuade or convince the reader that they should believe what I believe,” says McGahan, who has struggled with personal addictions and illness.
“But what I can promise is that it’s honest and raw. I haven’t exaggerated. Even though things in the book are extreme – both my behaviour or the spiritual interactions that happen to me as I go on that journey.”
Without ramming Christianity down your throat, the members of the “What’s God got to do with it?” panel hope their discussion on Sunday delivers ideas and beliefs which some might not have considered credible.
“At the moment, it’s very uncool to be a Christian,” says Monk. “However, I think what you will find [in Christianity] there are a lot of very intelligent, insightful answers to some of the questions we are asking at the moment.
“Christian writers are always wrestling with these issues in different ways which maybe a secular audience hasn’t thought about.”
“It’s given me enormous comfort and hope so why wouldn’t you share that?” – Susannah McFarlane
McFarlane loves writing for young children because they haven’t yet hit the “darkness” of young adult fiction. “One thing you can do for kids is to give them hope and, if anything, my hope stakes have gone up massively.”
“I think I always [have been] an optimist, but now I’ve got grounds for my optimism. And my view is longer term.”
McFarlane became a Christian during the past few years. Given she is new to Christianity but very familiar to young readers far and wide, does she really think being part of “What’s God got to do with it?” is a good idea?
“I mean, to be honest, I’ve probably thought ‘Is this the best idea I’ve ever had?’ But it is because it’s who I am and I’m actually really proud of [being a Christian].
“It’s given me enormous comfort and hope so why wouldn’t you share that? It’s given me much more encouragement than fear, so I’d like to pass that on.”