Finding, Telling The Story

Chair: Susan Angel
Panelists: Merlinda Bobis, Estelle Blackburn

Truthful Fictionalising
Merlinda Bobis

A ‘found story’ is a ‘lived story’. Only then is it worth telling. Only then will there be conviction in the telling. Only then can the story be ‘lived’ by the audience, if not with as much conviction, at least with the necessary recognition/resonance. Then the telling of the story might come full circle. These arguments will be addressed by Filipino-Australian writer Merlinda Bobis as she charts her research and writing of two novels set in the Philippines: The Solemn Lantern Maker, which is about poverty and child prostitution, and the assassination of a political journalist in the context of the global war on terror; and ‘Fish-Hair Woman’, a narrative on militarisation. From the moment of the purported discovery of a story to the process of investigation, and to ‘a truthful fictionalising’, writerly, ethical and sometimes security considerations are always in contentious play. What does it mean to ‘live’ a story and to bring it to life on the page? How are actual lives implicated in this process?

Merlinda Bobis has published novels, short fiction, poetry and plays. Her dramatic works have been performed in Australia, Philippines, France, China, Thailand and the Slovak Republic. Her writing has received various awards and shortlists, among them the Prix Italia, the Steele Rudd Award for the Best Published Collection of Australian Short Stories, the Philippine National Book Award, the Judges’ Award (Bumbershoot Bookfair, Seattle Arts Festival), the Philippine National Balagtas Award, The Age Poetry Book Award (shortlist), the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal (shortlist). She has written in three languages: English, Pilipino and Bikol. She is a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Wollongong. Author’s website:

Finding Narrative Form
Estelle Blackburn

Estelle Blackburn is a Perth journalist with a passion for justice. She spent six years on a major work of investigative journalism resulting in the book Broken Lives. This self-funded work succeeded in exposing injustice and wrongful conviction, leading to acceptance by the justice system of two grave mistakes it had made four decades earlier. It resulted in the exonerations of two men wrongfully convicted of killings in Perth in the ’60s, when they had lost a combined total of seven appeals. Her talk will explore why she chose to present her research in the narrative form, styling it along the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and the pitfalls she sought to overcome in changing from an investigative journalist to a creative writer of a true story. She will also address how, after carrying out her essential research acting purely as an investigative journalist, she then realised the need for further research to fulfil the creative aspects of the narrative style. She will discuss the ethical issues inherent in the literary devices she employed.

Estelle Blackburn has worked for The Western Australian, ABC radio and television in Perth, before going into government public relations – for WA ministers, a WA premier, and various government departments. She currently freelances while she is completing a PhD (Murdoch) based on her successful work of investigative and literary journalism. Her work for justice has won Estelle an array of awards including an Order of Australia Medal for community service through investigative journalism, a Walkley Award for contribution to the profession and the Perth Press Club Award for sustained excellence in journalism. She’s been the subject of three one-hour episodes of the ABC’s Australian Story, a segment of 60 Minutes and an episode of the United States’ program Forensic Files. Broken Lives won the Australian Crime Writers’ Association’s award for Best True Crime and the WA Premiers Award for best non-fiction. Her memoir The End of Innocence, was launched at last year’s Sydney Writers Festival.


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