Di Jenkins

Varuna Alumni Monthly Features 2015

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 December 2015

Alumni Interview with Leah Kaminsky

Interviewed by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Leah Kaminsky The subject of our final Alumni Interview for 2015 is one busy lady. A practising GP, mum of three, chief domestic caretaker of a minor menagerie, self-professed nomad as well as a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction, Leah Kaminsky’s debut novel The Waiting Room hit bookstores in September and has been garnering reader and critical acclaim ever since.

Talking to Leah, it feels like she knows everyone, has been published everywhere and has won practically everything – it would be awfully intimidating and/or extremely irritating were it not for her legendary humility, generosity and old fashioned work ethic. With endorsements from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks and best-selling, late-blooming novelist Graeme Simsion gracing the cover of her novel, the wait is over for this evocative story of the enduring power of mother love.


Alumni Feature November 2015

Member Interview with Hazel Edwards, OAM

Interviewed by Alumni Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Hazel Edwards Not Just Cake cover Prolific author Hazel Edwards, perhaps best known for the classic children’s series that all began with There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, has an OAM for Literature, a readership in 13 languages, thousands of book-children (including mine, both of whom love the Hippo books), a group of loyal mentees known as the Hazelnuts, and a family that must feel the ever-present weight of Hippo, still up on the roof 30 years after he first started eating cake.

Hazel’s latest book, in a career that’s spanned everything from transgender YA to adventure writing, is an unconventional memoir of life and writing, Not Just a Piece or Cake: Being an Author.


Alumni Feature October 2015

A reminder that current, paid up members of the Varuna Alumni Association are invited to submit guest contributions on the Monthly Feature page. If you’re interested in participating, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Anyone interested in being the subject of a Member Interview is also warmly encouraged to drop me a line.

And now on with the October Monthly Feature…

Leaky boat Well, except it’s not. What follows is not the feature I intended to write. I’d planned to explore whether or not reading preferences influence or dictate a writer’s own eventual writing strengths, but that’s not what happened. Please be good enough to indulge me on this occasion and I’ll get the leaky boat back on course next month.

Meanwhile, I would be very interested in and grateful to receive your thoughts on the aforementioned topic: how does your writing reflect your reading? And if you don’t write along the lines of what you read, what impact do you think that has on your work? I, for instance, read contemporary literary fiction more than anything else, and yet I struggle with writing fiction. My professional published work to date is all non-fiction, so I want to think about that a bit more and see if there’s anything of value to share. Your own thoughts and experience would be invaluable. Thanks!


Alumni Feature September 2015

The Art of Activism

By Diana Jenkins

Diana Jenkins activism Lately I’ve been thinking about my broader social contribution, and I’m afraid I’ve been found badly wanting. I’m not sure any one thing first prompted this examination – motherhood has certainly played a part, and there’s no doubt I’m disillusioned and increasingly alienated by Australian politics too – but it has made me reflect a little more deeply on the sorts of roles writers have played and continue to play in Australian society at large.

Writers should make great activists, being existentially programmed to explore different ideas and articulate their point of view. Many writers are also accustomed to overcoming untold obstacles, often including unpopularity, lack of funding and staggering waiting times in order to get paper pushed across any sort of desk, so you’d think all that would come in handy too. Social media and other digital platforms seem tailor-made vehicles for writers who wish to agitate for change, but are writers a dominant force in shaping contemporary Australian life, and what role are writers playing in helping define this country’s future?


Alumni Feature August 2015

It’s a tough gig when you’re past your prime

By Guest Contributor, Varuna Alumna Elisabeth Hanscombe

Introduction by Diana Jenkins

past prime I’m turning 43 in September, a fact that’s endlessly surprising to me. It’s also frustrating, because I sometimes feel I haven’t properly established myself professionally – at least not to my satisfaction. To have been unable to get so much as a short story published since I stopped faffing about is an ongoing agony to me. I feel so many things about it, including shame. And there’s no doubt my acute sense of failure is tied up in my age. This is how I berate myself:

Alumni Feature July 2015

Alumni Interview: Helena Pastor

Interviewed by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Helena PASTOR As the mother of two boys – currently a pre-schooler and an infant – I was fascinated to learn about this month’s subject’s new book, since it affords a powerful glimpse into a future in which my sweet boys may well be tearaway teens. My eldest in particular strikes me as a possible future member of the Australian Aerial Ski Team, such is his need for speed and his hunger for self-propulsion. I can easily imagine the sleepless nights to come. Varuna Alumna Helena Pastor spent two years hanging out with a group of disaffected lads in country NSW; she’s here to talk about Wild Boys and I’d like to warmly welcome her to the Alumni Interview Suite.

Alumni Feature June 2015

Start Your Engines

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Rake So, team, it’s time to shake things up a little here at Alumni News HQ. I’m sure you must be tired of the sound of my voice, plus I live in mortal fear of wearing out my welcome, so I’d like to invite Guest Contributors to submit expressions of interest in writing a Monthly Feature. Guest Contributors *must* be fully paid up, current members of the Varuna Alumni Association.

Alumni Feature May 2015

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Rake Well, here it is, already May: Sydney Writers’ Festival time again. Boy, that was fast. This time last year, I was fretting about what to wear to 5x15, the event I’m lucky enough to be involved with at the festival. My in-between body hadn’t yet popped into full pregnancy, so I just looked like I’d been steadily indulging a long-term fondness for custard tarts and Belgian waffles. Clothes weren’t fitting properly and all my shoes and boots were too tight. I was fretting: beyond co-curating and copywriting duties in the lead up to the event, I introduce the five speakers on the night. I get to hide behind a lectern onstage, but it’s still a big venue and a daunting job for someone whose ideal state is sitting alone in a silent room. In such public circumstances, a girl likes to feel good about her get-up if she can, especially when Richard Roxburgh is involved, so…the question of what to wear was unreasonably distracting.

Alumni Feature April 2015

Read ‘Em and Weep

By Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Diana Jenkins Catcher in the Rye cover

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an aspiring novelist who was guilty of a devastating miscalculation: I tried to tap into the tortured. And the affectations showed, garish as stage makeup at the opera. One early reader wrote this piercing comment in response to one of my more ‘intense’ passages: Sydney is not New York and you are not J.D. Salinger.

Alumni Feature March 2015

Alumni Interview: Lee Kofman

Interviewed by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Lee Kofman While the concept of non-monogamy remains a sexual taboo among the majority of the population, it’s a practice that casts a wide net, attracting people of all backgrounds and professions who might otherwise appear to have nothing in common. Alumna Lee Kofman has taken her own experience as a non-monogamist as the basis for her new memoir, The Dangerous Bride: A Memoir of Love, Gods and Geography, which challenges many of the dominant sexual culture’s attachments to conventions like monogamous marriage. I suspect Lee’s right, that as a society we’re largely less shocked by tales of adultery than by couples who embrace open non-monogamy, yet why is something shared between consenting adults more confronting than a scenario in which at least one person is being horribly deceived? It’s strange – but then, we all are, aren’t we?

Talking to Lee for this month’s Alumni Interview was so fascinating. Confronting at times, but deeply rewarding as well. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Alumni Feature February 2015

Alumni Interview: Gabrielle Carey

Interviewed by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Gabrielle Carey Alumna Gabrielle Carey’s hybrid non-fiction book Moving Among Strangers was a joint winner in its category of the PM’s Literary Awards, sharing the prize with Madeleine, Helen Trinca’s biography of Madeleine St John. Gabrielle completed Moving Among Strangers with the help of one of Varuna’s flagship fellowships and several stays during critical development phases. I’d like to welcome Gabrielle to the Varuna Interview Suite.

Alumni Feature January 2015

Alumni Interview: Felicity Castagna

interviewed by Features Editor Diana Jenkins

Felicity Castagna Varuna has plenty of reasons to celebrate the 2014 PM’s Literary Awards, with alumni Felicity Castagna and Gabrielle Carey each taking home a lucrative prize. Precious time at Varuna assisted both authors in completing their award-winning works, so it’s with enormous pleasure I congratulate them both on their achievement. It seems only fitting to kick off the 2015 Monthly Features by chatting with these two Varuna authors. Here now is my interview with Felicity and I’ll be talking to Gabrielle in time for next month.