The square yellow fishing nets of Hoi An, pinned on all four corners by long poles pushed deep in the estuary mud, intrigued the visiting Australian writers unused to such sights.
Novelist and RMIT Associate Professor Francesca Rendle-Short observed the link between the nets and the work of writers as she visited the UNESCO World Heritage town on a cultural exchange with Australian and Asian writers.
“Hoi An’s nets spend the days sleeping above the water but at night they drop down and catch the fish,” she said.
“During the day we writers write; but it’s at night the dreaming happens, the inspiration for our work.”
The 2015 Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) program, held over a week in February, brought five Australian and five Asian writers to Vietnam for a collaborative residency in Hoi An, followed by public panel discussions in Hanoi.
The 10 writers will meet again in Melbourne in August.
WrICE, supported by RMIT and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, fosters connections between Australian and Asian writers.
At the heart of the program is the simple notion that it’s valuable for writers to step outside their often-isolated writing studios to share ideas with other writers from different cultures and generations.
“Writers need to talk to other writers about their work, their culture, their writing life,” Rendle-Short said.
“The poetry of a place like Hoi An, the humanity of a town you can cycle around, infects your imagination and makes you write about it.”
Rapper, poet and novelist Omar Musa, whose father is Malaysian and mother Irish-Australian, was also inspired by the “evocative, ancient” city.
“I grew up in Queanbeyan and do my best work on a river, anywhere, so Hoi An was ideal for me,” he said.
“The residence was a unique combination of ages and experience; it was great to get a mix of different perspectives on my writing.”
In the final event of the exchange – a writers’ panel discussion held at Hanoi’s National Library – the audience hung on every word as celebrated Australian writer Cate Kennedy and Singaporean Fulbright Fellow, Suchen Christine Lim, read from their works.
Vietnamese poet and Vietnam Television editor Bao Chan Nguyen spoke about her writing’s wellspring – the poems of success, failure, happiness and sorrow spoken by her mother and the traditional songs sung by her grandmother as she grew up surrounded by her “beautiful mother tongue, spoken with the true soul of a Vietnamese”.
Having learned tai chi that morning beside a misty Hoan Kien Lake in Hanoi, writers from Australia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines heard Nguyen speak about the source of her inspiration.
"Hanoi is my life,” she said.
“It has changed so much within 30 years and no longer looks like the Hanoi of my childhood.
“Hanoi is now more modern, crowded, and polluted ... but it still reminds me very much of its own hidden charm and that can never be ruined by time or modern life.
“Every single little thing I see every day in the streets of my city can be a source of my poetic inspiration, because Hanoi itself seems to be the greatest poem, with all of its beauty and ancient heritage.”
WrICE 2015 was attended by writers Jhoanna Cruz (Philippines), Nguyen Bao Chan (Vietnam,) Nyein Way (Myanmar), Cate Kennedy (Australia), Omar Musa (Australia), Xu Xi (Hong Kong); emerging writers and RMIT alumni Melody Newell, Joe Rubbo and Laura Stortenbeker; WrICE co-directors and writers Associate Professor David Carlin and Associate Professor Francesca Rendle-Short, and Writer and School of Media and Communication Deputy Dean Vocational Education, Clare Renner.
WrICE is coordinated by the non/fictionLab in the School of Media and Communication, with support from the Copyright Agency and partners including The Melbourne Writers Festival.