Clunes Writers’ Group celebrates new writers with Unmasked: An Anthology

When Robert Sidler joined the Clunes Writers Group, it was with some apprehension. He is now a published author whose works feature in an anthology in Australia’s famous Book City.

Each fall, the small town, 36 kilometers north of Ballarat, is the destination for writers and readers to share their stories during the annual Clunes Booktown Festival.

So it seems fitting that there is a book that shares the stories of Clunes’ own writing collective.

The Clunes Writers’ Group officially launched Unmasked: An Anthology at Clunes Neighborhood House in May.

This is a collection of short stories, poetry, prose, and haikus from the band over the past two years.

Group helps build confidence

Sidler reads his poem, Once Again, at the Clunes Neighborhood House. (Provided: Judi Palmer)

For many of the 18 contributors, including Sidler, it was their first time as a published writer.

Patsy Skinner, host of the Clunes Writers’ Group, said people who join the group are often surprised, not only that they have a story to tell, but also how interested others are in those stories.

When Robert [Sidler] first came from Ballarat, he didn’t know anyone here.

“At the beginning, when he came, there weren’t many men either.”

Works by Rhonda Christian had appeared in an earlier Clunes Writers’ Group booklet titled Write Along. However, she says, seeing her words appear in a professionally bound book that had the potential to appear in a bookstore or library gave her a real sense of satisfaction.

“It gives you a sense of validation,” Christian said.

“I think [seeing your work in a published form] validates these thoughts and ideas because they can be appreciated by other people.

Woman with long graying hair reads a book at a coffee table in the garden with a smiling woman with orange hair wearing a black sweater.
Rhonda Christian and Judi Palmer are among the unmasked writers.(ABC News: Gavin McGrath)

Unmasking writing talents

Unmasked, as an idea, was born two and a half years ago.

The band members have been locked down like just about everyone else in Victoria, with little or no opportunity for face-to-face contact.

Over the next two years, Unmasked grew into a collection of 150 individual pieces. Some are stories of 1,000 words or more. Others are poems with less than 20.

“We began by feeling that some of our writings [during that time] need to be shared,” Ms Skinner said.

“We wanted the opportunity to put it in black and white, so we felt like we were really the authors of our own work.

Two copies of the book titled Unmasked" On a table
Unmasked is an anthology of 150 short stories, poems and haikus from the past two years.(ABC News: Gavin McGrath)

The Clunes Writers’ Group includes acclaimed Melbourne poet Ken Smeaton and Castlemaine Poetry Readings Award winner Gail Oliver.

Others hadn’t even tried creative writing before joining the group.

“This group comes from so many different backgrounds and from so many different places,” Ms. Skinner said.

“We have people who have moved [to] Clunes in recent years from big cities, other states, but we also have people who have lived in Clunes all their lives and love to write about the great environment we live in.

“There are writers like Ken Smeaton who have been part of the Melbourne poetry scene for many years, but there are also writers who have come into the group with no experience and are very uncertain about it.”

Sidler read his Once Again article at the Unmasked book launch:

For a moment I thought I couldn’t write anymore

Where was it

I no longer wanted

In both cases,

The words were kinda too hard to find

Or put in pictures

Then I looked in a dictionary

Stuck my head in a thesaurus

I listened to some songs

I found something to write

A touch of motivation

The taste of creation

And once again the joy,

The pleasure and pain of writing

Was on me

“He’s a writer who can put his words and thoughts together very quickly. Quite often he’ll compose a poem in minutes,” Ms Skinner said.

“His ideas and thoughts just seem to resonate with other people.”

Judi Palmer moved to Clunes in 1998 and joined the group of writers in 2018.

She said joining a band helps get things done, but it’s not the only way to start writing.

“You just have to sit down and write,” Palmer said.

“Many people [in the group] write because they have had a traumatic experience. Others write anecdotes of their daily life.