There was certainly plenty of wine last night, with ebullient host, Krissy Kneen, issuing several invitations to grab a top-up. Great value at $7.50 a ticket and evidence that Avid is sincere in helping emerging writers.
First up, were QUT student Grace Finlayson, Richard Newsome author of The Billionaire's Curse series, and Jordan Lawrence sharing a haunting, rhythmic story in memory of his brother - which won him last year's Griffith University creative writing prize.
Then, former St Peters Lutheran College student, diplomat, award-winning short story writer and now Canberra-based Felicity Volk took her turn, reading from her debut novel Lightning.
Volk raises a number of questions in this book. First, what do we do with the people who pass through our lives? Do we hold onto them, or do we let them go? Regardless, they all leave their mark. Then, the big one. Who are we? Persia knows she is a combination of German missionary, Italian migrant, and Afghan cameleer. This inevitably raises some rather topical questions: Who comes? Who stays? Why, and for how long? Would that be until they are not useful anymore? How ironic that Ahmed is about to be deported, but let us not forget the Afghan cameleers who were brought here to open up the centre of Australia. We needed their help; their expertise in working in such harsh, arid conditions. Ahmed asks: 'Who's Australian?' I believe we answer that question with the choices we make every day. We can choose to be kind, like Persia's truck-driver, or we can choose to be cold-hearted and turn our backs on those who need our help.
Lightning is a work of literary fiction. To me, it evoked the magic realism style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the sheer silliness of Alice in Wonderland - with Persia's grief her own personal Jabberwocky. Volk says she was concerned the magic realism tag might put readers off. She says Lightning is 'a book of paradox invoking the magic and mystery of our living days' and 'the serendipity and synchronicity of our lives'.
Book clubs will also want to discuss the book's religious themes, the characters', and our own, sense of connection across time and place, as well as the classical elements - especially fire which brings destruction as well as healing and redemption, and water which soothes.
Lightning is full of beautiful, resonant passages. One of my favourites is when Ahmed feeds, and thereby sustains, Persia.
He put the last part of Persia's sandwich in her mouth. 'Servitude - freely offered servitude - is a study in elegance and grace,' he said. 'There is nothing more beautiful than devotion.'Volk says Lightning was six years in the making and that she wants to write the types of words she likes to read. Let's hope she continues down that path because I suspect there's more terrific work to come from this talented, generous and delightful writer.