Meeting Mem: Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014

Bali … it’s an idyllic paradise filled with rice fields, temples and frangipanis … unless you’re in Kuta, and then it’s a place of digestive upsets and Bintang-singleted bogans.

Don’t go to Kuta. Go to Ubud. It’s a very special place an hour’s drive north of Denpasar, and I got the chance to go there for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October. I ran a workshop for kids, I did a school session too, and I got to be on a panel with Mem Fox!

Jeni Caffin, Zak Waipara, myself and Mem

Details after the jump.

Dragon workshop

I was a last-minute replacement for my good friend and fellow author/illustrator Briony Stewart who had to pull out. My first job at the Festival was running a crafternoon for kids, and Briony had kindly let me run with her idea – each child would decorate their own cut-paper dragon complete with flapping wings. (Briony is the author/illustrator of the Kumiko trilogy which features dragons, and my latest book The Last Viking Returns features a dragon, so it worked out well.)

The workshop was chaotic fun. The kids were from all over Bali, from other parts of Indonesia and from other countries too. Their cut-paper dragons looked awesome. They also did some drawings of their ideal dragon and decorated Viking helmets to take home.

School visit

The next day I jumped into a minivan along with WA author AJ Betts, German graphic novelist Reinhard Kleist and Norwegian writer Anne Ostby to visit an international school in the village of Canggu. I spent the day with a year 5 class doing creative writing and cartooning. The lucky kids have a massive water slide park right next to the school – I imagine they have a pretty awesome swimming carnival.

(As an aside, I bought two graphic novels by Reinhard: they’re awesome. He did a fantastic sketch in the front of both copies too).

Meeting Mem

My only other commitment for the festival was a panel session on the ‘Strange Difficulty of Making Picture Books‘. On the panel with me were a Kiwi illustrator called Zak Waipara and only the most successful Australian picture book author of all time, the inimitable Mem Fox. I was very nervous (OMG MEM FOX!) but tried not to show it. I met Mem and our lovely MC Jeni Caffin in the green room beforehand. Mem was very warm and self-deprecating, and happily signed my childhood copy of Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge.

It was a huge honour to be on a panel with Mem. And not to blow my own trumpet, but, well, I’m going to blow my own trumpet – at one point I spoke about the general plot of my picture book In The Lion and Mem said, “I love it! I wish I’d thought of that,” and I lost my tiny mind.

You can listen to the full audio of our session below (I start talking about In The Lion at 38:30 and Mem says lovely things at 40:30).


Ubud is a beautiful place to stay in Bali – hotels are nestled in lush vegetation, restaurants serve raw organic food, and there are yoga studios everywhere. One of the best past-times is scooter-spotting. I’ve prepared you an ‘Ubud Scooters Spotter’s Guide’, sure to give you hours of fun.


Huge thanks to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival for having me; to Briony Stewart for suggesting me; and WritingWA for sending me. It was a brilliant experience and I’ll definitely visit again.


Author: James Foley

James Foley makes children’s books for children who read books. If you’re a child and you’re eating his books, you’re doing it wrong. His books include Brobot, Dungzilla, Gastronauts, Chickensaurus, Toffle Towers, My Dead Bunny and There's Something Weird About Lena. James lives in Perth with his wife, 2 kids, and a labrador. He is a massive Marvel movie nerd and comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at .

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