Newcastle Writers Festival: Friday

Once again the Newcastle Writers’ Festival is upon us; three glorious book filled days where you meet other book enthusiasts, see authors you love or have just discovered chat about their work, their passion, and their inspiration, and it’s also a place to immerse yourself within the book world. In its fourth year it is looking bigger and better and knowing how successful it has been in the past no doubt any expectations will be met. From 1 April until 3 April people from around Newcastle and across the state and country flock to the city where authors and numerous personalities from the Newcastle region, as well as wider Australia and overseas gather to discuss books and reading and important topics and issues of the day.

This year, creator and wonder-genius Rosemarie Milsom designed a program around history, memoir, and climate change, enlisting the help of big names like Tim Flannery, Kerry O’Brian, Leisel Jones, Richard Glover, Ross Gittens and a myriad of others to share the message and their stories. I booked in a total of 10 sessions, a combination of paid and free events, but as the nature of the festival goes, I ended up going to ones I had not planned and missed others I planned to see. No regrets though because they were all so wonderful.

The festival kicked off this morning, a variety of sessions on offer to get you in the mood before the official opening night event later tonight. This festival is not entirely about memoir and climate change, there are also some wonderful YA sessions and sessions about Aussie authors later this weekend that I am really looking forward to attending. One of the things I love about this festival is that not only has it introduced me to a bunch of books I probably wouldn’t have read, but it’s also helping me discover more great Aussie talent.  In a small way it’s even helping me step out of my comfort zone and take chances on sessions and authors to open my mind and embrace new things, whether that is new genres or ways of writing, or even listening to discussions I may never have considered before.

I kicked of the 2016 festival with a talk about Shakespeare, specifically What’s Special About Shakespeare? Hugh Craig, who was coincidentally my lecturer for a Shakespeare class many years ago, was speaking about what is it that has made Shakespeare last and remained so popular over the last 400 years. As a lover of the Bard and with my own celebrations in the works to celebrate this anniversary I was intrigued. Hugh spoke about how Shakespeare and his plays can be found almost anywhere, in any culture. Everyone knows something about Macbeth or Hamlet, bits of Shakespeare plots and characters and themes appear in popular culture, and not just in the English speaking world.

This was a fascinating analysis; Hugh asked whether an alien visiting earth, who had been introduced to Shakespeare, would be able to see from his works alone how exceptional Shakespeare is, is there numerical proof? Hugh looked at whether it was Shakespeare’s characters, the amount of plays he’d written, or even his vocabulary had an impact on his lasting success. With the figures broken down it is evident Shakespeare was not that exceptional himself, given the chance other playwrights such as Ben Johnson or Chris Marlow could easily have had the success Shakespeare did. What Hugh established though, that while Shakespeare was rather average, in both vocabulary and language, what makes him exceptional is what he does with the words rather than the words themselves. He used familiar words to their maximum effect; simple words had the greatest effect on a play because they were so moving. An example used was from Twelfth night. A simple phrase, “I was adored once too” opens up a completely new perspective on character Sir Andrew and yet there is nothing grand about those words themselves.

For the hour sitting there I was amazed. To see Shakespeare broken down into numbers and analysed in such a way actually made it more impressive. It took nothing away from the beauty of his plays and in an interesting way, it enhanced them even more. Knowing that Shakespeare contributed an incredible amount of words and phrases to the English language it was fascinating to see that it was not the vast vocabulary that made him special, it was what he did with it that does.

I will certainly be discussing this session further as part of my Shakespeare month, otherwise I think I could write about it forever and I would end up writing a thousand words or two on it which no one wants.

I also attended a wonderful session with author Peter Uren who hosted A Guide to Self Publishing. Peter did not go in wanting to give a “How to” talk, instead he spoke of his own experiences in the self publishing world. He spoke about the importance of a good editor and good writing, but he also spoke about how it’s crucial to find the right self publisher. Researching your options and choosing a publisher that is right for you is a key aspect. He also stressed the importance of doing your own promotion and the more you do yourself the cheaper it will be.

P1200523Peter chose self publishing because he wanted his book on sale now, not years down the track which was a possibility. He does a lot of promotion himself and with three books under his belt he is pleased with his success so far. Self publishing is a misnomer in Peter’s mind, because you don’t do it all by yourself, you need to contact someone for help whether it is the beta readers, distributers, or self publishers who will help with print on demand and other production components. Peter also warned that not all you’re offered is what you’ll need, or worth what you’re charged. His advice is when in doubt ask questions and if you can’t do something, find someone who can.

It was an interesting and different side of the discussion than what I had seen before. I learnt more about the self publishing industry and it makes you aware of the fact there is a lot more involved than simply uploaded a final copy of your book to Amazon.

My final event of the day was attending the opening night. This year it was held in the beautiful Civic Theatre and after being entertained by MC James Valentine and hearing Rosemarie’s speech about her pride and joy with this year’s festival it was time to get to the main component. John Doyle spoke with Tim Flannery about his experience as a scientist with an English degree, and as old friends and with John Doyle at the helm there was plenty of laughter and humour in the discussion.

P1200527This was not the first event, but it was the first big event. Flannery spoke about where his passion for science and discovery came from, from the first fossil he found as an 8 year old to discovering species in New Guinea. He told stories about seeing effects of climate change first hand and told us what needs to be done to save not only Australia but the world with coal being our biggest problem right now. What was interesting is that Flannery used his English degree to tell the stories of science. Scientists, Flannery said, never appreciate how to write, writing novels helps you tell stories, converting to complex science into an understandable language.

I had a fantastic first day and after coming home late, tired, yet exhilarated, I have high hopes for what the rest of the weekend has in store for me!

YA at the Newcastle Writers Festival 2016

I am a huge lover of Young Adult novels, I don’t read them or review them as much as I’d like to but I love them. YA events are another thing I love and I grab any chance to go to one and hear about the latest YA titles and other YA related things.

This year the Newcastle Writers Festival has some wonderful sessions running about memoir, history, and, climate change, but for the first time they are also running two YA panels: The State of Play for YA and Love, Loss, and Everything in Between. Last year the Sydney Writers Festival had excellent YA panels, with authors discussing what it means to write for teens and how that affects content etc. There was also a great event with TeenCon that brought together numerous publishers and bloggers to discuss books and reading and of course, book boyfriends.

Now it is Newcastle’s turn and I for one am so excited to see what it is going to be like. The State of Play for YA sees three industry insiders get together, Jennifer Dougherty (Allen & Unwin), Stephanie Speight (Text Publishing) and Zoe Walton (Penguin Random House), who are going to be talking with Gerry Bobsien and providing some industry insights from those in the know.

The second session, Love, Loss, and Everything in Between, involves three YA writers, David Burton, Trinity Doyle, and Fleur Ferris, talking with Linsay Knight about exploring the big issues of adolescence. I am really looking forward to this because YA books are some of the best places to explore issues and everyone has a different approach in addressing them.

If you are heading to the NWF and are interested in YA, or maybe you’re currently undecided about attending, I suggest you take a look at booking in for one or both of these sessions as I’m sure they will be filled with fascinating and insightful discussions.

Both sessions are on Sunday afternoon, 3 April, and tickets for each session are $15. Check out the NWF program for info and how to book.

Newcastle Writers Festival 2016

The best thing to look forward to at the start of every year is the release of the Newcastle Writers Festival program. For the past three years Newcastle has put on a fantastic festival that celebrates local, Australian, and overseas authors that has been an absolute joy to attend. Now in its fourth year, Festival Director Rosemarie Milsom and her team have planned a wonderful program once more that’s filled with a range of subjects and attendees. While Rosemarie states she did not have any one idea in mind when creating the program this year, she was guided by two themes – how did we get to where we are, and where are we going? As a result, history, memoir, and climate change have had a strong influence on this year’s program and looking at who is attending and what sessions are on offer it looks like it’s going to be a lively and fascinating festival.

If you have never been to a NWF before this could be a great first visit. If you’ve been in past years, or have been coming since its inaugural year like me then you know just how wonderful this weekend can be. Meeting other like-minded people, discussing books with strangers and finding friends unexpectedly in the crowd; there is a great atmosphere with the festival that pulls you into a great mood. Opening night sees Tim Flannery discussing his excellent adventures with anecdotes and details from his new book, Atmosphere of Hope. Accompanied by the great James Valentine as MC and John Doyle as host. Opening night does not start the festival however, with sessions on throughout the day before the opening night.

The program has officially been released which you can download from here, or if you would like a physical copy you now have to request a copy via the website (why I’m not entirely sure), but you can fill out the form here. Or if you’re patient, hard copies will be available next week from Hunter libraries and cafes. Visit the newly designed NWF website to see all the other great things on at the festival as well, including the special children’s program, you can also volunteer to be part of the festival if you wish, or simply learn more about Newcastle and the area.

With 140 writers, 70 sessions, across 5 venues, it’s going to an amazing weekend. The festival countdown is slowly ticking down (literally, see the website), and with just 41 days until this year’s festival kicks off there’s just enough time to study the program, find fabulous sessions you want to attend, buy your tickets, and then sit back and wait (im)patiently for 1 April to arrive for the start of a fantastic writing and book filled three days!

Tickets go on sale Mon 22 Feb 2016 9:00AM  (AEDT).