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 2015

NWFThe Newcastle Writers Festival happened this past weekend and once again I was front and centre eager to enjoy three days of nothing but books, authors, and the writing experience and be able to share it with like-minded people. For the first time the event went across three days, with a half day of sessions before the wonderful opening night on Friday where Jessica Rudd, Michael Robotham, and Helen Garner chatted with Caroline Baum about the books that changed them. James Valentine was a wonderful MC and he brought laughter to the night with many guest speakers thanking Rosemarie Milsom profusely, and rightly so, for her work in organising this festival year after year and for having such enthusiasm for its original creation. But the night was also an insightful chance to hear from three wonderful authors about the books they have read that had an impact on their lives. Discussion ranged from whether you need likable characters in books (no), to whether it is better to not meet someone you admire (typically yes), and listening to the panel discuss books that have stayed with them whether they were read as a child or as an adult was fascinating.

Before the opening night I went to Forever Young where Megan Buxton talked with Melina Marchetta about her books and her writing career. What was wonderful about the session was that Melina spoke about how getting a classical education was not always a good thing when it came to writing, and that trying to fit books into genres is not always a helpful thing. It was really wonderful to hear about her approach to writing and Melina spoke about how she likes to write about people trying to find their place in the world and she always offers hope in her stories. With an afternoon session about the benefits of a writing group the festival was off to a very positive start.

Saturday morning however was one of dual emotion. I could only stay for one session which was an intense disappointment because I had originally an entire day planned, but I am glad that session I did get to see was Keys to the Kingdom with Garth Nix. Having been a lover of his books for such a long time, I am always glad to see him speak and get another pile of books signed. His session with Magdalena Ball was quite insightful, speaking about his latest book Clariel, which we were also given a reading of, and he discussed why categories like Young Adult and Fantasy should be partially ignored and certainly not be used to discriminate against a genre, meaning readers should not be limited in what they read. With all the concern about adults reading YA both Nix and Marchetta had great things to say about why YA is not just for teenagers and it is a message that I think needs to be out there more widely as it still seems to be ignored.

The final day on Sunday was filled with a great contrast between politics and publishing. With Porkies and Politics Jane Caro, Dee Madigan, and Steve Lewis talked with Paul Bevan about how political advertising works and the nature of the political environment both past and present. It was insightful and fascinating, and with great minds like Dee and Jane in discussion there was an enjoyable debate. My final session of the day was a great panel where published writers gave advice on how to get books and stories published. Jessie Ansons moderated with Marg Jackson, Aidan Walsh, and Maree Gallop all offering great advice on the best practices in getting your work published. I got some great ideas for my own work and inspiration and motivation to try new things, something the writers festival is always great at offering.

In my opinion this festival brought out some big names with Garth Nix and Melina Marchetta, but I know many other people who were there for other authors and prominent figures such as Bob Carr and Bob Brown, Marion Halligan, and Les Murray. Rosemarie mentioned on opening night that 130 writers were attending the festival ranging from poets, university creative writing students, journalists, as well as prominent names in politics, meaning that an incredible range was provided for all who attended. With something for everyone there is always something brilliant to see and discover and there is always the chance of discovering someone you had never previously heard about but soon grow to love.

What is particularly wonderful about the festival is getting a chance to talk to other people who are there for the same reason as you: the love of books and writing. I had a great weekend with my two best friends and got to catch up with some great familiar faces and friends like Kaz Delaney and Sheree Christoffersen, while also sitting in on some informative, inspiring, and motivating sessions. I already look forward to the 2016 festival (no pressure Rosemarie!) and I know it will be just as enjoyable and as great a success as the one this year and in years past.

Newcastle Writers Festival on Reflection

After two wonderful days and one wonderful evening the 2nd Newcastle Writers Festival is over. Once again I have been exposed to so many new and wonderful authors, all of whose works I now have to devour.

At the opening night Wendy Harmer made everyone laugh and think and every author I had the honour of listening to was a wealth of knowledge and provided many laughs of their own in each event.  And even for all the sessions I was unable to attend  I have no doubt that everyone took something away from it and with a smile on their face.

Of the highlights I can’t say I have a single favourite, though there is a small bias towards all things fairy tales and short stories.

After learning and listening about crime fiction, children books, fairy tales, short stories and much much more I can be sure to say that I have a myriad of ideas, knowledge, admiration, and wonderment as a result…not to mention sore feet and empty pockets.

With a chance to get signed copies, the occasional photo and sneaky chat, plus up and close interaction with a variety of authors, there was a strange form of intimacy as you all wandered the same city hall, seeing the same familiar faces in audiences and even seeing those who were on previous panels now sitting beside you in the audience of another.

The new city hall location was good as it allowed quick journeys from room to room and let us stay dry in the brief rainfall event.

Macleans the booksellers also did an excellent job in getting books to their devoted would be owners and it was fascinating watching the piles of books drop so drastically in a matter of moments.  I myself came out of the weekend with four bags and 14 new books for my ever growing shelves, not to mention all the great authors I discovered.

All in all it was it was a superb weekend once again, one that went by far too quickly and one I already look forward to in 2015.

We must also continue to thank Rosemaree Milsom for thinking up this wonderful festival and making it one I look forward to attending for many years into the future.

Newcastle Writer’s Festival 2014

The Newcastle Writer’s Festival released their 2014 program this weekend and I know a fair few people who were there waiting and already have read through the various sessions and work out which ones they can attend and where the overlapping conflicts and tough decisions lie. I know with my own choices I had to choose between a few things, had to decide what was more valuable and what sparked my interest. As a first round I have a list of seven across two days including some excellent sessions with Kate Forsyth, Ryan O’Neill, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, and a range of others.

For those interested in going, the Newcastle Writers Festival is in its second year and is held in April with this year’s dates the 4th, 5th, and 6th. Started by Rosemarie Milsom with the support and backing of many great people the festival could be put on. Last year there were more than 70 writers participating with 38 sessions running. This year is just as big if not bigger and if last year is anything to go by it will be a resounding success and fun weekend in Newcastle. All the details can be found on their website, along with the program of sessions and information, times and locations. Just check though because while most are free, there are a few that require you to purchase a ticket, but it isn’t all that expensive.

I went to the inaugural Writers Festival last year with Jess over at The Never Ending Bookshelf, and for a first year event is was pretty spectacular. Certainly cannot believe it has been a whole year already. This year the events are mainly situated in the City Hall as far as I can see which is a lot different than last year. One of my favourite sessions last year was actually hosted in one of the pubs I used to go to after Uni with a few friends so that was rather interesting. Of course it was in the back room away from the general public, but it was still very cool. Now we’re in the City Hall so getting to see all their various rooms should be interesting.

The festival is across three days, and the sessions cover everything; there are sessions about crime writing, poetry, writing for children, writing fairy tales, romance, and just plain old writing. There are also sessions and talks by specific authors for you to attend. To learn more about the festival you can read their About page, or just have a look through their website, check out the programs that will be running, see the authors that are visiting and have a general squiz at how amazing it is going to be. You can also follow the latest news and information on Facebook and Twitter. It is only the end of February but I can already see that April is definitely going to be getting off to a very good start.


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