Sydney Writer’s Festival 2015: Sunday

Today brought about the last day of not just my festival experience, but the festival altogether. It was also family day so it was so great to see little kids running around, having their faces painted, lining up to get books signed by great children’s authors like Andy Griffith, or just enjoying the range of activities that were being offered. With three sessions today I was half pumped to see what the day had in store, half struggling after three very long and intense days of long train rides, early mornings, and late nights, but excitement always trumps exhaustion.

My first session was Dangerous Women and it was an amazing panel, Natasha Mitchell discussed with Kellinde Wrightson, Xanthe Mallet, and Caroline Overington the women in history who have been dealt a raw deal and possibly judged unfairly for crimes they may not have committed and why a few of them were given such a rough time. The panel was engaging and lively and it was wonderful to see a passionate debate between the women as strong opinions and thoughts came to a head.

Keeping it Real: Realistic Issues in Teen Fiction was another excellent and invigorating panel. Davina Bell spoke to Laurie Halse Anderson, Melina Marchetta, Barry Jonsberg, and Erin Gough about realist fiction and how it has quietly been thriving in the background behind the more hyped up genres of YA like dystopia and paranormal, and currently making a great comeback. The ‘John Green Phenomenon’ was discussed and Laurie had an insightful opinion about why that is, this being an example of the patriarchy in action. She said while a lot of books have been written by women, some commercially successfully, it wasn’t until a white male commercially successful author wrote realist fiction making it popular. None of this was meant in a bad way, Laurie being a personal friend of his, but it does show how the patriarchy can make something that women have been doing, successfully doing, for years suddenly make it seem like a brand new and wonderful thing. And like Laurie I have nothing against John Green, and while she has a valid point, his popularity has its benefits in bringing to light other great authors and realist young adult novels.

My last event of the day was the long awaited TeenCon2015. Hosted by Penguin Teen Australia, eleven Australian publishers discussed their best books to look for in the near future, as well as their best books to read now. Book reviewers also got a say as four bloggers/vloggers discussed their beginnings and their motivations for blogging and book reviewing, and they discussed their favourite books and series, as well as strategies when it comes to writing reviews.

The publishers also participated in the long awaited Book Boyfriend Battle with a number of men from various YA books being sledged and praised until the final outcome being that Dimitri Belikov from The Vampire Diaries was the ultimate Book Boyfriend. It was an exciting battle, many of the publishers got into it with songs, and a lot of passion, and Felicity from Penguin Teen was as always her usual infectiously joyful and entertaining self. At the end of TeenCon we were also lucky enough to get a swag bag with a lucky dip of books from a range of publishers. I managed to get a nice selection of five in mine, a few I was already looking forward to reading.

AND! After four days of waiting to be surveyed and get my sticker prize, in the end my friend SITTING RIGHT BESIDE ME got surveyed instead, and while I already had plans to steal her sticker upon completing the survey, she didn’t even get given one! Why no sticker Sydney Writer’s festival? Why no sticker?

But, lack of sticker aside, I had an awesome four days. So many panels with so many bright minds and brilliant discussions on topics I love, and topics I didn’t know I would love as much as I did. I officially call this year a success and I already look forward to seeing the line up for next year.

Sydney Writer’s Festival 2015: Saturday

Another early morning, another long, very long, train ride, and another fun filled day planned for the Writer’s Festival. Arriving at the festival this morning I fully expected a large crowd now that the weekend had arrived, but it wasn’t too bad.

First session of the day was my second John Marsden one, where he discussed with Catherine Keenan his novel The South of Darkness, writing in general, as well as writing for kids and teenagers and being a teacher. This session was AMAZING! John spoke about education and children, making me realise so many astounding things adults consciously and unconsciously do around them, and he talked about his brilliant school Candlebark. I have wanted to go to Candlebark ever since it opened but at the time being in NSW while it was in Victoria was the challenge, that and I was two years older than their cut of year. Now, despite the fact I’ve been out of school almost ten years, this dream of going there remains. But I can wish for a do-over.

I managed to catch parts of another session over the speakers, Shaping Australia: How a Century of War Changed Us, whilst waiting in line for another and it was rather interesting the bits I caught. The discussion about the shift in the past twenty years between identifying as an ethnicity to identifying as a religion in particular, something I have noticed myself, was fascinating and the discussion on what it is people are looking for when they join something like ISIS. I didn’t hear all of it but what I managed to catch was interesting all the same.

The actually session I was entering was The Rise and Rise of YA: A Look at the Fastest-Growing Category in Fiction. Garth Nix talked with Laurie Halse Anderson, Sally Gardner, and Margo Lanagan about what makes YA so attractive to readers, publishers, and film makers. This session was packed in, clearly a popular session, and the discussion was enlightening about the sudden growth over the past ten years in YA and how adults are mostly responsible for this growth rather than young adults themselves.

Nix asked the panel a range of brilliant questions. The discussion ranged from having books banned, to whether a book consciously starts out as YA or not, what constitutes YA, and whether the market was flooded with too many YA books. He also made some excellent points saying that it is odd thinking that preventing people from reading about a certain topic [in a YA book] means it won’t happen to them, and how we are failing teenagers by not giving them literature. He also said something rather excellent; he said “[More than anyone else] Librarians know a lot more about YA, about everything really”. A lovely and true compliment about librarians that made me smile.

While only having two sessions I got so much out of both of these that I will be thinking about the things discussed in both for a long time yet. It was a stickerless day once more but highly rewarding nonetheless, and with one day of the festival to go, I am looking forward to finishing my SWF year with a final day of brilliant discussions about literature, writing, and all manner of things (and hopefully with a sticker).

Sydney Writer’s Festival 2015: Friday

From a rainy morning to a cool sunny day, today was another great festival day. With a three session day it was one of the best in my schedule with two sessions with John Marsden, and one with both Garth Nix and Kate Forsyth.

In the Age of Google, What’s the Point of Schools? was a session I was curious about, not just because John Marsden was going to be there, but also because it was a ridiculous question and I wanted to hear the discussion about it. Maxine McKew, John Marsden, and Jennifer Buckingham spoke with Rebecca Huntley about how Google does not replace the importance of school, and numerous valid and important points were made. It was great to see the three different points of view, Marsden, McKew, and Billingham all had different inputs and different backgrounds in the education sector so it was a fascinating discussion.

Another Era looked at how you choose, create, and populate historical novels, and John Marsden and Steve Carroll discussed their own novels with Amy Bloom. I enjoyed this discussion because not only am I amazed at the amount of research that goes into historical novels, it was interesting to hear about how technology has improved writing these novels, Marsden saying how eight months research could be condensed into three weeks instead. Carroll also made note that there is a trick to research and that is having the right amount, only needing to know what will help with the book and too much can kill a book before it starts.

The panel also discussed family links with their works, and how autobiographical elements can work their way unconsciously into a story. Avoiding patronising the past was a key issue, as well as trying not to romanticise it and respecting those in it that had to struggle with horrors in their lives.

From that great panel I went on to Myths, Fairytales, and the Need to Believe, and listening to discussions on how marvellous, versatile, and everlasting fairytales are is something I never grow tired of hearing. Kate Forsyth chatted with Danielle Wood, Garth Nix, and Wanda Wiltshire about whether fairytales are there as weapons to fight our cynicism, and why we have held onto fairytales for so long and why they have lasted through the centuries.

The panel discussed their own works, adding to my growing TBR pile though a few were already on it, and talked about a few of their fairytale favourites and which ones had been reworked and inspired from in their own work. The cynicism aspect was an interesting approach, Wiltshire noted that it’s not surprising we’re all cynical when the worst of the world is viewable at our fingertips, but she also said it is probably not consciously that this has happened, and there isn’t as much cynicism in the world as people like to think with random acts of kindness happening everywhere.

Sessions aside I also got a nice little stack of books signed. I had a brief but enjoyable chat with John Marsden, he even noted that the books I was getting signed he hadn’t seen in a long time (The Great Gatenby and Out of Time). I also got the first half of my Keys to the Kingdom books signed by Garth Nix, slightly less composed than I planned to be but it all worked out in the end. I even managed to sneak in a signing of Lost and Found by Brook Davis where we had a nice chat about book fairs and writer’s festivals.

All three of these sessions were highlights of my day, as well as getting to have brief chats with authors while I got books signed. I still did not get surveyed and remain stickerless, but with two days left to go I still have a chance. I just need to sit on the wharf, not looking busy, and maybe someone will sit down next to me and give me the sticker I desire!



Sydney Writer’s Festival 2015: Thursday

Today was my first day at the Sydney Writer’s festival and in a day where everything wanted to make my life a little bit more inconvenient I still managed to have a great day. I had a total of four sessions today, some amazing, some interesting, some enlightening and thought provoking, all adding to the wonderful atmosphere that the Writer’s Festival can produce,

Gender, Genre, and Literary Prestige was a highlight, moderated by Aviva Tuffield who was one of the founding members of the Stella prize with Ceridwen Dovey, Kate Grenville, and Emily Bitto on the panel. It was a wonderful session in that it once again highlighted where women stand in the literary world and the unintentional neglect women have gotten and the lack of recognition for their work. Just having the Stella prize Aviva admitted, meant numerous male judges have told her they hadn’t thought that much about women writers, and that the Stella has opened their eyes to unconsciously overlooking their work.

I also attended the short but highly enjoyable On the Problems with Jurassic Park with John Pickrall. John discussed why Hollywood had chosen to ignore the new dinosaur facts that had been discovered in it’s recent film Jurassic World when Steven Spielberg had done such a great job in 1992 making sure his dinosaurs reflect the current knowledge of the time, even the Raptors which John explained was confusion between two species with similar names.

As a minimally educated dinosaur fan it was also fascinating to hear him discuss the discovery of feathers on many if not all carnivorous dinosaurs and the possible reasons why this was chosen to be ignored in the new film in favour of the reptile-like creatures instead. He also agreed with my own personal pet peeve, about why a new hybrid breed of dinosaur needed to be created when there are many great other big dinosaurs that could have been used. Overall, while he said he will still be going to see the film (won’t we all), it is not so much a dinosaur movie; it could be a dragon movie for all the little dinosaur actually in it. It is just another monster movie.

So those two were the highlights of my day but they weren’t my only sessions. The Art of the Short Story was the third session and it was interesting to hear Danielle Wood, Nicholas Jose, and Abigail Ulman discuss with Alice Grundy their own short story works, and where their ideas come from, as well as technical aspects like word counts, collection themes, and how they developed their current collections. And Roanna Gonsalves chatted with Ellen van Neerven, Paul Dawson, and Anna Westbrook in A Pack of Lies: Narration in Fiction discussing virtues and different intentions of writing in first or third person, and how literature has the ability to pressure governments, and how dangerous it really can be.

Lining up for each of these sessions I got to chat to a few great people about writing, writer’s festivals, and even got to explain the Newcastle Writer’s Festival to a woman who did not know it existed. From unavoidable eavesdropping I did learn this was also her first year at the festival so I hope she, and many other first time attendees, got as much enjoyment and wisdom that I had in my first year and of course, in subsequent years.

As my first day comes to an end I have yet to be approached for a survey this year which is a shame, I like getting the sticker at the end and need it to add to my new notebook, tradition demands it. I still have three days left though so hopefully I can snag a sticker at some point during this time.

Busy (remaining) week ahead

My “huge week ahead” post is coming to you on a Wednesday because I have had such a hectic week already I haven’t gotten around to it. Because this week has been rather busy I haven’t had much chance to share my excitement about the Sydney Writer’s Festival since the program was first launched.

The Festival has been going since Monday but tomorrow starts my first day of attending. From Thursday through to Sunday I am going to be heading down to Sydney to enjoy a full day of books, writing, and everything in between. Like last year and the year before this means very early trains, long train trips, and late nights back home, but a full day of amazing fun in between.

Last year the ongoing joke was that we left and came home to the same moon, which was not untrue in a way. Because of the early setting sun I know the same will be true again for this year but what’s a Writer’s Festival without super early mornings and twelve hour days!

Over the next four days I have 14 sessions planned and I have a nice little pile of books to get signed by some of my favourite authors. Garth Nix, John Marsden, Melina Marchetta, and a whole heap of others are going to be there and while I have met each of these authors either once or many times before, I am still going to be excited and nervous to meet them once again.

This year I am also going to try super hard to post something each day about the festival, and maybe even share something on Facebook or Twitter. I know this didn’t really work with the Newcastle Writer’s Festival but that was blamed solely on poor internet and preserving battery. This time it will be much better.

What these long train trips and long days mean is I will also get time to read, specifically my book club book which has so far been neglected. The bonus also being it is a paperback which means I don’t have to waste half my battery before I even get to Sydney reading on the train!

In other reading matters, I have exciting news (for me but maybe not really for you), I only have 17 books left on my list to read! From having 23 books left to read on 30 April, I now have 17 which is great, even more so because I’ve only added 2 more books to the list. Another amazing achievement is I am only two, possibly three weeks behind schedule where once I was two months behind. I say two months behind, but it was really a two month wait pretty much between request and review because of a sudden influx but it settled down and there was managing and organising and it was all quite exhausting for awhile but now there’s some control and I am actually now only a few weeks behind where I planned to be.

So aside from that piece of great news, I am looking forward to my busy few days. Once again the festival coincides with Vivid so on Sunday night I’m going to stick around and catch the light show in Sydney which should be amazing once again. If anyone is going to the festival I hope your sessions are amazing and you get to discover new authors and fall in love again with favourites.