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!

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.

The Week Ahead

NewsThere are so many exciting things are happening this week in my little world! From Tuesday through Sunday I am booked out for six days straight of exciting bookish events!

On Tuesday I am heading to Sydney for the inaugural National Book Bloggers Forum hosted by Random House. I am really looking forward to this as it should be very interesting.

Wednesday night, I am going to an advance screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie thanks to Penguin Australia which should be amazing by all accounts. This is the movie adaptation of the book of the same name by John Green.

Then at the crack of dawn the next morning I am on a train off to the first day of my Sydney Writers’ Festival adventures. This year I have four exciting days of the SWF with so many wonderful sessions to attend. From Thursday through Sunday I am attending ten sessions and hopefully getting a few of my books signed. I love going to the SWF, I’ve only been going these past few years but it’s always a joy.

The sessions I am particularly eager to go to are The Wolf in Winter session with John Connolly, Mind the Body with John Connolly, and Violence, Lust, Revenge and a Touch of Poetry…also with John Connolly. There may be a slight John Connolly reason for my attendance this year but it is going to be awesome. I have been trying to practice my best ‘staying calm on the outside whilst freaking out on the inside’ but as my recent Ryan O’Neill experience at the Newcastle Writers Festival showed me, I have not perfected this yet. Hopefully if I get to meet John Connolly I will be calm enough to get some books signed and not sound too weird.

But I’m not just going for John Connolly let’s be clear! The wonderful Adrian McKinty who I fell in love with the at the NWF will be in some of Connolly’s sessions, and I am attending sessions with the delightful Kate Forsyth, Kathryn Heyman, plus many authors who I have yet had the pleasure of knowing about but who are in sessions that are filled with excellent topics of discussion including short stories, women writers, and book collecting and libraries.

Across these SWF days I am also going to be the master of multi-tasking because due to pressure and looming assignment due dates I am taking things for my uni assignments with me for those moments in between sessions and I’m not doing anything else. So if you come to the festival and see someone sitting on the wharf or at a table with piles of papers in front of her and she’s looking stressed, you’ll know why. The joys of having a writer’s festival in the final two weeks of uni when everything wants to be due.

As much as I am looking forward to this week there are going to be A LOT of early morning trains trips and a lot of late night returns. On top of my already sleep deprived state hopefully we can stay alert enough to get some wonderful notes from the Festival to come and report back to you all. Though if we’re honest it may be sometime in early June because with six days away from the computer my assignments are going to be getting some serious all nighters as a result. But we can’t miss out on a Sydney Writers’ Festival because some silly Masters degree wants to be completed! I may sneak a post or two about the other two events if I get enough work done beforehand. Who needs sleep when there are exciting things like this happening!

So those are my upcoming plans, nothing to it, won’t be any hassle at all *laughs to self unconvincingly*. I don’t know what’s going to happen come May 31st when I can slow down, but until then we power through it!  I hope you are all going to have a great week, it may be not as packed as mine, but if it is I hope it is enjoyable. If you are looking to attend the Sydney Writers’ Festival all the information is on their website about attending authors, venues, programs, and much more. Be sure to check the details because there are free sessions and paid sessions, and some sessions are booked out.

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.


Newcastle Writers Festival 2013: Creating Character

Finally the adventures continue! I attended the inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival at the beginning of the month and it was absolutely wonderful. The first session I attended of the day was titled Getting to Know You: Creating Character, hosted by Ed Wright with Courtney Collins, Ryan O’Neill, and Patrick Cullen on the panel.

Aside from Ed Wright I had not heard of any of these authors, though I had been eying off their books moments earlier in the bookstore. Courtney Collins is a debut author who was discussing her book The Burial; Patrick Cullen talked a bit about his book of stories What Came Between, while short story author and new favourite Scotsman turned Novocastrian, Ryan O’Neill introduced his book of short stories The Weight of a Human Heart? Each of these authors managed to provide insightful and useful advice about how you come up with and develop characters, whether they are based on real people like Courtney’s, or whether you are trying to start fresh like Patrick and Ryan.

Everyone was a very good speaker; they handled Ed’s questions well. I do not know whether these authors could do this before the writing process, or whether once you write a book the ability to talk about it is easier. They all sounded so confident and fluid in their ability to discuss things on a panel. I can’t say I would be able to find half the intelligence and meaningful things they said if I was up there. I have to say though I do find it easier to discuss my work when I have worked on it a lot and become proud of it. The same most certainly applies here, even more so.

The hour long talk focused on the concept of creating character, and how and what characters become in the writing process. Courtney told us she used nature and the placing of a scene in order to reveal more about a character, this is a very interesting technique. She said that her characters were formed through their relationship with the landscape and their actions around it; characters can discover themselves through the landscape, as well as the readers discovering the character. I can’t say I had ever thought of it consciously, or really noticed it, but we all know about the notion we must show and not tell, but to show through the setting rather than action or consequence was enlightening.

For Patrick, his said he liked to represent and develop characters by their psychology rather than their physical characteristics. In a world where stories are prone to having the “description paragraph”, or odd references such as “flicking my long brown hair” jutting out of sentences, it was wonderful to see this continuing to be challenged. Patrick said something that I thought was rather wonderful; he said there’s reality in the representation of characters through psychology over appearance. Of course, in real life you must find out who a person actually is by discovering who they are as a person, not just about their green eyes and height, why is it it not the same for characters?

Ryan’s approach is that the story comes first. He told us that if you have an interesting storyline, then that can create interesting characters. Quirks and obsessions, whether their lives are going to be miserable or happy can develop through how the story is going to treat them. Ryan also notes it is easier, or at least more fun, to write stories with miserable characters rather than happy ones. I agree with this idea, there is a lot more you can work with as well when life is not going that well. 

The talk naturally drifted to where characters come from, as well as how they are represented and Ed asked where inspiration comes from. The responses where very interesting: Patrick helps create his characters using his own experience, with an added twist, while Ryan draws his characters from his plot. Patrick said that his character interactions can actually define the plot, and this I understand completely. How characters interact with one another can shape your plot in ways you hadn’t thought, these expeditions of discovery are great.

Patrick, Ryan, Cassandra, and Ed

Patrick, Ryan, Courtney, and Ed

What is always wonderful about talks and seminars like this is that you are always exposed to a range of techniques and styles. Whatever ideas and systems you had in place for your own writing, hearing about other authors makes you realise that there are many directions and you do not need to be stuck with one way of writing if you do not want to. I certainly don’t think you could then set out to essentially adapt another writer’s character voice and style as your own, but you can examine the angle they have approached for this character’s story, what their lives were and their history, how has it shaped the voice they are showing in the story. By studying how someone has managed to find their writer’s voice, and the voice and manner of their character, you too can try and start placing the right voice with the right character.

Ryan said that you should not expect to have found a voice in your first draft, and voice has the ability to create itself in a way that is needed for the kind of story you are writing, changing and developing as the story continues to grow. He agrees with Patrick that complicated is more interesting than simple, but naturally most things are.

Ryan also talked about his short stories and how a writer needs to know about balance. There is not a lot of room to develop complete characters in short stories and writers need to know the balance between the right amount and making the story too long, running the risk of boring your reader who wanted the story to end three pages earlier.

I have always been an admirer of people who write short stories, I have tried a few over the years, but when I read authors like Neil Gaiman or Angela Carter, or now Ryan O’Neill, I wonder how they manage to say so much, with such intensity, such humour, in such limited space. This is one of the key reasons why having good characters and story can tell the narrative for you, without the need for complex and long descriptions and character back stories. I am now inspired to go find more to read, also to start writing my own again. Too many Nano’s and ideas for novels has neglected the art of the short story in my life I think.

What I love about listening to authors talk is I get to sit there gaining ideas and inspiration, but also I get a small confirmation that I am not alone. Not to get all existential and wondrous about humanity at this time, but knowing other people do the things you do, and think the things you do is a very comforting thought. I am not all for creating duplicates for us all, we need people who try and tell stories with graphs, and we need people who will bring history alive in fictional reality, but when you are beginning and unsure about whether any one will ever read anything you write, seeing someone successful have even the smallest similarity to you is a big boost and encourager.

So as I sat and listened to these authors discuss where they find their characters and what they like to do with them I was reflecting back on the hundreds of people and ideas I have created and journeyed with in my stories. I have written about a girl who wanted to own a lion cub in the African savannah, I have had a man who tried to encapsulate the writing process for a bet, twisted fairy tale characters of the past, I have created young romance and torn apart a family, explored torment and the delusion of obsession, and I have made mafia dwarfs. All of these characters have come from somewhere, where? I had never sat down and thought about it exactly.

I know a few stories in the early years of my life were pretty much my young primary school self, putting all her hopes and desires on a page, tea parties with Eeyore and Winnie the Pooh, finding a lion cub to raise as my own, winning the lottery and buying a mansion to fill with all the dogs I wanted, even the approach I took as I grew older of putting my own opinions and values through certain characters. This I now see as slightly impractical and it doesn’t give you a chance to expand your sights and see things from another person’s point of view. I understand what Patrick was saying though, you are the writer, of course there is inevitably going to be some elements of yourself in these characters, no matter how much you may feel they are your opposite or someone who you never would be. This should not stop you from trying, the greatest joy is embodying these people who are nothing like you, giving you a chance to be someone else and feel what it is like to see things through their eyes, the same as reading about various people and lives. Even now as I write I still occasionally slip in parts of myself through a character or a memory turned to plot, but I have learnt in the years following those early stories, that the ability to alter what you already know is a greater challenge than just plucking something from thin air, or simply dictating who you are onto a page.

Ryan offered some interesting advice on this; he said you should write about your experiences, but you should also put yourselves in other people’s shoes. Don’t limit yourself to what you want to or can write about. Courtney agreed that you should go out and live your life and then give some of that life to your story. This is a beautiful notion but I think though Patrick put an end to this conflict once and for all when he said he owed it to himself to write about what he wants to write about. I may have to add that to my collection of writing inspiration quotes.

By the time the hour was over I felt like I had gained a whole wealth of knowledge and I still had two more sessions to go. I didn’t think this day was going to be about collecting new authors to fall in love with but it happened. It is one thing to know and love a book but when you are moved and inspired by the author, then that is an open invitation to love their works from the beginning. I look forward to exploring their novels and stories in the future.

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