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).

Newcastle Writers Festival 2014: Saturday

nwflogoReading Ryan O’Neill’s post last night about his Newcastle Writers experience reminded me I haven’t done my own, then I realised it was no longer a couple of days ago it was an entire week! Where does the time go? So I have finally found some time to tell you all about my awesome time at the Newcastle Writers Festival.

After the enjoyable and amazing time at the opening night on Friday, I was up early and off to Newcastle City Hall for day one of the festival. My first session, ‘From Little Things: Writing for Children‘, was excellent. On the panel was Kaz Delaney (aka Kerri Lane), Wendy Harmer, and Jesse Blackadder with Linsay Knight moderating. The mood in the room was wonderful, there was laughter and joking, each of the panellists played off each other and watching them joke and interact was as enjoyable for them as it was the entire audience.

Stories on writing were discussed and Kaz Delaney told us that she felt she was born to write and told us about her vast collection of books for children. With 69 books under her belt Kaz was first published at 9 with what she called a blatant rip off of the poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth. She also mentioned that some people have passions –  animals, the planet etc and her passion is children. I thought that was wonderful. Being passionate about writing is one thing but when you couple that with being passionate about children as well I really think it would help your work.

Wendy discussed her creation and development of her Pearly series. Pearly is a fairy that lives on a fountain in a park and as a big fairy fan,  Wendy said the idea for Pearly came very easily. She also said she wanted to create a fairy that didn’t look like other fairies, those that seem to look like Paris Hilton with wings; she wanted a fairy with daring do.

What I loved about Wendy was the reason she chose to set her Pearly series in a park. She said that most children don’t have gardens, instead they go to the park, Wendy herself took her daughter to the park. Because of this they cannot enjoy the magic of having a fairy at the bottom of their garden so by having Pearly live in the park it showed children that even if they didn’t have a garden they could still enjoy the magic of fairies.

Jesse Blackadder, an author who I had not previously heard of, is someone who bases her stories of real things that happen, she takes them and brings the story to life. Listening to Jesse talk was enjoyable, she was funny and played on the vast success of her fellow panellists and joked about her far fewer books, and amongst the strong presence and humour of the others Jesse held her own quite well.

She told us about her new book Stay, a story about a fibreglass Guide dog statue that had been kidnapped from Hobart and taken to Antarctica. She discussed the true story it was based upon as well as the issues she had trying to make an inanimate object tell its own story. Jesse also told us when telling stories about real events in real places it was important to her to go to the places themselves, and so having been to Antarctica, Dubai and numerous other places she was able to bring the story to life.

The entire session was excellent and one filled with learning, insight and a lot of laughter. All the panellists gave us a reading from their book, and as much as I loved them all I must say Wendy’s was the most animated. Naturally by the end of the session I was eager to read all of their books which resulted in the buying and signing of books from each author.

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, Jesse Blackadder

Linsey Knight, Kaz Delaney, Wendy Harmer, & Jesse Blackadder

The next session I attended was ‘Kate Forsyth in Conversation‘, a wonderful hour where Magdalena Ball discussed with Kate her creative journey as well as retelling fairy tales, and writing best selling works based on fables and fairy tales. So many wonderful lessons were learnt in this session, so many excellent quotes about writing, about fairytales and about creating I could hardly write fast enough to capture and remember it all.

Kate read to us from her novel Wild Girl, gave us insights in her research and her ideas, and even gave us a sneak peek into her new story that she was starting once the festival was over. For Kate immersing herself in the research was important, knowing about every detail about her characters was important, whether it was what they ate, believed, or how they peed. She also explained her four stages of writing, how she developed and planned her ideas, and the influences writing one novel can have on another.

Kate told us that if you have the compulsion to form life experiences into words than nothing should stop you, but she also said you cannot give someone the gift of writing, you may be able to teach it, but it is not the same. This was something I heard later in the weekend as well, and certainly something I hadn’t considered before.

Listening to Kate tell stories about how she started as a writer, how she writes and the work she puts into her books was inspiring, I have seen her a few times now over the years and every time she manages to amaze me more. Once again, more books were bought and signed.

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

Magdalena Ball & Kate Forsyth

My last session was ‘Once Upon a Time: Exploring myths, fables, and fairy tales‘, again with Kate Forsyth but with John Hughes as well and Jenny Blackford moderating. Discussing the idea of reinventing fables and fairy tales into new inventive stories is something I adore doing and love reading about. John and Kate immediately addressed the incorrect notion that fables and fairytales are just for children, not to mention how and why these stories have lasted for millennia.

Kate said she believes that a story is retold if it is a story of longing and need and some kind of dilemma, and the stories that are retold and retold and shape shift really touch a core in the listeners. As she beautifully put it, she feels like a relay runner carrying on this beacon of stories, behind her is centuries of storytelling. I thought that was a wonderful way to describe it.

This was another session of excellent quotes about us as people, about our need for stories and love of them. From the cleaning up of darker tales in the Victorian era, and the Grimm’s changing the stories as well it was clear that these stories have been evolving for awhile. Naturally Disney poked its nose into this discussion about it taming down of fairytales further, but Kate wisely pointed out that Disney probably is the true source of the fairy tale revival, and that they did a wonderful service by keeping stories alive that may have been forgotten. John also pointed out that you cannot say these stories can only be used for high literature purposes and no other. It is really up to the person telling the stories how they want to do it. As Kate said, with each retelling of a tale the teller brings their own concerns to it. By the end of the session I has learned so much and gotten so many new ideas and motivation to write my own stories. After the session was over, yes, many books were bought and signed once more.

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

Kate Forsyth, Jenny Blackford, & John Hughes

At the end of a very long first day I was on a buzz of knowledge and awe and just general happiness to be there. This is what I love, learning about how people write, where their inspiration comes from, but also the chance to broaden your own mind and gain new perspective and welcome new ideas and challenges. I truly adore this (and other) writing festivals. Not only do you learn so much but you also get exposed to great authors you may never have noticed or even considered before.

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.