This weekend I had the pleasure of attending The Sydney Writers’ Festival. It’s an event I look forward to each year and some years I enjoy it more than others – this year for me was the best so far. With the theme of “telling stories” the Festival really got back to what writing is all about – great stories told by talented people from all over the globe.
Here’s a little run down of the events I attended and what I enjoyed the most … (apologies for the poor quality of a couple of the pics). I’ve included links to the author’s blog or Facebook page where I could find them. * First up for me was the session Writers Who Blog. The panel was an eclectic bunch with Mark Forsyth, writer of The Inky Fool , a blog about words and grammar, Tara Moss, Australian Crime and Paranormal novelist who now writes on a range of social issues at her blog and Lorraine Elliot who writes a food blog at Not Quite Nigella. all three writers have an enormous blog following and both Mark and Lorrain have been able to secure book deals based on their blogs. It was interesting to see how three very different personalities have used blogging to develop their writing platform. For Tara blogging has taken her in a new direction with her writing since she has given herself permission to blog about whatever topics she’s passionate about which in turn has brought her new readers and opened up a wealth of media opportunities. It has also led her to pursue a doctorate in Social Science. The consensus was that bloggers should write what they are passionate about and to be consistent. It’s the voice of the blog that matters – authenticity is the key. Next up was Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild, in conversation with Richard Fiedler. For those who haven’t read it, Wild is Cheryl’s memoir about her solo hike of the Pacific Crest Trail to find her way out of the unshakeable grief brought on by her mother’s death. Even though I knew the story it was great to see Cheryl in person and to hear her read from the book. The hour passed way too quickly and it would have been great to hear more about her other writing life as advice columnist Dear Sugar. Maybe next year!
In the Tension and Suspense session Julienne van Loon, Hannah Richell and Caroline Overington shared their wisdom about how to keep the reader turning pages. The facilitator was the very amicable Matt Condon who also participated in the discussion. For me the main point here was that it’s better for the writer not to know everything about the plot in advance – if you allow yourself to be surprised there’s more chance your story will have the same impact on the reader. In Fiction On The Edge Of Reality, three Australian novelists – John M Green, Dawn Barker and Andrew Croom discussed how they are able to use real experiences to inform their fiction – no small task for Green and Croom who write thrillers which really do stretch reality while Dawn Barker’s gritty rendering of post natal depression in Fractured shows how disturbing real life can actually be. One of my favourite sessions was Defining Moments featuring Georgia Blain, Cate Kennedy and Claire Messud. All three did beautiful readings from their current works. Blain and Kennedy were both reading from short story collections and spoke of the short story form as one where seemingly small but hugely significant moments in character’s lives can be explored. I loved Cate Kennedy’s description as the resolution of a story as “the breaking open of a story in the reader” – the idea that the reader will continue on with the story once the book page has been turned. It was wonderful to see the queen of Rural Fiction, Rachael Treasure, in person. curiously the audience for this session wasn’t as large as I had assumed it would be – maybe readers of rural fiction don’t attend writer’s festivals? Never the less Rachael charmed the audience with her tales of rural life and her commitment to sustainable agriculture which is a sub plot in all her novels. And even though this isn’t a great photo it does show her very blingy jeans – minus the cowgirl boots.
The final session I attended as a wonderful surprise – On Craft: How The Imagination Can Help Us Survive with Scottish writer Jackie Kay. It was the subject matter more than the writer which drew me to this event (purely because I wasn’t familiar with her work) but Jackie was funny, poignant and entertaining and I came away with a new name to add to my tbr pile. Rather than explaining how the imagination helps characters survive Jackie showed it through her brilliant readings from her short story collection Reality, Reality. In answer to a question on how a writer “gets the balls” to put their work out into the public arena she replied “A writer needs to believe in themselves and doubt themselves in equal measure”.
The opening of the Vivid Light Festival, which happened to coincide with the Writers’ Fest, was a stunning ending to what for me was the best festival in many years. With its emphasis back on writers and the stories they tell it left me wanting more and inspired to write.
Which I’m off to do now!