This weekend Anne and I had the pleasure of attending Bendigo’s first Writer’s Festival. We signed up weeks earlier upon seeing the line up in the paper. What sane reader or writer would ever miss the opportunity to speak with real life authors and illustrators for less than the cost of the newly re-released hardcover copy of Doug Macleod’s “Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns.”
The value for money at this festival was phenomenal. $40 for a weekend of professional development, guidance, networking and support. Not to mention the chance to participate in refreshing shower of feminism with the mesmerizingly confident queen of the print world Ita Buttrose. Naturally the weekend ending up costing much more than $40 as I quickly found myself on a first name basis with Harry from the temporary Dymocks bookshop who was quite grateful for my attempt to ensure there were no books left to carry back to his car at the end of the day.
My Saturday involvement in the festival kicked off with a session on writing fast and well with the ladies from the Bendigo Writer’s Council. What a terrific opportunity to spend some time writing, sharing and listening. How wonderful it was to hear the diversity of the writing of the other people in my group who were all given the same task as me yet who had completely different styles, approaches and end results. Such a simple thing to do really but we never do make enough time to share our work and listen to the work of others.
One of my highlights for the weekend (and there were many) was the panel of experts with Craig Smith, Glenda Millard, Doug Macleod and Maureen McCarthy. This fantastic line-up of talent was interviewed by the equally talented Jenny Niven. Although I had heard Glenda speak before and didn’t hear most of what Craig said at the start (partly due to the fact that I acquired momentary deafness caused by being completely starstruck and partly due to the fact that I was mentally trying to tap in to the wi-fi connected to each of their brains so I could download their creativity and ideas), I can safely say that each of their stories were highly engrossing and led to a direct negative force on my credit card after the session as I carried on with my mission of saving Harry’s back.
I was completely engaged with every session on Saturday and due to the timetable of events, made the decision to sacrifice the small inconvenient option of having lunch and attend to the much more worthwhile cause of hearing another fantastic author speak. Fortunately for me, the intelligent and well-travelled Alex Miller provided me with a feast of stories and inspiration that no other café option could ever have provided in any case.
I must make a special mention about the poetry workshop on Sunday morning with Emilie Zoey Baker and Kevin Brophy. This was a big highlight for me. Although a poetry lover I had never heard of a poetry slam or performance poetry until Emilie introduced us to it. She read her poem “Spooning” aloud, followed by “Dark Matter” and I immediately felt free to do as she does and to break the rules of poetry. I knew immediately that I could pull my advertisement down from RSVP.com as I no longer needed to search for the perfect poetry for me- I had found it! I wanted to run out of the room and to write what is to be my new style all over the streets and the buildings as Emilie had set me free! Free from conventions! Free from the conventional restraints of writing! (Ok, a little over the top I really just wanted to run out of the room to see if Harry had anything with Emilie’s work in it- turns out Google is the only way). Kevin’s poems were equally as enlightening and inspiring and the ability to pick their brains and hear their thoughts for the following hour and a half was an invaluable opportunity that will no doubt be pinpointed as the start of my obsession for googling poetry slams and free form poetry.
There were a number of themes and ideas that seemed to emerge across the festival: Great writers are forever collecting ideas and writing them down, they write EVERY day, they draw a lot of inspiration for their stories from their own lives and they are very well read.
And now, I couldn’t end this review without writing about my major disappointment from the festival: where on earth were all the teachers? The two days of the festival (more so than the Friday afternoon) were by far the most invaluable professional development I have had about the writing process to date. I know all teachers may not want to be writers as I do but surely all teachers of writing have a responsibility to understand and to know the process of writing in order to teach our students effectively. What could be more useful in building your understanding than accessing real life authors- experts in the very thing you are trying to teach! How often do teachers have the opportunity to attend professional development at all these days let alone for the extremely cost efficient sum of $25ish for two whole days of PD! Considering most PD costs in the order of $200+ per day, attending just one session for the whole weekend would still have provided better value for dollar than most commercially available PD days. What are we to think of this lack of teachers at the festival? Does it show that teachers are too focussed on genre studies and undervalue creative writing? Is there a lack of understanding in the teaching community about how knowledge of the process would help teachers improve their ability to teach writing? Was it a lack of advertising in schools?
Overall, a fantastic weekend. One that has encouraged me to start writing every day (Emilie also suggests writing a haiku a day to improve your poetry) and to continue my relationship with Harry through voracious and wide reading. I am already looking forward to the next one and might even try and sneak my way on to the organising committee…