As children, my brothers and I were raised to believe that two of the worst social crimes we could commit, were showing-off and dobbing. When we became adolescents these crimes morphed to become sarcasm/condescension and gossip. I believe it’s this upbringing that has lead to my distaste for post-modernist navel gazing and jargon.
You can imagine then, how tense I become when I contemplate writers festivals. A room full of people who are used to being the cleverest in the room and who all have the words to prove it. Sometimes, I have trouble just deconstructing the schedule of events and I have even less chance of figuring out, from the (supposedly) descriptive blurb, what might be taking place within select workshops.
The Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) event that took place in Sydney on the 7th of November, was not an example of one of those events. The timetable was sharp, clear, easily read and eminently comprehensible. The location was easy to get to and provided lots of parking (What can I say? I’m a simple person and I appreciate the little things). The presenters were generally funny, smart, self-deprecating people who appreciated the invitation to present.
When it came to talking about what they do, these writers were honest and thoughtful. Chris Pash talked about how he wrote The Last Whale out of a sense of guilt. Bianca Nogrady gushed with enthusiasm for the environmental themes within The Sixth Wave. I could have hugged Gabby Stroud (Measuring Up)when she shrugged and said “I just write the story”. Later the story was tailored to a niche but mostly, the only thing she’ll take credit for, is writing the story. P.M. Newton (The Old School) was a proud crime writer, happy to talk about the facets of her field. James Bradley (The Resurrectionist – which I didn’t realise until after the festival, I have both read and enjoyed…)happily explained that no-one should ever take book business advice from him, while the Harlequin publisher was equally happy to explain why writing romance made perfect business sense.
I guess what I’m trying to tell you, is that not all writers festivals are full of psuedo-intellectual show-offs. Of course, over lunch and a glass of wine there was a lot of chatter about the process of writing, some metacognitive questioning and a little bit of navel gazing, but if you can’t talk about the process of writing while at a writers festival, then when?
Other people’s voices, questions, observations and thoughts have been buzzing in my head since I got back to my apartment last night. The buzz has survived a train trip, the flight home that saw me surrounded (I kid you not, SURROUNDED) by screaming children, my small child’s homework and the process of cooking dinner. That’s a good sign; it means the festival provided food for thought and I’m back feeling enthusiastic about what I do.
Of course, as with all things in life you must choose to take what you want and leave what you don’t. As such, the panelist, who at the very beginning session of the festival suggested “don’t go to writers festivals” shall be summarily ‘left’. I will be attending the next EWF because they have a lot to show-off!