I bloody love festivals. Spending time with other writers – chatting with them onstage and off – is such a buzz. I always come away invigorated and buoyed up. I’m with my people – those who understand all the craziness of the publishing industry – and it is pure bliss. So I was absolutely delighted to be a part of the inaugural Sorrento Writers Festival, conveniently located in my ‘backyard’.
And what a festival it was. The unpredictable Naarm/Melbourne weather decided to play nice and we had glorious sunshine and big blue skies. The venues were all walking distance from each other, and every session that I attended was packed. It seems the peninsula has an avid reading population, though many came from further afield. The line-up of authors was ridiculously good – Christos Tsiolkas, Sarah Winman, Tom Keneally, Jane Harper, Marcia Langton, Craig Silvey and Chloe Hooper, to name but a few.
I moderated two panels and had the most fun. First up was Rijn Collins, who I have stalked on Instagram for some time, and Chris Hammer, an old Canberra mate. One of my favourite moments was when I asked Rijn about her writing rituals and she said, ‘Mine are very boring,’ then proceeded to describe how she wrote Fed to Red Birds with a tiny snake curled up inside her bra. So boring, right?
Another fave was when I asked Chris about his highest high as a writer and he was brought to tears describing the bidding war for his debut novel, Scrublands, that changed his life. Afterwards he told me that he’s told that story plenty of times before and doesn’t know why in that moment it moved him so. I think the problem may be me, because on my second panel there were tears too. But when there is laughter and tears and all the feels I consider my job as moderator done!
My Sunday panel was the stellar line-up of Ramona Koval, Pip Drysdale, Pirooz Jafari and Hilde Hinton. It was a big panel to manage, but there was so much laughter and so many fascinating insights. I loved discovering that Hilde has to build Lego before a writing session (my son would approve) and that Pip has to effectively write in a cell – a place without windows or views, which right now is her garage. As a panellist and person, Ramona exudes such light and joy, and my fangirling rose another notch. Pirooz was such a wise and gracious presence and I loved that he was unable to name a lowest low as a writer – I ask this question on my podcast and he’s the first writer to ever say that there are no lows, only good things. It makes sense that having grown up in Iran, witnessing every human rights violation imaginable, publishing ‘lows’ mean nothing. It was a moment that put things into perspective for all of us.
Afterwards, Ramona Koval said the loveliest and most generous things about my skill as a moderator and I almost died on the spot. Having interviewed practically every author on the planet, praise could not come from a higher source! Totally made my festival.
Of the panels that I attended as audience member, my highlight was hearing Thomas Mayo recite the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It was such a potent and powerful experience, and an absolute privilege to be in the room. No photo I’m afraid because I was utterly spellbound.
I also popped into the gorgeous Antipodes bookshop to sign copies of Seree’s Story, and again into the onsite festival bookshop run by Avenue Bookshop to sign The Breaking (pictured with the wonderful Emily Westmoreland who also happens to be the genius behind Willy Lit Fest). Plus there were general author hangs to be enjoyed (clearly we were having a terrible time).
I’m delighted that the Sorrento Writers Festival will return next year, but in the meantime I’m looking forward to the aforementioned Willy Lit Fest where I will be in-conversation with the incredible Amelia Mellor, author of the bestselling The Grandest Bookshop in the World and The Booksellers Apprentice. And looking further ahead I’m doing a bunch of things at Write Around the Murray. It’ll be my first time there and I have heard only the very best things about that festival. Stay tuned!