My last post started with ‘I bloody love festivals’, and this one could start the same way. I really do. And I was recently at the wonderful Write Around the Murray, which I had long heard such good things about from author friends. They were absolutely right, it’s a cracker. The venues are gorgeous, the audiences were warm, the author line-up was fab, and everything was run so seamlessly by Director Ann-maree Ellis and her incredible team (particular shout out to Chris and photographer Pete, who is responsible for most of the photos here). To top it all off the weather was utter perfection and I could not have had a better time.
Opening night kicked off with yarnbombing from local Wiradjuri educator Ruth Davys, and a panel that I moderated with Paul Dalgarno, Gina Perry and Rijn Collins (who I also spoke with at Sorrento Writers Festival earlier this year). Our topic was ‘Mum’s the Word’. Interestingly, all three of the books have mothers who are absent in some way. All three also have brilliant plot twists which make it bloody hard – I so wanted to ask them questions that I couldn’t! Hard recommend on all three books as book club reads where all the spoilers can be discussed – A Country of Eternal Light (Dalgarno), My Father the Whale (Perry) and Fed to Red Birds (Collins).
Saturday morning saw me up bright and early for an event for families at Lavington Library (where they have the loveliest staff who will make you tea and endlessly talk books with you), with my picture books Seree’s Story and Where the Heart Is. Next came Stereo Stories which was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had on stage. It’s such a cool format that Vin and his band have put together where authors read a memoir piece inspired by a song. The band weaves the song around the author’s words. As Chris Hammer once told me, ‘It’s like having your own backing band.’ And bloody hell, it was fun. Other performers included Debra Dank, Paul Dalgarno and Rijn Collins, who has performed at the most Stereo Stories of any writer.
It made me reflect, though, on how years ago, even the very thought of being on stage in this way would have left me with a feeling of utter dread. Several of my brothers were natural performers (I have five!), and for a time were actors or street performers. They loved an audience. I, on the other hand, avoided one. Public speaking was not something I ever voluntarily did. But then I started to get published, and I realised I was going to have to get comfortable with it. So, I pushed myself to do all the things. Eventually, I looked comfortable on stage. Looked being the operative word. But the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. And now, I love it. Stereo Stories was a moment in time that made me realise how far I’ve come. To be on stage, making people laugh, and enjoying every second, is a world apart from how I once was.
But I digress. Sunday’s final event for me was a panel moderated by Kate Mildenhall with Kathryn Heyman and Tim Napper. We talked about all things writing and publishing, and I’m sure we could have talked for the rest of the day, if not for a packed program! It was recorded for The First Time podcast, so look out for that one.
Kathryn and I discovered some weird synergies. When I was deciding on a title for The Breaking I googled it to see if anything came up. Nothing did. But a few months after The Breaking came out, another book appeared with that title. It was Kathyrn Heyman’s debut novel of 26 years earlier, previously published only in the UK, and now released all this time later in Australia. The weird bit, though, is that at the festival we discovered that both books started as a series of short stories, and we both had a friend who said to us, ‘I think you might be writing a novel.’ So two debuts with the same title, started in the same way. It seems Kathryn Heyman is my book twin!
As usual, one of the best bits of the festival was writerly hangs with brilliant people. Massive congrats to Anne-maree and her team on a stellar festival. Can’t wait until the next one!