I’ve been attending writers festivals as a reader (and unpublished writer) for years, but last week was the first time I stepped through the gates as an author on the program. Whole other ball-game…
I was suitably terrified and excited (the two adjectives I seem to use lot these days). And I had an absolute blast. I met switched-on students, met and heard awesome writers, had rewarding sessions, and came home with a swag of books (signed, of course!).
The festival in question was the Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast, now 20 years strong, and openly touted as the biggest and best youth literary festival in Australia. Certainly, writers who have been doing the festival circuit a lot longer than me agreed it was among their favourites.
The first thing that struck me was how warm and friendly Australian YA writers are. They’re a friendly bunch, and there was a lovely vibe at the welcoming dinner and then in the green room at the festival itself.
I was somewhat spoilt in that my first session was a panel discussion with the wonderful Nick Earls, and Queensland Writers Centre Programs and Services Manager Aimee Lindorff, about online author platforms. It was an open session (the audience included adults as well as students), and the pressure was mostly off me because everyone came to hear Nick. Rightly so – nobody tells a story like Nick. We had good discussion about blogging, tweeting and interacting with readers online, and I possibly even offered one or two intelligent comments.
Next up was my first author session. That’s me and a mike and 45 minutes to fill. And a sea of Year 9 students. My new writer buddies Simmone Howell and Pip Harry also came along in support. No pressure. 🙂 So, I launch into my story about my journey to publication and my experiences as a published writer. At some point during my talk, my brain decides that I began 15 minutes earlier than I actually did. So I shorten some of my material and wrap up in time for questions – and then go to wrap up the session. My protocol student (the lovely Hepburn) politely comes over and quietly explains I still have 15 minutes left. Fortunately all swearing was confined to my head. The audience must have seen the fear in my eyes because as I’m fumbling about for a topic I could dive back into, the questions start coming thick and fast. And they were good questions. I’ve never been so grateful. I particularly have to thank the Somerset girl who asked a string of questions (you know who you are).
Lesson learned? Write the finishing time on the back of my hand so there can be no confusion. My next solo session (in a giant marquee with a crowd to match) went much more smoothly, as did my final session – a smaller group, who seemed to forgive me for not putting my shoes on (I took them off while getting settled. Force of habit.)
The events were the most fun: The Prologue Party in the quad had a European-style festival atmosphere and we got to witness the amazing Asphyxia bring her heart-breaking goth puppet to life, and Lucas Proudfoot and his didgeridoo had the kids dancing. The Literary Long Table dinner on the terrace on the final night was pure magic.
One of the best things about the festival was meeting other writers. I loved chatting to fellow YA authors Simmone Howell, Pip Harry, Christine Howe, Leah Giarratano and Kaz Delaney. There weren’t enough hours in the day to see everyone I wanted to see, but I hear Lisa Forrest, Kari Gislason and Tiffany Hall were big hits and I also would’ve loved to have seen children’s writers Belinda Murrell, Gus Gordon, Katrina Nannestad and the hugely popular (read: rock star) Andy Griffiths. (Okay, I wanted to see everyone and I can’t list them all here.)
I also have to give a shout-out to my two protocol students, Hepburn and Akhila, who made sure I got where I needed to be, and all the staff and volunteers at Somerset who made it so easy for us newbies.
I had so many special moments during the week but I think the most surreal came on the final night when I was walking under strings of fairy lights in the quad on our way up to the terrace for dinner. It struck me that I was a published author at a festival in a gorgeous setting, surrounded by writers I admire. Yet again I felt enormously grateful. Honestly, the long, hard journey to get there (and I don’t mean the drive down the M1) was so worth it.