The Newcastle Writers Festival happened this past weekend and once again I was front and centre eager to enjoy three days of nothing but books, authors, and the writing experience and be able to share it with like-minded people. For the first time the event went across three days, with a half day of sessions before the wonderful opening night on Friday where Jessica Rudd, Michael Robotham, and Helen Garner chatted with Caroline Baum about the books that changed them. James Valentine was a wonderful MC and he brought laughter to the night with many guest speakers thanking Rosemarie Milsom profusely, and rightly so, for her work in organising this festival year after year and for having such enthusiasm for its original creation. But the night was also an insightful chance to hear from three wonderful authors about the books they have read that had an impact on their lives. Discussion ranged from whether you need likable characters in books (no), to whether it is better to not meet someone you admire (typically yes), and listening to the panel discuss books that have stayed with them whether they were read as a child or as an adult was fascinating.
Before the opening night I went to Forever Young where Megan Buxton talked with Melina Marchetta about her books and her writing career. What was wonderful about the session was that Melina spoke about how getting a classical education was not always a good thing when it came to writing, and that trying to fit books into genres is not always a helpful thing. It was really wonderful to hear about her approach to writing and Melina spoke about how she likes to write about people trying to find their place in the world and she always offers hope in her stories. With an afternoon session about the benefits of a writing group the festival was off to a very positive start.
Saturday morning however was one of dual emotion. I could only stay for one session which was an intense disappointment because I had originally an entire day planned, but I am glad that session I did get to see was Keys to the Kingdom with Garth Nix. Having been a lover of his books for such a long time, I am always glad to see him speak and get another pile of books signed. His session with Magdalena Ball was quite insightful, speaking about his latest book Clariel, which we were also given a reading of, and he discussed why categories like Young Adult and Fantasy should be partially ignored and certainly not be used to discriminate against a genre, meaning readers should not be limited in what they read. With all the concern about adults reading YA both Nix and Marchetta had great things to say about why YA is not just for teenagers and it is a message that I think needs to be out there more widely as it still seems to be ignored.
The final day on Sunday was filled with a great contrast between politics and publishing. With Porkies and Politics Jane Caro, Dee Madigan, and Steve Lewis talked with Paul Bevan about how political advertising works and the nature of the political environment both past and present. It was insightful and fascinating, and with great minds like Dee and Jane in discussion there was an enjoyable debate. My final session of the day was a great panel where published writers gave advice on how to get books and stories published. Jessie Ansons moderated with Marg Jackson, Aidan Walsh, and Maree Gallop all offering great advice on the best practices in getting your work published. I got some great ideas for my own work and inspiration and motivation to try new things, something the writers festival is always great at offering.
In my opinion this festival brought out some big names with Garth Nix and Melina Marchetta, but I know many other people who were there for other authors and prominent figures such as Bob Carr and Bob Brown, Marion Halligan, and Les Murray. Rosemarie mentioned on opening night that 130 writers were attending the festival ranging from poets, university creative writing students, journalists, as well as prominent names in politics, meaning that an incredible range was provided for all who attended. With something for everyone there is always something brilliant to see and discover and there is always the chance of discovering someone you had never previously heard about but soon grow to love.
What is particularly wonderful about the festival is getting a chance to talk to other people who are there for the same reason as you: the love of books and writing. I had a great weekend with my two best friends and got to catch up with some great familiar faces and friends like Kaz Delaney and Sheree Christoffersen, while also sitting in on some informative, inspiring, and motivating sessions. I already look forward to the 2016 festival (no pressure Rosemarie!) and I know it will be just as enjoyable and as great a success as the one this year and in years past.