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#FestivalsRoadtrip

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There is something for everyone when it comes to regional literary festivals in Victoria. From the buzz brought by a particularly striking keynote, to the more intimate environment of a writers’ panel, regional literary festivals hold a special place in the heart of Australia’s literary landscape.

As a part of our commitment to exploring some strategies to increase the profile of the Victoria literary Festival sector, the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office throughout 2019 has commissioned a selection of writers artists from an open callout, to attend regional literary festivals around Victoria and report on their experiences.

Our Regional Social Media Reporter initiative is part presentation/creation, part reflection, where our Social Media Reporters actively engage with their chosen festival via social media (using the hashtag #FestivalsRoadtrip), and then create a creative piece (of art and/or writing) in response to their festival experience.

This year our artists have attended Clunes Booktown Festival, Bendigo Writers Festival, Phillip Island Festival of Stories, Williamstown Literary Festival, Queenscliffe Literary Festival and the Word for Word Non-Fiction festival.

Read, watch, listen and enjoy our social media reporters accounts as they road trip around Victoria’s regional literary festivals!


Melbourne’s calendar of festival offerings caters to readers interested in a variety of genres, forms and niches, as seen in the Fitzroy Children’s Literature Festival, Williamstown Literary FestivalContinuumReading MattersFreeplay and Word for Word.

This extends to our regional areas as well: Bendigo Writers FestivalClunes Booktown FestivalMildura Writers FestivalNewstead Short Story TattooWoodend Winter Arts FestivalEx Libris Port Fairy Festival of WordsCastlemaine Children’s Literature Festival, and Words in Winter. Curious to see all of the regional festivals we have? We have a map of them here

Festivals are often a launching pad for the public personas of writers and authors, to expose their work to a wider network of readers. They also provide ample opportunities for dialogue and discussion around current events and social factors, thus becoming an integral part of our cultural identity.

Read more about Melbourne’s literary festivals, and check out our calendar of Literary Festivals here.

Word for Word Non-Fiction Festival – Dani Leever

Attending the Word for Word non-fiction literary festival was an eye-opening delight. Panels packed full of brilliant brains, a whole network of non-fic nerds, all within a brilliant cultural centre in Geelong.

To capture and creatively reflect on the festival, I’ve created a collection of digital collages directly responding to some of the quotes that stood out throughout the day. Each collage represents how I’ve reflected upon and interpreted some of my favourite things I heard in the Word for Word discussions. These quotes stood out to me for their creative, important or fascinating approach to creating non-fiction. Below each collage you will see the quote or quotes I’ve responded to.

Open your eyes.

From the Growing Up Queer panel

A lot of us didn’t see stories of ourselves growing up. I didn’t see stories or representations of growing up queer and/or Asian. Like, I had the H Volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica out with the ‘homosexual’ entry – I had that. And SBS. Which was a bit better.” – Benjamin Law

I had no role models or representations of queerness where I grew up – I’d never met a queer person, there were no queer YA books in the library. Grappling the idea of not being straight when there’s nobody around to understand – that’s what I want to convey.” – Justine Hyde

For us as Australian queer people, we’re understandably frustrated about how slow can change. We haven’t gotten rid of transphobia, biphobia and homophobia. But I you step back and have a look, we’re part of a pretty tumultuous and radical revolution. Even when I was growing up and homosexuality was criminalised in Queensland, so there is cause of optimism.” – Benjamin Law

From the Real Funny panel

“A working theory that I carry in my brain is that people laugh for three reasons, this is based on a particular book I’ve forgotten, but people write about this stuff. The three reasons I think people laugh for:

  1. Surprise. So when we’re surprised, it’s like a puzzle, so the example, “I like rice, rice is great if you’re hungry and you want to eat 2000 of something – so a surprise.
  2. Superiority – like ‘your mama’s so fat’, when you’re sort of punching down. Right, when you’re mocking or humiliating. Which is not very nice, but we laugh! We laugh when people are made fun of because we’re cruel. We’re capable of divinity and love but we love to rub people’s noses in it sometimes.
  3. The other one is – and this is the one that appeals to me – a release of tension. They’re the kind of laughs when your mum is walking out the kitchen on Christmas day with a bottle of wine and she slips over, and you think she’s going to die, and then she’s okay and you laugh, because there’s all this tension. And I think there’s tension around social issues, like anything that’s a hot button issue. When you joke about it, you’re releasing social tension and I think that’s one of comedy’s – in particular stand up comedy – highest and noblest functions – to be a release valve.

From the We Are Here panel

I’ve taught writing workshops at maximum security prisons, and every person I worked with said that having written down how they felt about what was happening, even just that day, everything felt a little bit less overwhelming just by writing something down.” – Claire G Coleman

Stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories about our lives help us make sense of our lives. That was an outcome I didn’t aim for with this project, but I learnt about the therapeutic power of telling stories.” – Meg Mundell

We forget the emotional catharsis of telling a story – a story has less power over of you once you share it with someone else, even if that someone just a piece of paper.” – Claire G Coleman

A sentiment repeated on multiple panels

Often women are up against it, and within that I didn’t want this to be a read that people, you know, are feeling despairing at the end of it I suppose. In some ways, I wanted to write the book I would have liked to read when I was a teenager wanting.” – Joanne Brookfield on the Real Funny panel

“The reason I wrote my story is because I would have loved to read this story growing up.” – Justine Hyde on the Growing Up Queer panel

 “I really thought, ‘the world needs this book.” – Meg Mundell on the We Are Here panel.

From the Real Funny panel

Stand up comedy is not a respected art form. I feel like we’re just above xylophone players. Or triangle players. They don’t put other art forms in front of drunk truckies on a half price Tuesday… but I really do love the art form.” – Corey White

Not everybody’s comedy is going to work for everyone in the audience, but part of getting good is starting shit. But the hard part is it’s so public and you don’t know if a joke’s funny until you’re on stage and you’ve got 100 eyes on you.” – Joanne Brookfield

From the We Are Here panel

You shouldn’t really do things out of anger, but part of the reason for the project is that I get really angry when I encounter nonsense assumptions and people writing people [experiencing homelessness] off, like they’ve got nothing to offer. It was like a ‘we’ll show you’ moment.” – Meg Mundell

“It’s funny you say you shouldn’t do things from anger, because my entire writing career is writing from anger. Like, that’s my platform! I write from anger, and get paid for it!” – Claire G Coleman

*laughs* “Yeah, me too! Anger gets a bad rap, but I think I’m on that too.Meg Mundell

From the Growing Up Queer panel

I love how the book came out with study guides. It’s so cool to have the book go into schools and libraries but it’s so funny thinking of people being asked ‘what did Justine mean in this?’ Like.. I don’t even know what I mean.” – Justine Hyde

The queer lens by definition is going to reframe stories – we don’t think of a cisgender or heterosexual lens, but it totally is! But not everyone thinks of that because heterosexual is so visible, but queerness gives us another way to tell stories and interrogate how the story can be told.”  – Benjamin Law

Stories, voices and the ritual of the literary festival.

It strikes me that the Literary festival, has become a sort of modern stadium to gather with others and experience a quasi religious ritual. The urge to attend speakers events, artist talks and listen to thought leaders exposing the revelations they had when writing their novels, memoirs, essays and beyond— is palpable.

It is evident that the literary festival— much like community gatherings, music and even the simple act of face-to-face communication— has the profound ability to bring us into contact with our senses and emotions to build connection, understanding and empathy. 

The writer is the modern day Rock Star, and audiences are begging to be enlightened, enriched and engaged by some of the brightest minds in the world. The writer serves a very important function in a society. A vessel and mouthpiece to expose both the conscious and unconscious urges of a society’s libido. 

Our urge to tell stories is timeless and spaceless. Storytelling is one of the few actions that can cut across all of our differences. We will tell stories until the end, until our vocal chords fray from the friction of our voices, until are bones lay down to sleep, until our fingers can no longer translate the fictions and fantasies of our minds. The human entity is so profound that we can tell stories with the minutest actions. A facial twitch or a tear. To the grandest of gestures, like a magnum opus of literary genius or the profound architecture of a building. 

The universality of storytelling strikes me as having a way of transcending the barriers between humans that can become washed by the tides of everyday reality. The muses of storytelling guide us to evolve. Sometimes with gentle nudges, sometimes with startling bolts of creative lightening. The fortitude, passion and sheer desperation of individuals to tell stories, is a gauge of freedom in a society and the appreciation of it, exalts us. 

In books particularly, magic can exist. Disbelief is suspended and humans are reminded that they have bodies, which react to emotional and intellectual stimuli in a physical way. We sit, waiting, fidgeting, trying to abandon thoughts of our hard day at work, our difficult relationships, our money woes; and we put our faith in the storyteller, to take us on a journey that our unconscious drive is hoping will reveal something to us.

The far reaching global research, which unveils the decline in reading, creativity and communication— especially among children, is to the detriment of learning how to engage in periods of thoughtfulness, sensitive observation of people. With this, we slowly untether ourselves from the ability to pick up on tone, metaphor, symbol and abstract human thoughts and behaviour. 

When we leave children to play, their imaginations run wild. They use objects and speech and movement to create stories. Storytelling is innate, inborn, unprompted and an unstoppable reflex— a part of our cell DNA. It is clear why story comes from the word historia. It is an ancient communication tool to document, unveil and contend with our collective pasts, and also a human action  that we have been elevating since the very beginnings of consciousness.

As children actively invent their own scenarios in play, they work their way through the challenges and gain confidence and a sense of mastery. What I am referring to here is the importance of active communication, the necessity of arts, culture and imagination in each other’s lives and the prime importance of this kind of communication and creative expression. 

By reading books, I am thrust into a state of being that involves my instinct, intellect an intuition. The three necessary elements of accessing the spherical nature of my own capability to feel and understand the world around me.

When I listen to people tell stories, it creates a bridge between experiences, it fuels a feedback loop between us and creates unity and community.

IN AUGUST I TOOK A TRIP TO THE BENDIGO WRITERS FESTIVAL…

I was excited at the prospect of a full day of nothing but observation, listening and watching writers bear their souls to hungry audiences. The objective was to engage with the greater city and grapple with the intentions and necessities of regional literary festivals. The question being, just how important are our regional festivals within the shiny discotheque of our Melbourne literary scene?

The answer, as I’m sure you would have guessed, is VERY.

I tumbled through spaces, events, speeches, debates and questions and by the end of the day, wove myself a large tapestry of ideas so vast, yet so simple. ‘No-one, no matter who they are, is without a story, and further more, it is by sharing and gifting one another with these stories, that gives our experiences meaning.

I imagine, as I sit in the auditoriums, listening to the likes of Meshel Laurie, Benjamin Law, Tishani Doshi, clementine ford, Alice pung, Randa Abdel-Fattah, lee Kofman, anna Snoekstra, Karen viggers, Bri Lee and many more; that every time they prepare themselves to write, they ask themselves, how might i use this story as an act of revolution?

It is one thing to believe that story is as important to understanding the world as science or economics are. It’s another altogether to make the work with that revolutionary energy. Scientific breakthroughs happen when scientists have the courage to challenge accepted norms. The ever-emerging discoveries of quantum physics demand the next generation to go further, to think deeper. To challenge wider.

This type of daring and rigour was what I felt as I immersed myself in the resonant voices of many writers and speakers dissecting topics such as the access to medicine in indigenous communities, the ghettoisation of social classes, the access to arts, the key to creativity, the pleasure, the grief and the sadness. The search for identity, the modern heroes journey, the queerness, the darkness and the lightness. The Earth’s pain and the human pain. The hidden terrain of domestic abuse, the myriad ghosts of the past, resurrecting to tell the untold truths of our country…

I sunk into conversations about our youth, about mental health and the infection of apathy and nihilism amongst over medicated communities.  

It is these rockstar writers who function to fuel our contemplation about these timeless topics. It is them to who we look for the way through.

The writers of a society, are like cartographers who map our hidden terrains and forests without feeling embarrassed or nervous, or scared of getting lost or being ostracised, of being misunderstood, misread, overlooked. A writer is bold, an artist who refuses to shape their practice according to unspoken moulds and comfort zones. 

I believe the writer’s role, is to respond to and interpret the times. To be the historian, to be awake, conscious and acutely aware of cultural implication. This takes bravery, empathy, interrogation, curiosity and craft. This takes work. Work of complexity and nuance; evolving through time, refracted through our social and personal encounters with the world, and moulded by faith in the landscape of which we are all a part.

WillyLitFest 2019 – Wrap Up and Video!

I was invited to attend Williamstown Literary Festival this June and IT WAS BRILLIANT!

Attending a regional literary festival was by far the best, most thought-provoking, decision I’ve made this year. WillyLitFest was a gem and I can’t wait to go again.

“The biggest and boldest literary festival in Melbourne’s West.”

PANEL 1:
30 Years of Writing – Writers Victoria 

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From left to right (authors): Lili Wilkinson, Terry Jaensch, Katherine Brabon, Lee Kofman.

These four Aussie authors (pictured above) talked about their immersion in books, how their imagination linked them to a sense of freedom, and how readers online have created their own spaces for themselves.

Lee Kofman, author of Imperfect: How Bodies Shape the People We Become, knew she wanted to be a writer at a very young age. Books were about imagining a future for herself. Lee was very sick but survived open heart surgery at eight years old.

I’m paraphrasing, but Lee said:

‘When I wrote my first book, even my publisher said it was terrible. It wasn’t believable, but it really happened.’

This was because her mother, understandably, was rather protective of her as a child. But, one time, her mother asked Lee to go and get sugar from the local store. And Lee stepped outside, looked both ways…

…and was HIT BY A BUS. WHAT.

And even though this REALLY HAPPENED, the entire audience laughed. Surely it was a cliche, a joke? Her publisher didn’t believe it either, even though it really happened.

Katherine Brabon, author of The Memory Artist, is a dreamer and a reader and didn’t start writing nearly as early as Lee. But she still embraced the mentality of being a reader.

‘There are so many opportunities, especially now, to become a writer. And there are so many of us.’

Fascinated by how a culture remembers things, how trauma exists in families and societies, Katherine wrote The Memory Artist. By engaging personally with the emotional truth of a history and using the ‘I’ perspective for her character, Katherine tapped into her creativity and found her writing voice. This headspace is the same dream-like imagination we enter as readers, but she used it to create.

Terry Jaensch, on the other hand, started writing poetry at an incredibly young age. From thirteen, he says writing for him was just vomiting up emotions. But it was a way for him to be visible to friends and teachers. 

Delving deeper into poetry made Tony realise that there’s a lot of posturing in it. But he didn’t want queerness in his poems to be veiled in any way. Poetry seems to measure the size of one’s intellect… He wanted his words to be plain and clear, with deeper meaning if you chose to dive in.

The last speaker, Lili Wilkinson, is the author of twelve books. Not only has she written a PhD on spaces for young adults online, she spoke about booktube, book twitter and bookstagram on the panel. My heart was SINGING. Fandom leads to activism, she said.

We, as young adults visiting school libraries, have carved out a space for ourselves online to get excited about books and engage in critical discussions.

‘YA is about seizing control, taking back power and trying to make the world a better place.’ – Lili

PANEL 2:
Into the Fire: Female Friendship Raked Over the Coals 

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From left to right (authors): Sonia Orchard, Clementine Ford. 

A panel on female friendship, motherhood, patriarchy and exploring why we betray our friends, our ideals, and ourselves. Women, Sonia and Clementine said, have two aspirations that are acceptable under the patriarchy: Motherhood and Beauty.

Neither of these attributes gives women direct access to power, power come via men and in competition with other women. By talking about this openly, we can acknowledge it, question it, change it.

‘The main goal of narcissism is to remain in control,’ says Sonia. ‘And it often does that by dividing and conquering.’

As Sonia was finalising edits for her book Into the Fire, that’s when the #MeToo movement kicked off. There were some alarming parallels.

She and Clementine discuss narcissistic personalities, how there’s a character like this in Sonia’s book, and how narcissism and patriarchy symbolically go hand in hand. This character symbolises patriarchy.

Sonia talked about the Geoffrey Rush case as an example, how it was post the #MeToo movement. Which is alarming in how patriarchy ruled this scenario. Eryn Jean Norville has powerful female friends but where were they? It was, Sonia says, in those women’s interests not to stand up for Eryn, to stand by power and remain silent.

‘Women will still stand by the patriarchy and listen to the male narrative.’

This session was so powerful . We strive and fight for equality and nuance; we need to break this power structure, open it up and stand by each other. Talking about it is the beginning.

Panel 3:
A Long Way From No-Go: Telling the Hard Truths

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From left to right: Stella Kinsella (festival director), Tjanara Goreng Goreng, Chrissie Foster.

‘Two compelling writers will engage in a very powerful discussion about abuse and the strength to survive.’

Tjanara discussed a few key times in her life when she was abused, and how she blew the whistle on these abusers years later. I can’t bring myself to write candidly about this session, even though I want to say how funny and raw Tjanara was about her life. Her tone was inviting but candid. The audience was silent and attentive.

She was sexually assaulted. Blew the whistle on paedophiles. Recognised that, in her head, that little instinct and voice that said kill yourself whenever she thought about approaching someone to tell them the truth… was not her own voice.

How do you sum up the insurmountable strength of a woman like this? She is incredible, a survivor, an activist. Her book A Long Way From No-Go ‘shines a light on the shameful treatment and betrayal of first Australians by individuals and social institutions since European take over.’

She’s had jobs from artist to academic researcher, has sought therapy for her trauma; she’s a brilliantly intellectual, calm, candid speaker. And she is generous. She didn’t leave us with the stories from her earlier life in our heads for when we walked out the door. She made us put our electronics down and she sang us a healing song. It is not our trauma, but hers, and she has learned to carry it and not burden us. The least we can do is support her, Aboriginal culture, and her story.

Panel 4:
Growing Up African in Australia

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From left to right: Ahmed Yussef, Khalid Warsame, Tariro Mavondo, Adut Wol Akec.

Growing Up African in Australia takes a look at the stories of African-diaspora Australians. Writer and journalist, Ahmed Yussef will walk us through the worlds of  Tariro Mavondo, Adut Wol Akec and Khalid Warsame and their unique perspective on the neighbourhood.

What do they think about the role of art?

Tariro says she is an artist because of the body she carries. As an actor and performing artist, she ensures agency and possession of her own story.

‘But on a bigger level, art creates better worlds. We can write the future.’ 

It’s easy, says Khalid, to get stuck in the past as a writer. We are so focussed on it. But we’re in a position now, of power. We can create the future, let’s live in the present.

‘Every artist is an artist because they have to be. It seems like I was born and now here I am.’ – Tariro

Their book Growing Up African In Australia is deemed ‘important’ and ‘necessary’ but is never specifically outlined as to why. Ahmed asks: What does this mean? 

Tariro says damn straight it’s necessary. TV is always the same, our media is always the same. We always know which character in a show will die and why [if they look like her]. We (the panelists, the artists) are here to change this path.

‘By not seeing ourselves [in media] we don’t feel like part of society. I’d write stories as a child with black protagonists. To see nothing like that in media… My doing it was an act of living, of asserting myself. We’re of just as much value as everyone else.’ – Khalid

Tariro says that the book, their writing, their art is necessary because it recentres people within her experience. She often hears ‘that was educational’ and is championing for language and public discourse to change and become more critical so we can share and understand experiences outside of our own. 

‘Everything I write is with an intense sense of responsibility for who I am.’ – Khalid

And that brilliant collection of panels, was WillyLitFest in the barest of nutshells. What a whirlwind of a day. ONE DAY.

Do you want to see the panelists talking? Click HERE for my video! I chatted about the day and shared snippets of each panel. ❤

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Honestly I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and creativity. Festivals leave me BUZZINGand WillyLitFest delivered. I was sent there by Melbourne City of Lit and couldn’t be more thankful. Absolutely KICKING MYSELF at not going before this year. I’ve been missing out on a gem of a festival.

Thank you so much to Williamstown Literary Festival, Melbourne City of Lit, and YOU for reading! Let me know if you’ve ever been to writing festival, I’d love to know and hear about your experiences too. ❤

Clunes Booktown Festival

Flat expanses of paddocks, dry from the summer months, stretch out with livestock dotted about them. In the distance, the lone pine tree on top of Mount Beckworth is visible. Like a giant lollipop, it rises above all the other foliage, looking both ridiculous and familiar. I’m transported back to weekend car trips, repeating the same song over and over on my Discman while daydreaming about big cities.

Clunes seems to appear out of nowhere: a spattering of houses, then an avenue of trees guide you, as you roll down into the town. Sleepy buildings call to each other across wide streets. At this time of year, the trees’ leaves contribute to the golden warm that I imagine draws people to regional Victoria for long lunches, fireplaces and (if you’re lucky) a spa. For people who grew up in the country, this season doesn’t have the same connotations, it’s more about dark mornings, trying to find a warm place to dry the washing and frozen fingers.  

The town was named after an area in Scotland. The name in Gaelic meaning ‘a green’ or ‘pleasant place’. But when I think of Clunes I think of warmer, dustier colours: oranges, reds and yellows and the sepia tones of the main street.  

Image of Star Wars book

When we arrive at the Booktown Festival people are setting up stalls and unpacking cardboard boxes crammed full of books. My partner Zoe and I get a coffee and watch as trestle tables are buried in book covers that haven’t seen the light of day in years. Today is May the 4th and we quickly snap a photo of the first Star Wars book we come across.

Sitting on a hay bale in the main street the cold seems to leech up from the ground and into our legs – the kind of cold that stays in your body all day, that familiar cold that is dense and unshakable. I feel like I’m a child again. Like we have actually come to Clunes to meet my grandma who’ll be driving us the rest of the way to Maryborough. The paddocks getting dryer the further we go. Thanks to her, the landscapes of regional Victoria will always have a magical quality.

The traditional owners of this land are the Dja Dja Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. We attend the Welcome to Country by a local Elder. She speaks about Bunjil, the creator and spiritual leader and his teachings – “Respect yourself, respect others and respect the environment”.

We wander up the hill with other festival goers wrapped tightly in coats and beanies. I have a list of panels that I want to go to. First up is Male Violence & the Contemporary Thriller with authors Sarah Bailey (Into the Night), Josh Pomare (Call Me Evie) and Jock Serong (On the Java Ridge). The panel description reads: Charismatic male characters committing violence against women is a staple element in one of the most popular forms of recreational reading, the Thriller. How does this stack-up today in the #MeToo era? While not a thriller reader myself, I’m interested in the idea of reinforcing problematic archetypes when writing these stories. So often we see men emerge from these stories as “heroes”, whereas, women are one-dimensional victims. Do thriller writers have to be conscious of reinforcing gender stereotypes? Sarah Bailey (whose book Into the Night centres on the character of Senior Detective Gemma Woodstock) notes that we are trained to appreciate the complicated layers of men and are more forgiving but with women, we find it harder to accept their flaws or moral issues. She also speaks about her experience as a writer being vastly different from the other panellists – when you are a woman writer there is the assumption that everything you write is a diary. Men on the other hand (in particular white men) seem to have a license to write from whoever’s perspective they like. I can’t help but notice that Sarah seems more conscious of her position and responsibility as a writer.

Read a collection of my live tweets from this panel here.

The next panel I run to (after accidentally going to the wrong venue) is Blaze a tale presented by the Wheeler Centre and featuring Tony Birch (Common People) and Alice Pung (Close to Home), in conversation with Paddy O’Reilly, to discuss the thrills, dangers and possibilities of storytelling. What does it mean to be a storyteller in Australia today?

The first thing I have to mention about this event is the location – Wow. It’s in the Town Hall. Think pastels, think ornate ceiling detail, think old, think high ceilings and then picture a stage decked-out with a concertina folded screen painted to resemble gum trees. Do you get the idea? (if not, here’s a pic that someone else has taken).

Having always loved these writers, I found this panel both relaxing and casual. Alice and Tony have the ability to weave tragedy and humour into their storytelling. They have such respect for the form and also for their characters. Tony crosses his legs and reclines back in his chair, performing for the crowd, aware that he is as much a character as the ones in his books. He tells us how he has a character from Clunes in one of his stories, but he’d never actually been here before. He’s broken one of his rules for character development. The crowd giggle. Alice talks about Footscray in the western suburbs of Melbourne where she grew up and how “it’s always been a novelty”. How a teacher from the affluent eastern suburbs once took a class excursion to her father’s electrical shop in the main part of Footscray after they read her book. There is no better illustration of the divide the Yarra weaves through Melbourne than this.

Read a collection of my live tweets from this panel here.

Next Panel – New Voices and Smart New Writing. Robbie Arnott (Flames), Sarah Epstein (Small Spaces) and Josh Pomare (Call Me Evie) reflect on the journey of the debut author and what lies ahead, in conversation with literary reviewer Michael McGirr. We arrive late to this talk and cram up the back on the floor. For everyone sick of rejection letters from publishers, this panel would have made you appreciate the long road to publication and the importance of patience.

“When I got the first personalised rejection letter I was really, REALLY happy. When you’re used to sending out hundreds of short stories and not getting a reply.”

Josh Pomare

This is THAT panel, where everyone talks about their writing habits – where you suddenly feel lazy for not getting up at 5 a.m. each morning before work and cramming in a couple of hours of writing. Where you wonder how they hold down full-time jobs and finish books. It makes me think about how we’re so fascinated by other people, we love to peep in their windows and imagine their routines. Thinking that if we match them we too could finish that manuscript.

Read a small collection of my live tweets from this panel here.

[Lunch break. Sandwich, obligatory custard tart and veggie pasty.]

We wander up and down the stalls, there are fantasy fiction enthusiasts and people dressed up in costumes, young writers’ workshops and a maze of hay bales.

We riffle through stacks of old books and then head into the Readings tent. After hearing Robbie Arnott speak I buy his book Flames. He will be the first male author I’ve read in years. Flames takes me to a place that’s familiar and unknown at the same time. It weaves in magic realism, mythology and drama and I finish it quickly in the weeks following.

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James with ‘Instruction Manuals for Paper Hangers’ published in 1930.

I chat to a couple of stall holders – self-confessed bibliophiles James (Clunes)‬ and Andrew (Melbourne) who say that collecting books ‘just kind of happened’. Both of them look suitably qualified to sell books – James wears a beret and Andrew a fedora. They are also wearing the iconic stall holder’s maroon apron and James’s pocket is filled with pens and a calculator for adding up all those sales. I ask them if they have any hidden gems and they pull out a book – Instruction Manuals for Paper Hangers published in 1930.




The final talk we go to is Jane Caro in conversation with Melissa Cranenburgh from Triple R. Her new book Accidental Feminists, is about the generation of Australian women who changed life for those that followed. The audience at this event is the most raucous of the day. Women (and I find myself among them) who feel outraged at how little things have changed in 50 years.

Women have done an enormous amount of changing. Men have not. What has to change is not the paid work women do in the workforce, it’s the work men do at home.”

Jane Caro

Read a collection of my live tweets from this panel here.

When we emerge from the final panel the light has begun to change, the air is sharper and the stall holders have packed up. We head back to the car and drive out on a road that loops high above the town. We stop and take a couple of photos, golden trees and buildings nestled in the valley. We wind our way up the hill and back across the dry paddocks as the Kangaroos start to come out.

Where we walked

Clunes Booktown Festival

Highlights

  • Panels – excellent content and presenters
  • The town Hall – OMG I want to host all of my future birthday parties there
  • I saw a dog dressed in a dinosaur costume
  • The bakery – custard tarts (obvs)
  • (Despite ending up in the wrong events multiple times and having to sneak out) The festival is small, you can walk it and the whole town quite easily

Low lights

  • I don’t get to fulfil my life-long dream of trying twizzled potato on a stick (somehow this milestone always eludes me)
  • That I couldn’t see everything
  • I think it’s a shame that these festivals aren’t accessible to everyone. How do we get people out of the cities and attending these? Public transport? More diverse programming? Hopefully, this is changing