Canberra Readers' Festival Wrap Up

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Anita Heiss, Hazel Edwards, moi, Melina Marchetta, Louise Maher, Kate Grenville

I have just arrived home, filled to capacity from a smorgasbord of literary delight - served up by Libraries ACT and the Canberra Theatre - the capital's inaugural Readers' Festival.

My head is truly reeling from all I have seen and heard today - the passion for books, the camaraderie, the laughter, the adoration for the written word - it was truly an inspirational day for everyone involved.

I was fortunate to be tweeting from The Playhouse all day long. I must admit, I felt like a bit of a social[networking] pariah at times - and my apologies to the audience who tolerated the perennial light from my iPhone as I thumb-tapped my way through an endless parade of wordy treats for those who couldn't make it to the festival. We had lots of tweeting followers - and you can catch up on all our tweets at #CRF2012.

So, where to begin? I could probably write a novel on all I heard and absorbed today, but I'll break it down into twitteresque snippets that will likely be more cohesive, as my brain is positively bursting with content.

The day began with a 'green room' catch up with fabulous authors Anita Heiss, Melina Marchetta, Kate Grenville and Hazel Edwards. It was so wonderful to finally meet Anita, after all this time liaising with her online, and can I just say she's everything I thought she would be (shall I add 'and more' - yes, I will!).

Chatting with Melina Marchetta and Kate Grenville was also a thrill; I still have Kate's dog-eared, goodness-knows-how-old ancient copy of The Writing Book from my early years as a fledgling writer - and now I have Melina's Looking for Alibrandi, signed for Ella. I know both of us will be wrestling over who gets to read it tonight.

Seeing Hazel is always a wonderful thing - I see her as a mentor of sorts, and she never fails to inspire me.

But - onto the Festival proper. The lovely Louise Maher of 666 ABC Canberra's Drive (3pm to 6pm) was the perfect choice for emcee. Welcoming a book-thirsty crowd, she introduced Kate Grenville who talked about writing Family History and Family Stories.

Kate spoke of the importance of writing the stories of the 'ordinary' people - how history is often written by and for the powerful; the 'everyday' person and their extraordinary tales so oft become lost. She also spoke of her desire to explore the 'dark side' of white settlement in Australia and, when researching her books, how thoroughly educational and enlightening this research became, both on a personal level and regarding the books this research inspired.

She also spoke on the value of family stories and how their importance does not lie in publication per se, but rather that they are never lost. On her own work, I loved how, when asked by an audience member how she writes so evocatively and beautifully, Kate responded: "Twenty-three drafts."

At morning tea, there was a mega caffeine refuel and lots of book signings - then back into the Playhouse for more more more.

Anita Heiss took centre stage. As one tweeter commented, if Anita was ready to give up her day job as an author and speaker, she could certainly make a solid living as a standup comedian. It was a pleasure to hear Anita speak about the inspiration behind her work - which is richly woven but with a central desire to shatter stereotype and create Aboriginal characters who are just like any other woman. They laugh, the drink cocktails, they go to work, they fall in love, they have strengths and weaknesses and they are not - and should not - be confined by, nor debilitated by, their Aboriginality.

Anita's writing motivation is to tell the story of her people and to celebrate the concept of identity in its myriad forms. She believes that the power of self-identity is a basic right all Australians should enjoy. Oh - and did I mention she made us laugh?

Next was Melina Marchetta who spoke on the importance of travel in the pursuit of her fabulous book settings. It was fascinating to hear Melina speak, and I loved how she makes no apology for her jetting off to France and Italy and Turkey and England to research her books - after all, no one bats an eyelid at the business trips undertaken by people in other kinds of industry. I've been long trying to justify an upcoming overseas trip on book research - I feel more comfortable with that now!

Melina's love of travel and the need to immerse herself in other places allows her to source the finest detail for her books. She treated us to a series of photographs of amazing sites and places that have inspired her books, in particular, the Lumatere Chronicles. It was very apparent that without these travelling experiences, the rich detail of Melina's work would have perhaps been lost.

One of my favourite parts of this Festival was when Anita and Melina together fielded some questions from the audience - and ended up revealing even more luscious insight into their lives and work. Truly wonderful stuff.

After lunch, loads of book signings and chatting, it was into a fabulous session with Hazel Edwards, who spoke on Non-Boring Anecdultery. Hazel never fails to educate and uplift me - and I am absolutely certain she did the same with other members of the audience.

Hazel covered so very much in her talk but highlights included the fact that writing a book is like an iceberg - 90 per cent of the work is hidden from view, once the book is on the shelves. I loved how Hazel said that once she has written a book - she hands it, in essence, over to the reader to own and I adored her section that covered what Melina had talked about - involving oneself in life's experience in order to garner the finest details required to delight and inspire the reader.

I also loved how Hazel said that for authors, retirement is never an option. How true. Why on earth would we ever stop??

Hazel was followed by Kel Robertson, who I would describe as a 'comedic intellectual', and spoke with great wit on the writing of his books, his genre of 'entertainment' and the power of reading. Kel made many memorable quotes including his desire to view the results of any study that correlated recreational reading with human happiness. Me, too.

My favourite part of all was when, after winning the National Year of Reading's ACT prize for literature with Smoke and Mirrors, Kel told us he received a life-altering affectionate pat from the Prime Minister, who placed her hand tenderly on his left love handle.

Life moments, indeed.

Kel and Hazel then fielded questions from the audience - and yet again, it was so inspiring to hear more about their processes - and have another good belly laugh.

After a cuppa and a natter, it was back into The Playhouse for the last session, by which time I was suffering from twitter night blindness. But nothing could hold me back, as here he was - right on the stage before me - Frank Moorhouse.

Frank's lifetime experience, wisdom and love of words shone through as he spoke. Many of us nodded and laughed when he mentioned that any writer who submits a manuscript, hopes for a publisher's reaction that's pretty much along the lines of "Not since the days of Shakespeare . . ."

It was inspiring to hear him talk of the increase in Festival attendance - whether writer or reader - these past few years. Melbourne Writers' Festival alone enjoyed a 40% increase in audience attendance last year, and over 500,000 people attend literary festivals of some kind in Australia each year - a number that continues to grow. He believes Festival goers have a hunger for knowledge only books can provide, and likened us to modern day Bohemians whose purpose is to foster and share innovative ideas that harvest a civilised culture.

Frank's other quotes included his belief that although e-books have a true place in society, having a shelf loaded with p-books, as he calls them (print books), is like a living work of art. A tome-packed bookcase is, in effect, a rich tapestry of our life over time - how we have grown and developed as a human being.

It was intensely moving to listen to Frank's adoration for books and how important it is to acknowledge all writers - even those of the many and perhaps comparatively 'less shiny' genres - who work hard to pen creations that enlighten and move and direct and educate and inspire - whether they be cookbooks or information books - or huzzah! - children's books, and that these writers deserve as much recognition as the famous and literary-lauded.

I must admit, by this stage, I was feeling teary and emotional. The time and energy poured into this Festival, by the organisers and by the wonderful authors who gave up their time to regale us with their inner worlds and works - was really overwhelming and so enlightening.

I have no doubt that everyone at this Festival will join me in giving three cheers to Libraries ACT for coordinating a seamless event that has left book lovers gasping for more. Congratulations to Sarah, Jaz, Elizabeth, Sue and the whole team - Louise Maher and all the fabulous peeps at the Canberra Theatre for all you have done to run such a successful day.

As Frank Moorhouse said - the variety of Australian books on the market adds to both our cultural aesthetic and connoisseurship. And Festivals like this do nothing less than stack those books under our arms and fuel that glorious literary fire.

And now for some happy snaps . . .

Can't help but squeeze Hazel!

Anita is such an inspiration - intelligent, funny, beautiful and kooky - my kind of gal

Happy reading, everyone!


Kerry said...

It was a fabulous, inspirational day. Can't wait til the next one!

Sheryl Gwyther said...

You lucky gal, Taz! So many of my favourite people - especially the gorgeous Anita Heiss (hello, Miss A), Hazel, Kate and Melina, and of course, you!
What a wonderful day, wish I could've been there too.

Libraries ACT said...

Thanks so much for your fabulous wrap-up Tania! Also the tweets and photos. You covered it all! Your encouragement is very much appreciated. Thanks again. Sue

Ingrid Jonach said...

Such a fabulous event! Bring on Canberra Readers' Festival 2013!

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Hello Sheryl and Ingrid!!
Thanks so much for documenting the day for us Tania!
It was SO fabulous to FINALLY meet you! Looking forward to our next gathering. love, Anita

Anonymous said...

It was indeed a great day ... And I was impressed by your ability to tweet and keep up with the speakers. Well done. And we'll done Libraries ACT ... My very first professional home way back when it was called CPLS.

Anyhow, it was a great program with wonderful draw card authors. Wouldn't have missed it for quids!

Angela Sunde. said...

What a great wrap-up, Tania. I really enjoyed reading it.

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