Last weekend some friends of ours, FF and I went up to Bendigo for the Bendigo Writers Festival. My friend had rung a couple of days earlier to say that she had won tickets for four people to attend the festival, including the keynote speakers Ita Buttrose and Don Watson, accommodation at Quest, high tea at the Hotel Shamrock, a mine tour and a trip on the talking tram. I was so excited when she rang – best news ever! Anyone would have thought from my reaction that she’d won a trip to Europe.
Anyway so FF and I headed up Friday evening and our friends followed soon after. The accommodation was really lovely and it was just so nice to have an unexpected almost free weekend away. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, life’s been a little stressful lately, in no small part due to the fact that I was spending most of my free time studying for the MBA admission*. This surprise offer was a forced study-free weekend that was very welcome!
This was the inaugral Bendigo Writer’s Festival and it had been pretty widely advertised. I devour books, but there’s never enough time in the day to read, so many of the authors on the program were unfamiliar to me. Although we had tickets to Ita Buttrose, we decided instead to go see the Q & A session with Tony Birch, an Australian author who writes “beautifully bleak” short stories and one novel so far (Blood, winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin literary award). It was great to hear Tony speak about his childhood in Melbourne and the way he writes about men and their relationships in his stories. I was inspired, as I always am when I hear people speak passionately, yet thoughtfully, about what they do. After the session I bought his book Shadowboxing, which I’ve read already and I loved.
After Tony we went and saw a panel discussion on social activism and writing. The question was basically how much writing could influence social change. The panel – Alexis Wright, Hanifa Deen, Sulari Gentill and Arnold Zable spoke really passionately about how reading has influenced their world view and how they balance their activism (for a variety of social causes including Indigenous rights and refugees) and their writing. Alexis Wright was the only one I was familiar with and ironically she had the least to say, we thought – lots of umms and aahs. The others are now on my reading list and I left that session day-dreaming, not for the first time, about whether I could actually one day write a book, and what the hell it might say. Imagination and inspiration are such enviable qualities, don’t you think?
On Sunday (after our high tea which was a blissful way to start the day) we went and saw Don Watson interviewed before a fairly big audience (a sea of grey hair – just like every other session we’d seen that weekend 🙂 ). He was talking mostly about his time as Paul Keating’s speech writer, captured in Recollections of a Bleeding Heart, a book which I’ve not yet read but was sad to hear has caused a rift between Don and Paul Keating. Don Watson is something of an Aussie icon. A political figure who’s been hanging around the edges for years. I really enjoyed it but FF slept through the hour, not being familiar with Australian politics.
The afternoon session was another panel discussion, this time about horror writing – the only woman on the panel pronounced horror “howwa” and couldn’t remember what year we invaded Australia. Um…. really? It was boring and tedious so we snuck out half way through. Really it was just a bunch of men comparing their favourite horror films. Yes, films. And it was a writer’s festival.
We could have been to more events but wanted to relax and enjoy the weekend away with a bit of sightseeing too, not just attending sessions. We saw enough to get a creative and intellectual thrill out of it. What I appreciated most about it was that listening to other people talk about their craft was a gentle reminder of how much there is going on in the world. It took me right outside of my own head for a weekend and that was timely and very welcome!
My favourite second hand bookstore – Book Now – happens to be in Bendigo. So on the Sunday we spent a leisurely hour there and I came away with a pile of books that are on the coffee table waiting for my loving attention. In no particular order they are:
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Fishing in the Styx by Ruth Park
Illywhacker by Peter Carey
Highways to a War by ChrisopherKoch
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston
The Grapes of Wrath by John steinbeck
The Short Novels by John Steinbeck
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie.
Needless to say I’m pretty excited about all the hours of reading pleasure that lie ahead!
*So, after weeks of torturous agonising and studying I’ve decided not to pursue the MBA for now. I wasn’t that impressed with the online program they asked me to do to prepare – mostly because it left so much unexplained that I had to tie my brains in knots in ways I just can’t do at the moment, with a lot going on at work. I’m not closing the door on it forever – just for now. It does mean that for the next little while I can focus on reading and exercise – goody gum drops 🙂