It was by accident that I attended the Bendigo Writers Festival last weekend, thanks to someone who was part of the program but couldn’t attend. I was asked to help out and I was happy to because it meant that I would finally commit to going. Each year I have considered going but other events or projects have gotten in the way.
On arriving in the city centre, I remembered how pretty Bendigo is with its stately buildings and gardens. I instantly knew that I was going to enjoy myself.
I’ve been to many writers’ festivals around the country and I consider the ones held in regional areas much better than the big cities. I think this is because the cities are so spoiled for choice when it comes to bookish events and the regional areas appreciate the opportunity much more. This festival was no exception.
Now in its seventh year, it felt like the festival is well established as an annual event to the region and I could feel the excitement and anticipation in the air despite the chilly winter weather on a Friday afternoon when I arrived.
My first panel was about DIY publishing and the room was full of enthusiastic writers. Everyone was engaged and I loved the conversations I had with my sister panelists, Mira Schlosberg and Amy Doak.
After the panel, I was free to enjoy the festival until Sunday when I was to be part of the Share Fair at Trades Hall. It was hard to choose what to see with each timeslot having four or five different events from author talks, to discussion panels and live performances. I decided to see things that were not my usual choices:
- Nurturing Yiddish with Bente Kahan and Arnold Zable.
I cannot speak Yiddish but I found this an interesting discussion from the point of view of a language that needs to be preserved.
- Opening Gala (Let’s Get Curious) with Benjamin Law, Ann Cleeves, Gareth Evans, Carly Findlay and Jenny Graves.
An almost full house at Ulumbarra Theatre (the old Bendigo Gaol) with a lively discussion about curiosity. Benjamin Law is a great presenter and handled being heckled for his shoes-with-no-socks fashion very well.
- Secrets, Lies and Dark Deeds with Michael Robotham and Cecile Shanahan.
I’m not a big reader of thrillers but I found Michael very personable and funny and who doesn’t love a good story story about getting the first book deal the way he did? I’m adding his books to my TBR (to be read) pile.
- Death, Decay, Disaster with Sarah Kasnostein and Gemma Raynor.
I can’t remember where I had heard about The Trauma Cleaner but I was curious to know more. And there is so much more to this story. I’m looking forward to reading this book, also now on my TBR pile.
- Not Such a Bad Place to Grow Up with Paddy O’Reily, Jay Carmichael, Sofie Laguna and Ellen van Neerven.
I attended this because of my own love of the bush and because I had noticed that many books are being set in urban landscapes. The Choke was already on my wish list but after this panel, I also got Jay and Ellen’s books. I was particularly impressed with Ellen and have put her book at the top of my pile.
- Surviving Words with Bente Kahan. I attended this because again I was curious to see how she was going to present the various artists that she promised. This was a mix of English and Yiddish and I found it very moving and even a little tear inducing, even though I can’t really explain why.
I realise that my descriptions of each event are brief but I could do a full review for each. It’s enough to show that there was great variety and big names attending and that is only a portion of the 100 or so events.
Going to writing festivals is good practice for many reasons. Not only is it fun to immerse yourself in books but it gives you a sense of what is happening in the industry, you learn something from each event in terms of writing practice or the journey of a story. All of this will add to your skills as a writer and as a businessperson because writing is a business. It isn’t enough to just sit and write despite the fact that is what we’d love to do. Yes, you do need to focus and write the book but once that is done you will need to work out how that story gets in front of readers. This is the same whether you are published traditionally or do it yourself. More than anything, attending writing events will give you inspiration because it’s hard not to be buoyed by bookish conversations.
Do yourself a favour and get along to something. We really are rich with events around Australia. The Melbourne Writers Festival starts 24th August and Write Around the Murray (another great regional event) is 7–9 September. If you feel that the expense is beyond you, think about volunteering for a festival. That way you will meet people behind the scenes and get free entry to events.
Blaise the book chick