I’d like to thank writer Amanda Curtin for contributing this guest post about writers festivals. Amanda is the author of two novels, Elemental (reviewed here) and The Sinkings, and a collection of short stories, Inherited. She has been a guest of festivals in Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Albany, Geraldton, Kununurra, Margaret River and Albury-Wodonga. She was also my Stories on Stage guest in February. You can find out more about Amanda and her books here. I interviewed Amanda earlier this year and that interview is here.
What do writers get out of writers festivals?
I love writers festivals. I loved them long before I became a writer. I’d go to listen to favourite authors and become acquainted with new ones. It was through attending sessions at the Perth Writers Festival that I was introduced to fascinating books like Chris Cleave’s Incendiary, Sarah Hays’s Skins, Arabella Edge’s The Company (among many others). Each time, my credit card would take a hammering, my bookshelves would groan, and my mind would open perhaps that little bit more.
Now, as someone who has had the pleasure of actively participating in festivals—contributing to panel discussions, interviewing and being interviewed—I feel that some of what I’ve gained is not so different from when I went along as a reader.
Festivals give you the opportunity to be exposed to ideas and issues, creative practices and approaches. And writers and readers alike are enriched by that. You could have heard the proverbial pin drop at Eleanor Catton’s session at the recent Perth festival, where she spoke about the intellectual and structural scaffolding supporting her Man-Booker Prize winning novel The Luminaries. I’m sure there were as many writers, emerging and established, in that audience as there were readers.
At festivals, writers are brought into contact with readers and potential readers—and they’re mostly keen, knowledgeable, engaged readers, too, as their attendance would suggest. I’ve met some delightful people at the signing table who’ve made a personal connection with my books, or have responded to something said in the session. I’ll never forget the time when a woman at the Albany festival introduced herself as a descendant of the young man who discovered the body of my (real-life) character Little Jock in The Sinkings. And it’s usually enlightening (and only occasionally mystifying!) to hear the questions audience members ask at the end of sessions.
Festivals also give writers opportunities to meet and network with other writers—and in Western Australia, where we are a long way from what are considered to be the country’s literary hubs, this can be really important.
For writers yet to reach publication, festivals offer workshops, education sessions on writing, publishing and marketing, and the sense of being part of a literary community. And when you’re there to see one of your friends make the transition from audience to stage, I think there’s hope, too, along with a great deal of pride and cause for celebration!
My favourite festival experience as a writer was at the Sydney Writers Festival, when I spoke on a panel to an audience of more than 400, with many more outside listening to the broadcast. I am under no illusion that even one of those people was there to see me: the drawcard was the wonderful Kate Grenville. But it was exciting to be part of that session, and it brought my first novel to the attention of a new audience. And I was proud of myself for remembering how to breathe!
My favourite festival experience as a reader? There have been so many, but what stands out in my memory is listening to Gail Jones read the opening passages of Sixty Lights, and feeling a sense of wonder, gratitude and joy that this, this, is what language could do.