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Hooray for Writers' Festivals.

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

I know it is statistically invalid to base a trend on just two data points. With only two points a straight-line trend is guaranteed. In reality, my sample size is even poorer, as I was only able to attend one-half of the latest writers' festival. In spite of this, I am convinced that my experience illustrates a robustness that belies the paucity of data. The trend I am prepared to endorse is that writers' festivals are fabulous.

Image: EH and his writing. EH was not at the Festival!

I’ve now attended two (or one and a half) writers' festivals and I’m hooked. I’ve been to many non-writing conferences and professional events over the years but this weekend was only my second writers' festival. The atmosphere I experienced at both of these events was so welcoming and constructive that it is absurd to consider these two as anomalies.

Other conferences or festivals that I have attended, from my other (work) life, are, by comparison, unnecessarily competitive and insular. Writers' Festivals are inclusive (even for a newbie like me), where everyone is happy to generously share the richness of their experience. Maybe it is an artist thing where everyone’s voice is so unique that there is room for everyone to share in the ‘industry’. But I sense that it is more than that. I’m determined to keep attending Writers' Festivals until I find out exactly what the ‘secret sauce’ is.

Image: York's spectacular Town Hall (closed Sunday).

Last weekend I went to the Sunday half of The York Writers Festival. This was the first time this festival had occurred (please email me a correction if I am mistaken). The venue, a gravel-floored structure of rough-hewn timbers, behind Gallery 152, was delightfully rustic. Open on three sides and bordered by the wire fence of a long abandoned chook run on the other, the bush architecture didn’t impede the welcome cool breeze. Modern microphones and lighting ensured everyone could see and hear. There were even enough seats so that it was possible to shuffle along to manage your preference for sunshine. We must have looked like human sundials from the stage.

Image: What a line-up.

Even the format was authentic and refreshing. Extraordinary, generous authors interviewed each other and shared a reading from their book (or that of their on-stage partner). Will Yeoman kept the event running like clockwork, a solid accomplishment with those authors that are prone to a chat.

From the Sunday session pairs of David Whish-Wilson & Sharron Booth, Maria Papas & Brooke Dunnell, Will Yeoman & Ian Hooper (Publishing Avenues), Josephine Taylor & Holden Sheppard, Jon Doust & Portland Jones, and Michael Levitt & Brett Adams it was impossible to pick a standout. Each speaker offered new anecdotes of writing wisdom with refreshing authenticity. I was taken by Jon Doust’s energy – enough to make the Energiser Bunny look like a lazy bludger, but I may have been biased as I won a copy of his latest book via a sprint to the stage over a gravel course.

The venue had the added bonus that Barclay Books was right across the road and Nguyen's famous pies were on the next block. I defy anyone to come out of Barclay Books with their arms empty. Barclay sells new, rare, and 'pre-loved' books. I left with signed copies of 'Miniatures: A collection of Short Stories' by Susan Midalia and Rashida Murphy's The 'Historian's Daughter', and a copy of Pamela Statham-Drew's 'Sandalwood'.

The event wound up a great day with Stephen Scourfield and Will Yeoman taking the stage in a spoken word and guitar performance. The only downside to the whole event was going home so jealous of how bloody talented these people are!

See you next year, or at the next writer’s festival, as I work to bolster the numbers on which my dodgy statistical analysis has been based.

Image: Before it was Barclay Books, it was the York Fire Station.

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