Sydney Writers’ Festival wrap-up

There may be a certain amount of doom and gloom surrounding the publishing industry and the future of books, but this is never LESS evident than when at a writers festival (and at an airport for that matter). The Sydney Writers’ Festival last weekend was teeming with readers, writers (established and wannabe) and just general bookish types. And because, as we all know, book people are the best people, there was nothing but goodwill and that wonderful sense of community that comes with being either a direct participant or a passing observer of the bookish.

I saw some really great talks and events this year, and was able to satisfy my inner fangirl on many, many counts (Jennifer Byrne, Richard Flanagan, Marieke Hardy, John Marsden, David Mitchell and Annabel Crabb, to name a small few). I could talk for pages and pages about all the things I saw, but that might not be great for you guys, so here are just some of the thoughts/inspirations/quotes (or thereabouts, I can never write fast enough to claim I got the quote exact)/musings that the weekend brought:

SWF
GENERAL

  • There were a LOT of people buying books, which must make being a part of a festival good for sales (particularly if you are personable and give a good account for yourself). Which I guess is a somewhat unsavoury element to it because it feels like sales are driven as much by the author’s personality as by the work. Unsavoury perhaps, but also the sad truth.

SECRETS FROM THE BOOKSHOP (KRISSY KNEEN, EVIE WYLD, BROOKE DAVIS)

  • Further to the above, Brooke Davis (author of ABIA award-winning Lost and Found), made the interesting point about authors never being able to have an ‘off moment’, because it takes very little to turn readers off – and she wasn’t referring to an off moment in the writing, but an off moment with their public persona. As occurs in all genres of entertainment, people are quick to judge, and slow to forget
  • Davis also talked about one of the things that always interests me, which is the writer as a performer. It seems to me that a lot of writers choose to write to escape the ‘real world’, and yet to gain sales they must promote and give talks etc. As Davis said: “The art is the creation of something in a very dark room, so to come out and perform is hard”. Evie Wyld feels the same way – she went as far as to say that if she’d known what was involved on the promotion side of things she might never have written her first book
  • They also talked a lot about bookshops (unsurprisingly, given all three work in/own bookshops), and the unfortunate but undeniable force of Amazon. Wyld, when asked what she thought about people buying from Amazon, said it’s fine but we need to “eat our greens as well” – meaning buy from indie bookshops

RICHARD FLANAGAN: A CELEBRATION (WITH JENNIFER BYRNE)

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  • I spent much of this talk in a bit of state, just blown away by Flanagan’s intelligence, sincerity and humbleness. Basically, everything that comes out of his mouth is inspiring and profound – behold these nuggets:

“A writer survives to the extent he is misunderstood”

“The work should be the very best of who you are”

“The written word is oppressive if you don’t have it and liberating if you do”

  • I often wonder how much winning the Booker actually means to writers – you hear a lot of musicians say that winning an Aria doesn’t mean a whole lot to them (and, yes, I did just compare the Booker to the Arias), but Richard Flanagan spoke about how winning the Booker actually made him feel finally free to be himself.

ANOTHER ERA (JOHN MARSDEN, AMY BLOOM, STEVEN CARROLL, ANTONI JACH)

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  • I’ve never read anything of Amy Bloom’s, but I fell a little bit in love with her over the weekend – she was so honest and smart, some of her wisdom follows:
    • Writers lie about the autobiographical elements of their work all the time – if a writer tells you that what they’ve written is not at least somewhat autobiographical, they’re lying
    • The best thing you can do once you’ve finished researching is forget it. Immerse yourself in the world you’ve created and let the things you’ve researched permeate the background. If the readers can feel your research, then you’ve failed as a writer
  • While it’s been a long time (longer than I care to think about) since I read anything by John Marsden, he will always hold a very special place in my heart – his books gave me the first thoughts of being a writer. To this day, I still have some of my original copies of his books from when I was a teenager on my special bookshelf.

“You’re unconscious mind is always way ahead of your conscious mind when you write” – John Marsden

DAVID MITCHELL: BENDING TIME (WITH KATE EVANS)

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  • I was the most nervous about seeing David Mitchell, because I didn’t love Bone Clocks – don’t get me wrong, I liked it, it just didn’t blow me away like Cloud Atlas did. But he was so funny and charming and, well, British – never more so than when he said “circles are good” and then joked about that piece of genius being worth the admission price alone
  • I found it really interesting to hear him say that he doesn’t think he writes novels, rather he writes novellas – which might be obvious to everyone else, but it really clicked with me that that’s exactly what he’s doing. And part of his genius lies in how he puts the novellas together

“…a hazy border between life and death – a lot of good stuff lies in this”

THE RISE AND RISE OF YA (LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON, SALLY GARDNER, MARGO LANAGAN, GARTH NIX)

  • The popularity of YA fiction has something to do with the intensity and immediacy of experience that comes with adolescence, but Laurie Halse Anderson thinks that ‘Young Adult’ is a bad name for the category – she would prefer we started using “Books that don’t suck” as their title
  • Anderson and YA counterpart Sally Gardner both stressed that you shouldn’t write to the market, it should come from the heart – “you’re not a fashion designer, you’re a writer”.

20150526_172905PEOPLE OF LETTERS (JASON WHALLEY AND LINDSAY MCDOUGALL (JAY AND THE DOCTOR), BOB ELLIS AND ANNE BROOKSBANK, ZOE COOMBS-MARR AND KATE JINX, AND KATIE AND SUE WIGHTON)

  • Although this was probably the highlight of my festival, I have the least to say about it – mostly because I was too busy laughing and fangirlling to write anything down
  • Except – Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales are besties and they have a podcast together? How could these two amazing facts have passed me by?
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