I had the great pleasure of attending the Newcastle Writers Festival this weekend with my eldest son. The festival is relatively new so I went with no idea what to expect and was blown away by both the program and the execution. The speakers were all first-rate, and everything was really well attended, but there was a lovely laid-back quality to each session that encouraged mingling and audience participation. Conversation flowed easily between attendees and presenters, and carried over downstairs to the cafe and MacLean’s Booksellers festival bookshop. This was the first time I attended the festival but it definitely won’t be my last!
Here are some of my highlights:
Beyond the Crime Scene with Wendy James and P. M. Newton, hosted by Megan Buxton
Both writers are celebrated within their genre but what struck me was that neither of them intended to be crime writers. P. M. Newton worked as a police officer and later, a detective, for over a decade but got sick of meeting people “for the first time on the worst day of their lives” so she resigned and started to travel, but a chance encounter with a crime scene overseas sparked her interest and her writing career grew from there. With Wendy, it wasn’t until she had won something called The Best First Australian Crime Novel Award for her debut novel that she even realized she was writing crime at all! I found these revelations really interesting because I think there’s this myth that crime-writing is about following a formula, whereas both of these writers arrived at it far more serendipitously.
Romance Is Not a Dirty Word with Fiona McArthur, Kelly Hunter, and Anne Gracie, hosted by Kaz Delaney
I think this session was supposed to be about the stigma and snobbery against Romance as a genre, but the writers couldn’t help themselves – they wanted to focus instead on how much they love what they do! There were a couple of things that really jumped out at me from this session. Kaz began by rattling off a list of sales figures and not only did Romance top the list, it topped it by billions! The writers attributed this to love being one of the most universal themes, which means not only does romantic fiction appeal to a wide audience, but it is easily translatable and can be published in vastly different countries without losing something along the way. Another thing that hit me in this discussion was how acutely aware these writers are of their readership. I think with literary fiction there is a tendency to encourage authors to “just tell the story you want to tell” and worry about the reader after, but the women on the Romance panel were extremely concerned with what a reader might be looking for in their work — escapism, optimism, positivity, hope — and they were committed to making sure they not only met but exceeded those expectations.
Through the Eyes of a Child with Brooke Davis and Favel Parrett, hosted by Courtney Collins
Brooke and Favel have both written wonderful books that feature young protagonists. What I took away from this session was that they didn’t choose their characters as a device, or as part of some desire to fit into a particular market — they just felt that a child’s voice and perspective was right to tell their individual stories, even though they weren’t necessarily writing for children. They did speak a little bit to the difficulties this presents with regards to categorization and marketing (Brooke, for example, said her book has been packaged as YA in the States but not in Australia) but ultimately felt that they had written the characters that needed to be written and would leave the publishing decisions to, well, the publishers! They also discussed having to make the somewhat strange transition from author to public-speaker, which I found really interesting as both books are so intimate it must indeed be a bit of a shock to step away from writing them and living in their inner landscapes to having conversations about them out in the “real” world!
So, all up, I found my first visit to the Newcastle Writers Festival really engaging, stimulating and inspiring. I loved how this festival was so varied and I found it refreshing that it was inclusive of genre-writing, which often gets marginalized at literary festivals. I also thought the festival provided a great balance between national and local talent. I didn’t make it to any poetry events this year on account of personal logistics, but I was pleased to note the number on offer. Lastly, my favorite aspect of this festival by far was the relaxed, convivial atmosphere. I look forward to going again in 2016!
10 thoughts on “Wrapping up all-Aussie week at Newcastle Writers Festival 2015”
Thanks so much for sharing your highlights. The Writers Festival is such an amazing event for our community. I was caught up in the Kids’ Program during the week and the Family Fun Day on Saturday, so I didn’t get along to any of the main festival events (I was exhausted by the time Sunday arrived). I’m already looking forward to Newcastle Writers Festival 2016 and I definitely plan to get along to sessions at the main festival then.
Thanks, Susan. My son and I saw some of your purple elephants and lots of happy kids on our way to lunch – looked like a great time all around! 🙂 The entire festival had such a wonderful atmosphere. I was tempted to take tons of pics and live-tweet the sessions but there was such an intimate feeling to them I opted to just sit there fully present and soak it all up instead. I really enjoyed the sense of community spirit and think everyone did a great job pulling the whole thing off!
Fabulous wrap and thank you for your kind words in regards to our romance panel, Nicole. I thought the (much bigger than I expected) audience were so warm and involved and it’s always a pleasure to share our love of writing with others. Shall watch for your blogs. Warmest wishes Fiona McArthur
Thanks, Fiona. I don’t write romance myself but you guys made me want to! I loved the camaraderie of your panel and the joy you all expressed regarding your work. It was very inspiring! Even my son said it was “kinda interesting”, which I know you would appreciate as high praise from a 10YO boy at a romance panel having 5 sons yourself. 😀
Now that did make me laugh. Kudos to your son. Grinning here. Fi
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Thank you so much for your account of your time at the festival Nicole. As the director, I try and create a program that is broad and embraces genres often overlooked by capital city festivals. It is impossible to please everyone, but I am a reader with broad tastes and I don’t think I am alone. See you in April 2016!
You did a fabulous job, Rosemarie! I write literary fiction and poetry myself but I love seeing a wider scope at festivals – some of the best presentations I’ve ever heard have come from genre fiction and I’ve learned so much about writing from them. I do think you covered most bases with the program, anyway – for a young festival, it certainly offered a lot of choices, and the fact that it all seemed to run smoothly and was easy to navigate was a bonus!