A month ago I had the great fortune to attend the Newcastle Writers Festival for the second time. I had made my first visit last year, and so I was especially keen to get back this year- and it did take some doing. The Newcastle Writers Festival started in 2013 and it is growing in leaps and bounds every year under Festival Director Rosemarie Milsom and her amazing team.
Attending a regional writers festival is really a joyous experience. The venues are smaller, the crowds are friendlier, and you get the opportunity to get up close to the writers, both during the sessions and afterwards. Regional festivals may not attract the big international names like the big city festivals, but you have the many advantages of the smaller scale that more than compensate for the lack of international superstars.
This year the program was expanded, and the Festival made use of the Newcastle Civic Theatre as well as the Town Hall next door. The Theatre acted as Festival Hub, the bar was open, there was outdoor seating, the weather was amazing (a little too hot actually, 35 degrees in April anyone?), Wheeler Place was transformed into a goddam piazza.
This year there were at least 5 concurrent sessions so some very hard decisions had to be made as to what to attend. I went to 7 sessions over the three days. Starting big with the opening session which had Tim Flannery hosted by John Doyle. These two are very well known to Australians for their work individually, and together. Naturally, it was fantastic. Climate change and the Catholic church have never been so funny.
I also attended great sessions with Libby Hathorn, Richard Glover, Rosie Waterland, Charlotte Wood, Marion Halligan, Jean Kent, Patti Miller, David Burton, Trinity Doyle and Fleur Ferris. All amazing discussions. But I had to miss out on Stan Grant, Todd Alexander, Drusilla Modjeska and Kerry O'Brien among many others. There were 140 authors over 70 sessions, over half of which were free. I hope to tell you more about the individual sessions that I attended, but I probably won't- last year I managed to write about one. I got up to some other stuff too, hopefully I'll have time to share that with you too.
Attending a writers festival is always enervating. There are lots of interesting people discussing interesting books and ideas, discussing complex and often controversial matters. It gives you hope that the intellectual life of our world is so much more than you see on TV, and perhaps all is not as hopeless as it may seem. I might have come home with a few more books. It's always important to support the writers who attend the festivals, who give their time and write these amazing books for us all to enjoy.
I can't wait to go back for the Newcastle Writers Festival 2017.