Sunday, April 3, 2016

Newcastle Writers Festival day one: bullying, memoir aftermaths, climate change, mothers and fathers, and killer plants

NWF16 is over, and in the post-festival glow, I thought I’d do a quick write-up on my sessions and a few of the key insights they yielded.  First and foremost, the festival as a whole was incredibly slick.  Even when the fire alarm went off and we had to evacuate during my first session, the superb and well-inducted volunteers kept things moving, and got us out and back in with minimal disruption. At every point during the session and without exception, the volunteers were smiling, helpful, and generous with their support.

My first session was Playground Politics with James Fry, Rebecca Starford and Brigid Delaney. The panel spoke about bullying as it plays out in James', Rebecca's and Brigid’s books, and I think the biggest takeaway for me was that bullying can have far reaching and extreme consequences that can be difficult to trace back. but talking openly and coming to understand the roots of bullying can be very powerful, not only in terms of individual well-being (that of our children and selves), but of our society as a whole.

I had a brief break before my next session and was lucky enough to get into the sold out session The Economy vs The Climate with Tim Flannery, Ross Gittins, Dennis Glover, Scott Homes and Paddy Manning.  What struck me about this session was the optimism of the panel even as they made it absolutely clear that urgency was critical and that failing to take action now to reduce emissions would have significant risks to growth and prosperity (e.g. the economy).  The key is in managing the transition before we reach crisis point (though that’s very close).  Flannery in particular provided examples including Sundrop Farms in Queensland.

This was followed by my session with Kate Holden, Michael Sala and Rebecca Starford on The Aftermath - what happens when the private becomes public?  I suspect that the heavily engaged crowd for this session contained a number of memoir writers, and the questions asked included litigation, morality, and process, but what really stood out for me was a point that Kate made that while memoir writing does indeed have aftermaths, in many ways it is also a tender and generous act.  By openly examining and then accepting/forgiving ourselves, we provide the means for others to to the same - it’s a way of not only personally, but collectively, healing.

With an hour’s break between my own sessions, I managed to slip into "Mothers and Fathers: Why so complicated" with Rod Jones, Mark MacLean, Rosie Waterline, and Meredith Jaffé before the Sproutlings launch, though I was near the back so didn’t take any photos. There was an intensity to all of their stories but I was certainly not surprised by the ongoing impact, beneath the skin and into the fingers of the writer, of the parental relationship, both as children, as children of children, and as parents in the case of Mark and Rod (Rosie always spoke about her nieces).

Day one ended with a very enjoyable ‘launch’ for the Sproutlings Anthology with editor Morgan Bell and illustrator Tallulah Cunningham.  As many of the audience members were also authors in the collection (some of whom were dressed as plants!), this turned out to be full of camaraderie, with lots of nodding heads, and some really focused questions in the end.  The discussion focused a lot around process and promotion and my overall takeaway from this was that, while writing may be a solitary process, being part of a broader community (and anthologies are a great tool for that) is vital.  I’ll talk more on that in my day two write-up, as this theme of connection and understanding, for me, was the real takeaway from the festival overall and it came up again and again, in many different genres, structures, and contexts.  That was the end of day one, and I felt quite bloated with delight after that, and ready for a glass of wine and feet up before a slightly more relaxed day two which I’ll cover shortly.

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