NEWCASTLE WRITERS FESTIVAL 2022
Due to that pesky pandemic there has been no 'proper' NWF since 2019.
2020's was replaced with fabulous online events, and whilst they were great it was not the same as being there. 2021 was postponed, but finally it returned this year and what a exceptional weekend it was!
My friends and I got things rolling by attending the Literary Trivia night the Wednesday before the main weekend. A cracking team of 5 ended up as 3 but we STILL kicked arse and came equal first only to be bumped to second in the tie breaker round, which was guessing the month and year Agatha Christie died. We still got the prize we wanted as those that came first didn't want it, yay! AND in the middle of the night we won a free round of drinks, we were on fire!
The night was held at The Stag and Hunter and Nick Milligan put on a great couple of rounds, the first half being super easy, but the second one making us really think.
Opening Night Gala - Friday 1 April, City Hall
Opening night on the Friday before the main weekend was called What the World Needs Now, a clever play on the Hal David/Burt Bacharach song, as the theme was indeed LOVE!
The evening had the usual speeches from super important people including the goddess herself, Rosemarie Milsom. Rosemarie is the director of the festival, and without whom there would be none. She has a team of fabulous people surrounding and helping her, but ultimately it was her vision for the creation of my favourite weekend of the year. And how stressful these past years have been for her, I cannot begin to imagine.Once the proceedings were over, the ever jovial Dan Cox, our host for the evening, introduced our guests and entertainment for the evening. They each had 10 minutes to talk about love, and they all blew us away with their words.
Clementine Ford commenced with a funny tale from her latest book about a teenage crush that culminated with rejection at the Year 10 dance, I think we have all been there. Loads of laughs and a good start.
Thomas Mayor brought us to our knees with his quiet confidence and words within 'letters' to his family regarding their indigenous history. I don't think there was a dry eye in the room, Thomas is well known for being behind the Uluru Statement.
Jessie Stephens told us the story of her broken leg, ouch, and the stages of love in her life up until now.
Hannah Kent regaled us with an excerpt from her latest book, Devotion, and had us all on our knees with her quiet beauty and stunning use of language and sentence structure.
Trent Dalton showed his brilliant skill at seeing people and knowing people, and then read us letters sent to him by adoring fans including a bunch from a not-so adoring fan that ended up being his conscious writing to him...genius. He had us laughing and crying.
Nardi Simpson stole the show with stories of love backed by beautiful songs in indigenous language. Not a dry eye in the house, hers was a very special note to end on.
After everyone applauded feeling super excited about the weekend ahead, we were told our guests would be in the gigantic bookstore signing books. I had planned to take my copy of Love Stories to Trent On Saturday, but headed down to the bookstore anyway. With not many people there, I realised I would get a decent conversation in. I had all his books, but there was merch by way of jigsaw puzzles with his book-covers as the design, so I bought one. I stood in line nervous, and he was absolutely glorious, just as you would imagine. He loved I brought the jigsaw, he didn't think anyone would. He also loved I am a Librarian, and said he wanted to give me a hug, but couldn't, so we fist bumped instead. I went home feeling happy and uplifted.
DAY ONE - Saturday 2 April 2022
I was up early to get a good park in town and grab some breakfast prior to the big day. I had a scrumptious big breakfast at Coco Mondo, ran into some friends, had a lovely chat in the sun.
This is one of my favourite things about NWF, you always run into people you know. Often those you have not seen in a long while.
Lay of the Land: Kate Holden and Simon Winchester in conversation with Rosemarie Milsom was my first session and it was great. I have been a fan of Simon Winchester since devouring his seminal book, The Surgeon of Crowthorne. I have read many of his non-fiction masterpieces since then. He was at the festival via zoom, and kind and lovely as you would expect. He spoke about his latest book, Land, which is about how land is divided and how land has divided people over the centuries. Kate Holden was there to talk about her book with a similar theme, but Australia based and surrounding a terrible murder that ultimately was about the division and ownership of land.
Love Stories: Trent Dalton and Rosemarie Milsom was probably the best session of the festival. I AM such a fan of Trent, so I am probably biased, but he is such a great writer and such a great raconteur and adorable. He spoke about his project for Love Stories, why he started it, which is an amazing story about being bequeathed a typewriter by someone who really believed in him. He told us some of the stories and talked about how he felt doing all of this. He had us all laughing and crying, sometimes simultaneously. He is definitely someone who wears his heart on his sleeve, as do I, so I really loved all these stories.
And then, when I didn't think I could enjoy the session anymore, he got us all to sing, All You Need Is Love. He said he missed pub choir in Brisbane, and I desperately miss our version here in Newcastle, One Song Sing. So I sobbed my way through the full choir in the City Hall. It was a magnificent experience.
After I lined up with my book to be signed. Trent greeted me with you're the Librarian with the jigsaw, it was so lovely. The line was long, so not a lot of time to chat, but I had had that last night.
Afterwards, Linda and I headed to Rascals for lunch. It was a lovely warm day despite a bit of a cool breeze. We had lunch and then wandered back to the festival to soak up the sun before our next session. It was there I had my third and final Trent Dalton interaction. He was leaving City Hall, and turned to take in the festival and saw me sitting outside. He waved to me and yelled out thanks Librarian for coming, I hope you have a great day. I waved and yelled back thank you. What a doll!!
The Dreaming Path: Uncle Paul Callaghan and Uncle Paul George with Joe Williams this was a lovely session about the Dreaming Path and how it can help your life. I guess the Dreaming Path is to indigenous peoples as mindfulness is to white peoples. I think the Dreaming Path is more holistic and superior and more authentic. Both Uncles talked about their journeys and how this more thoughtful way of thinking has helped them be their best selves. It was a deep session, but joyful.
Mother Tongue: Sharon Edgar-Jones, Jasmine Seymour with John Maynard another fascinating session about indigenous languages and bringing them into schools and being studied in Universities. As we are incorporating language into our work in libraries, and with children in our storytimes, and as I sing in various languages for my choir, I was fascinated with this new resurgence for actual indigenous peoples, who may not have known it growing up.
Open Book: Helen Garner and Caroline Baum - I think everyone knows I worship Helen Garner, she is easily one of my favourite writers and definitely my favourite Australian authors. I was at the session early, waiting for Athena to arrive. I was sitting on a bench just people watching when Helen arrived. She was coming my way, I know she is private and I would never go up to her, but as she approached near to where I was sitting, our eyes connected, so I smiled - a smile that hopefully said I love you, I adore you, your writing means everything to me but I don't want to disturb you as I respect you so much - and not only did she return my smile but she said hello. I am so glad I was sitting, as I may have fallen over. Absolutely and totally day made, and that was a day I had two interactions with Trent Dalton!!!
These are the moments that make weekends like NWF so very special.
Of course, her session was as wonderful as you can imagine. At 80, she is bold and forthright, funny and thought provoking. Nothing seems off limits, or maybe the fact she is friendly with Caroline Baum helped. Helen talked about her diaries, especially Diary 3 which is a remarkable piece of work, easily her best - and that is saying something. She read out the most delicious passage - where she found out her husband was indeed cheating on her after a period of suspicion. She ran amuck in their apartment, and you could tell the delight in her voice as she re-read the section. Listening to her talk about writing and indeed, her own writing, is such a gift. I only wished she had divulged who some of the 'letter's were in her diaries, lol. It was an amazing way to end Day 1.
DAY TWO - Sunday 3 April, 2022
Stories to Change the World: Inga Simpson and Jacquie Stevenson with Magdelena Ball - both Inga and Jacquie write fiction based on factual information. They spoke about the importance of their subject matter, varied as it is, and why burying it within fiction is a great way to lightly getting their point across.
The Light Within: Julia Baird with Jane Hutcheon with music composed by David Banney and performed by Anthea Scott-Mitchell and Erin Sweetman - this was quite the impressive session. Firstly Julia Baird's Phosphorescence was my Book of the Year for 2020. I adored that book, for so many reasons, the beauty of the subject matter, the importance of being still and at one with nature, especially on the cusp of COVID, being a good individual, being a strong female, and her recovery from cancer. It's one of those once in a lifetime books. So the set up for this session was Jane would ask Julia a question, she would answer it and then back it up with a reading from the book which Jane had picked out. Then the musicians would play a classical piece. Utterly sublime. What I did not expect, out of all the subject matter, that Jane would concentrate of Julia's cancer and recovery. Whilst it IS why she wrote the book, the book is so much more than that. I found the chat very triggering but at the same time very liberating, so I, of course, sobbed through the whole talk. It was truly magnificent, but I was quite overwhelmed after it all Lucky I had a good break before my next session, so found a quite place to sit and think and calm down a little.
Don't Be Too Polite Girls: Wendy McCarthy and Anne Summers - this session was kick arse!!! Two 'senior' women chatting about their amazing lives. They took no prisoners then, and certainly do not now. Whether it was about the law, politics, women, history, they were forthright and so incredibly intelligent with a great sense of humour. We were putty in their hands. I think everyone in the audience aspired to be that fabulous hitting that age, and wished we were as fabulous now!
Toxic Truths: Emily Bitto and Diana Reid with Amy Lovat - I loved Emily Bitto's debut novel, The Strays, so was keen to hear her talk about her follow up, which I am yet to read. She was paired with Diana Reid, whose book we were reading in bookclub and I had just started. It was an interesting session, Diana was very wired and vibrant and took much of the discussion. Emily being older, and a chill Melbournian, took the back seat, which was a terrible shame. Diana was obviously a fan of Bitto's as she often answered questions that were aimed at Bitto. I still got a lot out of the talk, and it consolidated my thoughts that Emily Bitto was a class act. She talked about her life in Melbourne, her bar, and how she gathers the stories she tells. I love that she obviously takes her time to craft real literature, stories that will last the test of time, stories that make you think, weeks, months, years after reading them. This was a great way to end the festival, seeing someone you have read and realising they are the real deal.
And so I headed home, tired but my soul fed, for another year. With a list of books to add to my already out-of-control to read list, ideas to work on, ideas for writing, ideas for work. As a book lover and a Librarian, a writer's festival is my Mecca, and Newcastle Writer's Festival is absolutely the best.