A cold virus descended mid-week, plaguing me with both a high temperature and a feeling of dread. There was no way in hell I was missing the Brisbane Writers Festival on Saturday! To make absolutely sure nothing was going to stand in my way, and to safe guard colleagues from the worst of my germs, of course, I tucked myself into bed for a day of complete rest on Thursday and again after my half-day at work on Friday. By Saturday morning, the danger of coughing up an actual lung had subsided and I armed myself with paracetamol, swathes of tissues and a large bottle of water. My friend, Louise, who is just as excited about books and hanging out in libraries also came along to listen to authors discuss the creative processes behind their words.
To begin, I found out I had accidentally booked into a session titled ‘Who’s Minding The Farm?’, instead of ‘The Farm’, which as it turns out are two quite different books. The former is Patrice Newell’s non-fiction examination of ethical agriculture and soil management. However, having grown up in a farming family many of the references to soil and crop growing at least made some sense. I had been expecting the latter, a dystopian novel about farming women to create perfect babies by Joanne Ramos. But, oh well, learning more about the organic farming movement here in Australia was eye-opening and a plus was that it was chaired by journalist Kerry O’Brien. Patrice Newell also holds a doctorate in her field and I found her zest and intelligent discussion on her subject inspirational.
Following on from that very educational first session, I had the pleasure of meeting up with an actual, real-life publisher as well as being an author who graciously gave me some insight and encouragement. As well, I was invited to attend a fantastic writers’ group meeting and spend time talking with interesting women at various stages of their careers about their own practices.
Then it was time to get along to the next session, an interview with author Ann Weisgarber, who was interviewed by Sarah L’Estrange. Her session was being recorded by the ABC for The Book Show so we had to be very quiet. A benefit of sheepishly sneaking in five minutes late after getting lost was that we got to sit in the front row! From Galveston, Texas, Ann shared her progression to becoming an author, which started in her forties. Most priceless was her admission that her first book had been rejected by over 90 agents before finding its home. She has now written three novels. At the session’s conclusion, I rushed up to her like one of those annoying people in an audience who thinks the person on stage has been talking directly to them and gushed that I’d finished my own historical manuscript, which was set in the same era as hers. Ann proved to be exceptionally kind and down to earth, and offered her congratulations and encouragement. Louise and I high-tailed it to the book shop to purchase a copy each of Ann’s book so we could line up to have her autograph them. I also brought Jane Caro’s ‘Accidental Feminists’ after spying her at the signing table. After all, what better way to say how much I enjoyed her documentary ‘The Classroom’ and thank her for the ways she stands up for teachers?
I was less bold when my friend and I rounded the corner to find a spoken poetry event happening. I looked up and found myself staring straight at the face of one of the poets my Year 11 class and I have been studying, David Stavanger. He was busy introducing and supporting a fellow performer and I couldn’t quite get in there to offer him this flattering piece of information. It may also have been because in the moment I'd completely forgotten all the titles of his poems and I was afraid he might ask me which one was his favourite, (In Laws, by the way). In my defence, neither would Louise stick around at our last session to tell Oliver Phommavanh, who still incidentally works as a primary school teacher, that her class had just finished reading ‘Thai-Riffic.’ So, gentlemen, if you ever stumble on this blog, you’ll know your words are continuing to be fed to the younger generation up here in Brisbane!
There was one special moment when a panel discussing ‘The Problem with Platforms’ took questions from the audience and my enthusiastic hand was picked. I directed my question to published Arab poet, Omar Sakr, which was ‘What advice can he give me to take back to the young writers in the classroom?’ He wanted to them to know that their stories are unique, and to keep writing them because they are interesting. Previously, Omar had suggested to another questioner a diverse list of poets he thought we should be investigating in order to get students connected in to poetry. It was exciting to think at school this term we had included five of the poet's he recommended.
We finished our jam-packed day by attending a panel with Cal Wilson (her hair is even pinker in real life!), Oliver Phommavanh, Bec Mac, Clementine Ford and Benjamin Law, who attempted to solve audience members’ problems with some forthright and hilarious advice.
Now, tell me, how many sleeps are there left until Genre Con?