In my happy place with bookish folk: The Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival
October 26, 2022
You know that feeling you get on returning home after a holiday or mini break away, when you try to keep the happy vibes going? That’s where I am now, days after a fabulous weekend of all things books, writers and readers, thanks to the Blue Mountains Writers’ Festival, held at Katoomba from October 21st to 23rd.
Organised by Varuna (the National Writers’ House in Katoomba) the festival was a smorgasbord of author talks, workshops, book sales and signings, children’s events, poetry readings… and the chance to just hang out with other book lovers.
The inaugural event was held in 2019 but Covid meant two cancelled years, so it was a delight to be back in 2022. I was one of over 50 volunteers who collectively helped make it a success. It is great fun to volunteer at an event like this, so if you’ve not given it a go previously, think about putting your hand up at an event near you.
So many! If I had to choose, these are some of my most memorable moments:
Finding what I expect will be my 2023 choice for my book group: This All Come Back Now: An Anthology of First Nations Speculative Fiction, edited by Mykaela Saunders (after hearing Mykaela speak on a panel along with Ellen van Neerven and Gina Cole.) A comment by Mykaela that struck me was that she wanted to ‘write her people into the future’ after reading so much speculative fiction/scifi that has ‘genocided First Nations Australians.’
Hearing Corey Tutt speak about the Deadly Science book and schools’ program, which aims to ensure all schools (including those in remote areas) have access to the First Nations’ history of science by providing resources that connect students to the First Scientists of Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Listening to Pip Williams (author of the wonderful Dictionary of Lost Words) speak about her writing process in a session titled ‘The Power of Language’. She described the ‘exploded view’ by which her story ideas often arrive. On the Dictionaryof Lost Words, she says that she asked herself the question: Do words mean different things to men and women and if they do, does it matter if the original Oxford English Dictionary (the subject of her novel) was essentially a male led and male dominated project? (The answer, by the way, was yes.) The exciting news for fans of the Dictionary is that a companion book, The Bookbinder of Jericho, is due for release in March 2023. Pip’s warmth and generous spirit were infectious, and it was a thrill to meet her.
The fabulous Helen Garner, a living Australian literary treasure, at the sold out ‘A Life of Writing’ talk. As another volunteer said to me just before the session started, ‘Helen doesn’t even have to say anything. Just having her here is enough.’ Yes! – though Helen is an excellent conversationalist, as the audience quickly learned: wry, humorous, self-deprecating and supremely down to earth.
Another living treasure, Thomas Keneally, gave an often hilarious, always entertaining ramble through his writing life in ‘A Bloody Good Chat’ on Sunday afternoon.
Finally, the joy of just hanging about with a crowd of bookish people, who write books, read them, publish them, sell them, review them, love them. Truly my happy place. I’m looking forward to the 2023 Festival already.