Today was the final day of the Bendigo Writers Festival – and it was another ripper day.
First session, Access All Ages, was Sonya Hartnett in conversation with Christie Nieman. Sonya has sometimes been considered to be ‘prickly’ over the years, but she showed none of that today. She is always entertainingly frank about the craft of writing, treating it as a job and a skilled profession. My favourite quote from her today was a response to a query on how she reads for pleasure and criticism – her reply? 30 years of doing it! Practice, practice, practice. [I created the wrong hashtag for this session and didn’t notice for the whole hour. It’s #accessallareas instead of ‘ages’.]
After that I had 15 mins to get to another venue to see the Memories of Our Place panel. Hosted by Sarah Mayor Cox, the panel comprised of Anne Manne, Bill Garner, and Di Dempsey, who were talking about the impact of place in our memories and histories.
Anne Manne has written a memoir about moving to Bendigo as a result of the violent break-up of her parents’ marriage, and the subsequent freedom for her, and virtual imprisonment of her mother. Bill Garner’s book, Born in a Tent, celebrates the long history of Australian living under canvas, from the convicts who were obliged to live in tents, and the upper-middle class who embraced it as a cheap family holiday, to present day camping style. Di Dempsey is a long-time resident of Bendigo, moving here permanently after spending many family holidays in the Whipstick. Sarah’s own experience of both living in Bendigo and being an enthusiastic camper enlivened and informed this panel, and her recall of the characters, stories and events in each of the works was remarkable.
The last session I attended for the day, but by no means the last session of the festival, was Talk Right, Write Better: a debate on the need, or not, for grammar in every day life. Ably and amusingly hosted by Jonathan Ridnell from ABC Central Victoria, Nicole Hayes opened the speeches, arguing stridently and hilariously that grammar was absolutely necessary, comparing examples such as “Let’s eat grandpa” v “Let’s eat, Grandpa”. A world of difference in meaning!
David Astle followed Nicole, and convinced us that all grammar rules are merely fashion, citing examples from Latin, ancient champions of the rules, and their downfall, and many current ways of speaking and writing.
Fiona Scott-Norman was equally funny, and held to the notion that grammar rules were necessary but that we should should show sympathy rather than derision for those who don’t understand the rules. Her many hilarious examples of spelling mistakes on tattoos, “I’m awsome”, and “No regets”, had the audience laughing out loud.
Finally, Matt Blackwood spoke about street art and the fluidity of spelling and grammar. He told us about an artwork that involved placing Scrabble letters in sentences. When a number of tiles were stolen from the artwork Matt left it like that, but at some point someone came along with a black marker and wrote the letters on the wall, to correct it.
In the end, the panel decided two things: that meaning was paramount and grammar secondary, and that you had to know the rules to be able to break the rules.
My day was topped off with a late lunch with a terrific bunch of ‘birds’ at The Rifle Hotel, and then a 2.5 hour drive home.
This is a terrific conference, in its third year. Well organised, friendly, and fun. Heaps of choice, some really engaged and engaging guests, and lots of cafes, restaurants and cultural attractions to give your brain breathing space.
I learned a lot at this conference. Perhaps you will next year too.