Day Two – Bendigo Writers Festival

Three FABULOUS sessions today.

The first panel was called “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon”, and consisted of Nicole Hayes (The Whole of My World), Kirsten Krauth (just_a_girl), and Jennifer Valentish (Cherry Bomb) in conversation with Julie Proudfoot (The Neighbour).

This panel had a great feel – it was obvious from the start that the four women had a great rapport, and had read each other’s works and enjoyed them. Julie Proudfoot had some fantastic questions for the panelists, ranging from the amount of autobiographical material they had drawn on, their thoughts on teenage readers, their inspirations for their protagonist’s voice, through to favourite teenage reads (The Catcher in the Rye, Paul Zindel and Judy Blume, and Bret Easton Ellis). Unfortunately I was not in a position to tweet during this session – and it appears that no-one else did either, which is sad because many fine words were said, including a discussion around the ‘positioning’ of both Krauth’s and Valentish’s books as YA, when both were and are intended for an adult audience.

After a quick cuppa back at the motel I headed back down to the Arts Precinct and the LaTrobe Uni Visual Arts Centre to sit in on “Unhappy Marriage”. Wow! I mean, just, Wow!

Mandy Sayer, memoirist, spoke heroically about the story behind her publication, The Poet’s Wife. The poet in question was Sayer’s first husband, a writer himself and a total psychopath. Sayer was honest – heartbreakingly, gaspingly so – and articulated both her ambivalence and immersion in her memories of that time. Jane Sullivan was a wonderful partner for Sayer, drawing out the details of Sayer’s memories and exploring wider ideas of power, madness and writing. This was an emotional session, but ultimately rewarding. I was able to tweet during this session, so you can check out the whole story here.

My final panel of the day was ‘The Other Half’ – Historian Clare Wright in conversation with Charles Fahey. This was a fascinating session, and one in which the guest shone her very brightest. Wright’s knowledge and understanding of the events that led up to the 15 minutes of the Eureka Stockade, and the female inhibitants’ role in it, is encyclopaedic and articulate. She was clearly on top of her subject matter, as well as having a broad overview of the political, economic and social situation that gave birth to the depth of feeling in the mining community that erupted so explosively on that day in Dec 1854.

Wright’s recall of the particulars of every woman she had focused on was enlightening, and she gave them all a new life of sorts, recounting their triumphs and disasters in detail. One of the main points I took away from this session was that The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka is being billed as the ‘female’ history of the rebellion, when in fact it is just the history of Eureka, encompassing both the women and the men that took up arms to fight against what they saw as an oppressive and unequal system. Tweets from this session can be found here.

I rounded the day off by talking with Nicole Hayes and Anna Burkey over a glass of wine and a cup of tea, and then heading to the Indian with Anna, Sarah, Justine and a young man whose name I have, shamefully in my tiredness, forgotten already.

As I write this it appears that Les Murray is waxing lyrical down at the Capital Theatre, and I wish I had gone, but sometimes you’ve just got to stop, sit still, gather your thoughts, and breathe.

Day Zero – Bendigo Writers Festival – Pre-conference Dinner

Day Zero happens when you go to the pre-conference dinner (in Bendigo) straight from work (in Mentone) with a side trip to home (Mt Eliza) to pick up your laptop that you left behind in the morning!

After that inauspicious beginning, the only way was up, baby!

A quick freshen-up in the lovely room at Barclay on View, and then I headed off to the Platinum Room at The Foundry. Damn, it is LOVELY to be in a town where you know where everything is!

The evening was scheduled 6pm for 6:30pm, but the clock crept passed the half hour and continued on, with no sign of the speaker, our current Australian Children’s Laureate and “National Treasure”, Jackie French. The audience was polite, but starting to get a bit questioning – you could feel the curiosity in the room. Where was she? What was the hold up?

Finally, Georgie stepped on stage to welcome us and introduce Sarah Mayor Cox, who, in turn, introduced Jackie, a woman who needs no introduction, IMHO. Petite, smiley, chatty…she’s JACKIE FRENCH!

And then…and then.

Jackie decided to explain why she was late. She didn’t have to, but she did choose to. Whilst waiting to be collected to go to the dinner Jackie had heard a woman screaming, and some men laughing, and in her words she “completely over-reacted”. We heard that Jackie was thrown back to the night, the exact same date in fact, when her sister was murdered. Well, you could have heard a pin drop. This was an aspect of Jackie’s life that, I suspect, not many people know. It was a privilege to be trusted to hear that story, on that night, from her.

Jackie French
Jackie French

We heard about how, at age 7, Jackie discovered Socrates, and how he became her guide and friend during a traumatic childhood. About her journey through Europe with her then boyfriend and being involved in the war in Spain. About her travels through outback Australia, and her work with Yes, I Can, and back to her family, the importance of reading, reading, reading, and all around her writing.

And she was MAGNIFICENT!

I am in awe of Jackie French. Articulate, wise, compassionate, passionate, brave, wonderful. What an honour. What an amazing start to this conference!

PS. I was so blown away with Jackie on the night that I forgot that I met Sophie Masson (author) and Lyn White (editor). Squee!

Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
The lovely Lyn White - editor and 'creator' of the "Through My Eyes" series
The lovely Lyn White – editor and ‘creator’ of the
“Through My Eyes” series