Day Three – Bendigo Writers Festival

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.

 

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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 One – Bendigo Writers Festival

Today was Schools’ Day at BWF.

Fun things about today, in no particular order other than the way they popped into my head:

1. Gabrielle Wang, Sophie Masson and Lyn White in conversation with Sarah Mayor Cox and 300 school kids;

2. Meeting Nicole Hayes FOR REAL! She is my footy chick hero!;

3. Lovely dinner at GPO Bendigo with Nicole and Graham (a work colleague from another life) with an enormously far-reaching conversation about life, the universe and everything;

4. Afternoon snooze when I would have normally been at work;

5. Reading the third Ship Kings book before falling asleep;

6. Electric blankets!;

7. Home-made lunch of salami and char-grilled veggies on supermarket white;

8. Sleep and electric blanket;

9. Blanche D’Alpuget – a VERY interesting person;

10. Electric blanket;

11. Catching up with the gentleman writer, Andrew McGahan;

12. Buying books;

13. Electric blanket.

 

Sad things about today:

1. Sarah and Justine missing out on a lovely dinner at GPO;

2. Rude secondary students;

3. Missing Jackie French in conversation with Sarah Mayor Cox and 300 students because I was sleeping;

4. Using the wrong Twitter address AND hashtag for the first two conference sessions!

 

It’s been a big day, and the Ship Kings are calling to my salty soul.

You can catch my tweets from the morning session of today on this Storify.