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.
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!