Friday, August 24, 2012

Inaugural Bendigo Writer's Festival

Just the other day I discovered a whole new world; the literary nirvana of attending my first ever writer’s festival.  At a friend’s suggestion, on Sunday 12th August, I went along to the final day of the inaugural Bendigo Writer’s Festival at the Capital Theatre in Vine Street, Bendigo.

Leaving early on the Sunday morning I drove to Kerang and car-pooled south with creative genius and Your Community Cares legend Jane Ogden.

The three-day event had brought together writers, readers, speakers and word lovers from all over Australia. With four or more sessions running concurrently at each timeslot it was an astrological nightmare for Librans like myself… how to choose between so many enticing topics?

Jane and I headed in different directions for the first two hours as Jane went to listen to Australian playwright and screenwriter Katherine Thomson speak about writing for theatre and the importance of telling your own stories on stage. While I headed into a panel session entitled “What makes a hero?” to hear Hanifa Deen, Ian Jones, Gideon Haigh and Janine Burke talk with Emma Robertson about who we admire, why and the writer’s role in creating legends.

Australian historian and writer Michael McKernan from Canberra came and sat in the seat next to me. Before the panel session began we had an interesting chat about interviewing war veterans. He was particularly interested to hear about Edgar and his trip to England, visiting the Bomber Command Memorial and attending the 550 Squadron Reunion. Michael has written numerous books including “Gallipoli: A Short History”. In April 1990 he travelled with a group of World War I Gallipoli veterans back to Turkey for the 75th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

Jane and I reunited at lunchtime to hear Roger Sworder, Harry Oldmeadow and Brian Coman discuss “The Uses and Abuses of Philosophy” with Tom McWilliam. It was by this stage after 12pm and I was feeling a bit peckish but with no scheduled lunchbreak I had to contend with consuming my chicken, cheese and spinach focaccia in the front row of the philosophy talk. I felt rather self-conscious as I tried in vain to quietly remove the paper wrapping. Wishing I could absorb the focaccia through osmosis, I wondered anxiously if I would be evicted from the audience for eating (thankfully, I wasn’t).

Later in the afternoon talk-show hostess Gena McLean interviewed John Holton and Lauren Mitchell, both of whom write weekly columns for the Bendigo Advertiser. They spoke of the ongoing challenge of writing non-stop non-fiction to a weekly deadline. 

Speaking briefly with Lauren after the interview I learnt that she is a regular weekend visitor to Barham and enjoys escaping up here to her family’s holiday house.

Other sessions I attended during the day included a talk from various small, independent publishers and a discussion on the difference in writing styles between male and female writers.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of attending a writer’s festival, (especially one as close and accessible as Bendigo) and I will be looking forward to putting it onto my “To Do” list for next year. Listening to and talking with people who are interested in what you are interested in, is good for the soul.

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