Twitter is great, but let’s be honest, it can also be a jealousy-making machine. Especially when it feels like everyone on your Twitter feed is live-tweeting from the most incredible Writers’ Festivals around Australia, and you’re missing out because you’re not there. This is, partly, the person’s own fault. If you really want to be there, book a flight, jump in the car, walk if you have to- it doesn’t help that Australia is insanely large, but, there comes a point when every writer should bite the bullet and decide that this year’s holiday will be to a writers’ festival.
In February this year, I made the decision that I would go to the National Young Writers’ Festival in Newcastle in October. Of all the writing events which bombard my Twitter feed, NYWF has always been the one festival I have been longing to go to. To meet and be inspired by other young writers from around Australia. Since I’d already made the decision to go, I decided I may as well also apply for the festival’s open artist callout.
A couple of months passed, and an email landed in my inbox. I had to read it three times to ensure it was an acceptance and that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Not only was I going to the festival, I would be presenting there too.
October loomed in the distance like an apparition, something which you can see on the horizon but when you get closer disappears. Only the festival didn’t disappear. It crept closer and closer, and I found out what my events would be, and also discovered that not only had I been chosen to appear in the festival, but I was the recipient of the SA Writers’ Centre Travel Scholarship for my travel costs to and from the festival. I couldn’t believe it.
When I finally boarded the plane for Sydney, I was equal parts excited and scared out of my mind. I had never spoken on a panel before. This weekend, I would be speaking on three, all on the same day. I would be sharing my panels with amazing, well-known writers and editors who would all say very profound, articulate stuff, while I sat in the corner like a fraud and tried to think of something intelligent to add to the conversation.
Some of my apprehension eased when I stepped off the train in laid-back Newcastle, the perfect place to hold the festival. I spent the first two days racing around to as many events as I could, my highlights being the Invisible Illness panel and the Small Press Workshop.
I was intrigued which illnesses would be discussed on the Invisible Illness panel, wondering if perhaps my own struggles in this regard might be represented. The panellists, Adolfo Aranjuez, Robert Coleman and Lefa Singleton Norton introduced themselves, and I couldn’t believe it when Lefa shared with the audience that her invisible illness was chronic fatigue, an illness I myself have been silently battling with for years. All three panel members were selflessly open about sharing the realities of their invisible illnesses and how the illnesses affect their creativity. For the first time since I got sick, I felt I’d found some understanding and solidarity.
The Small Press Workshop run by Amy Middleton, founder and editor of Archer Magazine, was also incredible. Middleton shared with us her journey to getting sexual diversity print magazine Archer up and running, and all the mistakes and lessons she’s learned along the way. We then got into groups and attempted to plan our own magazine, considering everything from marketing, to financing, to advertising and content. As I started my own online magazine Tongues this year, it was extremely helpful and encouraging to hear Amy speak about her experiences, and I took away some great advice to help move Tongues forward.
Then the final day of the festival, Sunday, arrived, along with my three panels. My heart was pounding as I chaired the first panel, Writing for Kids!, speaking with wonderful children’s writers Melissa Keil, Kylie Fornasier, Wai Chim and Davina Bell. Slowly my nerves dissipated as we launched into our discussion. My next panel of the day was ‘Speaking in Tongues’, and I was feeling a little braver as I sat down with my fellow panellists, Adolfo Aranjuez, Johannes Jakob, Wai Chim and Stephen Pham. We had a great turnout for the event and a fantastic discussion of multiculturalism, language learning and writing. By the time I went to my third and final panel for the day, ‘Why YA?’, I was exhausted, but excited and no longer nervous to be speaking. Melissa Keil, Kylie Fornasier, Tamar Chnorhokian, Michael Mohammed Ahmad and I spoke about writing YA, reading YA and our favourite YA books, to an audience full of readers and writers as enthusiastic about YA as we are.
I had a wonderful time at NYWF, and am incredibly grateful to the coordinators of the festival and the SA Writers’ Centre for making it possible for me to attend. I learnt so much and met some amazing people. If you’ve considered going to a writers’ festival as an artist or as an audience member and haven’t quite managed yet, don’t put it off any longer. The Digital Writers’ Festival and Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne are both open for artist callouts for 2015. Be proud of your work as a writer and what you have to offer, and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You never know, you may be exactly what they’re looking for!
Did you miss the Q&A with Raelke? Read it here.