Brisbane Writers Festival 2018

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A few weeks ago Bec and I travelled down to Brisbane for the 2018 Writers Festival. It was the first time I had attended the Festival but luckily Bec had had the opportunity to go when she was in grade seven. It’s always been a highlight of her last year at Primary School because she was able to meet Emily Rodda and have her copy of The Golden Door signed. It was the first time she had ever met an author. I had once been to the Adelaide Writers Festival, many moons ago, but this was my first experience of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF) has a long history, starting life in 1962 as the Warana Writers Convention. More than fifty years later, it has grown into a three day event, with over 150 sessions and drawing a crowd of over 20,000 literary lovers. The events are housed mainly at the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), both located very conveniently at South Bank in the CBD. 

The key drawcard of the BWF for us, was Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series. We have both loved the Divergent series, although I am still to read the last book – you know, so many books, so little time – and Bec has really enjoyed the Carve the Mark duology.  As soon as we discovered that Veronica Roth was coming, that was it, we were so there! 

Our BWF schedule began on Thursday evening with Dystopian Futures: An Evening with Veronica Roth and Friends. Veronica was interviewed by Kim Wilkins, who is an Australian writer based in Brisbane. Kim writes fantasy, as well as general fiction under the name Kimberley Freeman. It was quite exciting to see Veronica Roth up close and hear her talk about her books and her recent experiences with Australian wildlife. The highlight, of course, was when Bec was able to have her copy of The Fates Divide signed by Veronica.

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On Friday, Bec was having a study day while I caught the train into the city to attend two sessions and just soak up the literary atmosphere. My first session for the day was A Hundred Small Lessons with Ashley Hay and Kristina Olsson. I was unfamiliar with Ashley Hay but she has had a very accomplished career in journalism and fiction. Ashley was interviewed by Kristina Olsson, who is another award-winning author new to me, but that’s the beauty of writers festivals. We not only get to meet our favourite authors but also discover some new ones too. Ashley’s work is apparently known for its ”incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.” Her most recent novel, A Hundred Small Lessons, is about “the many small decisions – the invisible moments – that come to make a life.” It explores what it means to be human and the way that place changes who we are. It is a story of love and of life.

I really enjoyed the conversation between Ashley and Kristina. One of the things that really stood out to me, was Ashley’s encouragement to pay attention to the little things of life because these little moments or lessons are the real stuff of life. Straight after the session I headed directly to the Festival bookshop and bought two of her books, The Railwayman’s Wife, which explores grief, and A Hundred Small Lessons. Of course, I was also tempted by two other titles, The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose (winner of the Stella Prize in 2017) and Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. And I just couldn’t resist a Hermione Granger library bag…. You might notice the little yellow tag in the top right hand corner. Remember the days when we used to fill out those little yellow cards when we borrowed a library book? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like. The bags were produced by Out of Print and proceeds of their products go towards funding literacy programs and donating books to needy communities. A very worthy cause.

After lunch I attended Writing as Women’s Work with Anne-Marie Priest and Melissa Ashley. Anne-Marie’s most recent book, A Free Flame  is a group portrait of four leading 20th century writers, Gwen Harwood, Dorothy Hewett, Ruth Park and Christina Stead. It explores their lives and the challenges they faced as women writers when women’s writing didn’t receive the respect it deserved. Melissa’s novel, The Birdman’s Wife, also focuses on another overlooked woman, Elizabeth Gould, who was responsible for the beautiful illustrations in the Gould collections. Elizabeth was often just known as her husband’s assistant, but as Melissa notes, John Gould’s books wouldn’t have been possible without her artistry and attention to detail.

Saturday was our last day at the BWF but unfortunately our first session The Lace Weaver with Lauren Chater had to be cancelled. Sydney had been experiencing some very wild storms and Lauren was unable to fly out. It was a bit disappointing but I did enjoy reading her debut novel which is set in Estonia during the second world war. I didn’t know much about Estonia’s history, but Lauren’s book brings to life the difficulties faced by the Estonians caught between the Soviets and the Nazis, as well as the Estonian tradition of knitting lace shawls. I thought it was a very fine debut.

We wrapped up our BWF experience with Love YA: Crafting Futures. Part of the BWF program included a Love YA festival held across the river at the Brisbane Square Library. These sessions were free and focused especially on YA. The Crafting Futures session featured Veronica Roth (again!) and Cally Black, whose debut novel, In the Dark Spaces  was published in 2017. The focus of the discussion was “Reflecting on the present through the lens of dark speculative fiction.” A few of the highlights included Veronica’s explanation of how she developed the language for Carve the Mark and the important place that series like Harry Potter have played in the evolution and success of YA. Veronica made us all laugh at how excited she would be to meet J. K. Rowling. We sometimes forget that writers are human too – just like us. They get excited too about meeting the authors who have played an important part in their life, especially during those teenage years. 

Well, that was our BWF experience for this year. Now we have to wait to see the program for next year. 

Happy Reading!

Miss You Too, Buddy

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Lately I have had to spend a lot of time in Brisbane. It’s not easy for country kids to move to the city to attend university. The city is a noisy, crowded, busy place. It is an unfamiliar place, teeming with strangers and unfamiliar sounds, smells and routines. Bec is a quiet kind of kid. She loves reading, music and needs to have her own space. So transitioning to university and city life has been challenging. Sometimes it just helps to have Mum around for a while.

Brisbane is not that far from Toowoomba, only about 125 km, so when we went down for Orientation week, Dan came too. It was just going to be a few days and we were staying with family. Bec was going to be attending the Queensland Conservatorium of Music and there were things that Dan and I could do at South Bank while she was at orientation sessions.

I love South Bank. It is the cultural centre of Brisbane, housing art galleries, the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC),  the Conservatorium of Music and the Queensland Museum. It’s a well-planned area, perfect for families, with wide grassy areas, eating places and walking paths that follow the Brisbane River. The South Bank Grand Arbour runs through the centre, providing a bougainvillea covered walkway from the Griffith Film School at one end, down to QPAC at the other.

South Bank Arbor

We thought it would be a good to take Dan to the Science Centre at the Queensland Museum. We had been there before, when Dan and Bec were much younger and it had lots of fun hands-on science things to do.  Unfortunately, the Science centre was closed for renovations. So we tried to take a wander around the art gallery, but it’s hard to look at things properly when Dan just wants to go full steam ahead. I would have liked to go on the Wheel of Brisbane, a 60 metre tall Ferris wheel that gives a 360° view of the city, but Dan doesn’t like Ferris wheels either – the height and motion upset his sense of balance.

The Wheel of Brisbane

But Dan does love to walk. One day we crossed from one side of the Brisbane River to the over on the Goodwill pedestrian bridge. Dan doesn’t like heights so we were walking pretty close to the middle of the bridge and had to keep an eye out for cyclists. There was no chance at all of getting close to the side to check out the view. But he was happy enough to cross over- singing all the way. I don’t know if anybody else gets serenaded while walking over a bridge.

Dan enjoyed the time in Brisbane but it was hard work. He loved riding on the train. And he loved staying with family. But keeping him safe in busy public spaces is hard work and he gets bored. He needs his regular routine of attending Yellow Bridge, spending time with his mates and doing all the regular activities he enjoys. Fortunately, my Mum was able to come up from Adelaide to help out for a few weeks. She was able to stay with Dan in Toowoomba, while I spent time with Bec in Brisbane.

Now, I’ve been away from Dan for an occasional weekend and he has been away on school camps. But during these last few weeks, I’ve had to spend more time away from him than I ever have before. I know that he’s being well cared for and he loves time with Grandma. But it’s not the same. He looks for me.

Last week, when Dan came home from Yellow Bridge at the end of the day, he looked through every room. He looked outside. And when Dan couldn’t find me anywhere, he went to Grandma, rubbed his eyes and said, “sad”.

I miss you too, Buddy.  Be home soon.    cute-elephants-2757831_640