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!