Tuesday 18 March 2014

Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words

On the weekend I attended the first Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words (in Northern Tasmania) as a guest poet. It was a great writer’s festival – well organised and with lots of interesting sessions. I loved the fact that most of it was free, thus enabling anyone to attend. It was also good to go somewhere different and to support the local economy in a struggling area, although not really that practical as there wasn’t much accommodation around and we stayed half an hour’s drive away – making the logistics a bit challenging for my partner to look after our 6 month old baby in between breastfeeds (not a common issue for attendees I suppose!)

I was a little disappointed that there was only one panel on poetry in the main program, out of about 32 sessions. Although there were also two poets’ breakfasts, they were at 7:30am in the morning on Saturday and Sunday, a bit of an ask for people staying a distance away to get to. Also they were at a cafĂ© with only limited seating, whereas the non-poetry events were held in big marquees. Is the marginalisation of poetry at these events because poetry isn’t that appealing to people or do the organisers underestimate the interest that there might be, were the events to be included in the main program? It was an issue with the Tasmanian Writer’s Festival last year too I felt. But as this was only my second writers’ festival (aside from the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, where there is a feast of poetry on offer and no marginalisation to be had!) I don’t know if this is a trend.

Anyway, I enjoyed the poet’s breakfast (and was sad to miss the Saturday one). Cameron Hindrum did a fab job at organising and MC'ing as usual and I got some nice feedback on the poems that I read, including the new one I wrote about baby-gazing. Ben Walter and Gina Mercer’s poetry was excellent as always, and it was great to experience the quirky and energetic poetry of ‘Fakington Wilde’ for the first time – I loved his poems about money, about the girl and dog on the scanner ads and mobile phone culture. I bought his new book even though the title (Space travel for idiots) and the cover (fried eggs and bacon) were not appealing!

I enjoyed the other sessions I was able to get to. I saw most of the ‘Poets do it differently” session with Tim Thorne, Sherryl Clark and Cameron Hindrum. This inspired me to read more verse novels and look up some of their favourite poets which were mentioned.  

‘The Author-Editor Relationship’ session was interesting. Apparently editors are underpaid and under-recognised for the work they do. I’ve been interested in learning more about editing and so was pleased to hear them explain about the different aspects of it, like development editing, structural editing and line editing. Picking up subtle repetitions of words or phrases, slightly incongruous pace changes and other issues throughout a manuscript would take some practice and training, and a bit of an obsessional personality. It seems like some authors have great communication and trusting relationships with their editors whereas others run into conflicts and issues.

I saw a bit of ‘Tasmania – the tipping point’ with Rodney Croome etc, although having read the Griffith Review book, didn’t pick up much that was new.

I saw half of Alex Miller’s interview. He came across as a very interesting person. I was impressed with his courage in giving up his career to become a full-time novelist, basically becoming as he termed ‘unemployable’ by letting his resume take a dive into piecemeal unskilled evening work so he could write during the daytime, not knowing if he would succeed or not. His books usually take years to write although the last one just took 10 weeks. He doesn’t sketch out a whole plot or anything beforehand, but sees where the characters and the story take him as he goes along.

I really enjoyed the session ‘The Internet is your friend – I think’ with Wendy Harmer, Danielle Wood, Matthew Lamb Sherryl Clark and the chair, Tristan Banks, who did a fantastic job. The pros and cons of web technology were discussed with lots of humour and energy from the panel. Basically it can be very useful to writers when it comes to research and marketing and interacting with readers etc but it can also be overwhelming and a major procrastination problem. It sounds like managing the news blogsite ‘The Hoopla’ is loads of work (and it sounds interesting – wish I had more time to read blogs and online news/discussion sites).

I saw a little bit of Philip Nitschke’s interview, when he encouraged everyone in their later years to go and get themselves some of the euthanasia drug before they get into a situation where they need a loved one to get it, thereby putting the loved one at risk of prosecution after the act. He spoke about having to help someone die and how harrowing that was the first time. He talked about the trouble with developing criteria for who should be able to access euthanasia and how if someone was making an informed, rational decision to die (like the woman who was adamant she wanted to kill herself when she was 80 and the woman who wanted to die when her husband did), then they should be allowed to. As a mental health professional who has spent a lot of time trying to prevent people from suiciding, I found this kind of argument very confronting.

I don’t have much to say about the ‘Why Tragedy Attracts Us’ session with Hannah Kent, Rohan Wilson and Poppy Gee. I have read Rohan’s book (and been on a panel with him before, therefore have heard him speak about his book before) and am interested to read Hannah and Poppy’s books.

‘Our Black Past – Aboriginal stories that had to be told’ was interesting. Dr Kristyn Harman spoke about her book which looked at the way some Aboriginals, Maoris and native South Africans got trapped in the convict system. She said that Aboriginal convicts often suffered and died quickly after being imprisoned, so much so that in the 1800s there was a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody which recommended that they be released as soon as they showed signs of being sick. Also interesting was the discussion by Henry Reynolds about how preposterous it was that so much commemoration goes on in Tasmania about the Boer War but officials do not recognise the war that went on between the white invaders and Aboriginal peoples. Professor Peter Stanley explained that he had tried to get the National War Memorial to acknowledge these wars but because they did not involve official Australian soldiers, they refused. Discussion included teasing out the issues around why there is so little acknowledgment of these wars, and one main reason is that this would mean highlighting the fact that Aboriginal people never gave up their sovereignty and a proper treaty is needed.

Well, that summarises the main things I got out of the weekend. It was great to have some time to consider some big issues, see some famous authors, mix with some lovely poets, see somewhere different, and what’s more, baby Kate slept all the way there in the car and almost all the way home!

Thanks to Session for the pic.