Last week, I spent three glorious days, immersed in books, reading, writing, readers and authors at the fabulous Somerset Celebration of Literature on the Gold Coast. I was star-struck, awed by accomplishments and performances, relished long and often very funny conversations in the Green Room, loved meeting authors I knew and loved and many whom I didn’t - know that is, but came to love as well. I was able to work with and speak to readers who knew my work and many who didn’t but who were so warm, welcoming and excited about texts and reading. I came away utterly inspired and on a high. I’d love to share with you some of these experiences – but I have to say, my only regret was that I didn’t have more time!
So, in this photo, you see some of the terrific authors I was privileged to be counted among: Jacqueline Harvey, author of the Alice Miranda books who’s growing success as she storms up the best-seller charts here and overseas is testimony to her fantastic tales and the magic that her characters weave – never mind the beauty that Jacquie projects herself – a truly lovely soul. The lines in front of Jacqueline at the festival as kids queued to buy her books and have them signed were snake-like and the excitement on the faces of the students as they met their favourite author a delight to behold. Next to Jacquie, is award-winning author, James Roy. I love Jim’s books and I adore his presentations. Watching him perform to a packed room is joyous as he captivates the kids with stories, teasing, and a reading from his works such as Hunting Elephants or Town or the many, many other books he’s written. It’s hard to keep three hundred kids focussed but, like me, they didn’t want him to stop! Then there’s Leigh Hobbs – the marvellous and very droll illustrator who is so hard-working and yet patient and talented. With drawing pads tucked beneath his arm, he would stride off to his sessions with a smile on his face, ready to enchant the next group. Then there’s Jane Caro. Perhaps best known for her role as a panellist on The Gruen Transfer, Jane is also an author (among other things) and has written a beautiful book, About a Girl, which tells the story of a young Queen Elizabeth the FIrst. She’s also written The F Word which is about feminism and why it’s become a dirty word. I spoke to a few girls who went to Jane’s session and they were driven. Next to Jane is Michael Wagner, author of the Maxx Rumble action books among many others and such a lovely man! He’s also very funny and I encountered a group of chuckling boys leaving his session, repeating gags and simply raving about him. Next to Michael is me and I am standing next to the beautiful Susanne Gervay – one of the most prolific and lovely writers whose novels are so heart-warming, real and daring. Susanne is one of those souls who you delight to meet, feel so lucky she’s a friend and whose presence and books are life-changing. I regularly buy her books for my nieces and nephews and they count her among their favourite authors. Sitting in front of us in that vibrant red dress is Ursula Dubasarsky. I hadn’t had the privilege of meeting her before – but wow, what a lady and what an exquisite writer. I went to one of the sessions in which Ursula spoke and I loved the way she described the writing process, how she found her ‘voice’ and her almost fey yet grounded way of evoking her craft. Really funny as well, I rushed out to buy her haunting book, The Red Shoes, and when I saw the effort she put into signing it, the care and love, I was awestruck. Next to Ursula is the gorgeous Georgina from Somerset – Georgina was the media/PR person and such a delight to work with. I am only sorry that the half of the photo that some of us are in is shaded so badly – sorry. But you see what I mean about meeting these amazing people? And not just the writers, but the staff, students and volunteers as well…
OK… to continue my love-fest, I have to share that I also went to one of Deborah Abela’s sessions. Deborah has written many books, among them, the fabulous Max Remy super spy books, Grimsdon (which I cannot wait to read) and the Ghost Club series. Her session was magic! I felt like one of the many transfixed kids who couldn’t wait to interact with her energy and passion. Deborah has a new fan I also saw the wonderful and witty Oliver Phommavanh – stand up comedian and just a great guy and writer. The kids adored him. I was in a session with the articulate and simply great Lili Wilkinson and Tristan Bancks as well – both extraordinary people who enchanted those fortunate enough to be in their sessions. I also saw Scott Westerfield, author of the Leviathan series in action. Oh. My. Clever, imaginative, with flair, erudition and drive. Terrific man and writer.
While I couldn’t get to every session, I did get to hang out in the Green Room with some utterly delightful writers such as Wendy Orr (Nim’s Island), Felice Arena, Nadia Sunde and Angela Sunde, Frances Watts, Belinda Jeffreys, Rosanne Hawke (love her work), the exuberant John Heffernan (who was disguised as Charlie Carter for this festival ), and Cath Crowley. If I have missed anyone out, it’s not deliberate, it’s just I was literally overwhelmed by how many amazing personalities and talent were in one room.
The way we were looked after at Somerset is incredible too. From the dashing Michael Brouier, to Karen Mackie, Andrea Lewis, Georgina and the entire team of staff and volunteers, nothing is too much trouble and the care and consideration you are given is just phenomenal. Even Craig, the school principal, was running around helping out! They all work so hard and why? Because they believe in what we writers, illustrators, songwriters, film-makers and creative artists do and they love the stories we tell, the way culture is enriched through tales. Thank you all of you – you were just wonderful.
Among many stand out moments, however, there were two that really stuck with me (apart from the two high school sessions I did with years 10-12 which were incredible. The students and adults who attended were wonderful). These were the literary lunch at which I spoke and where I have to say I was overwhelmed by the warmth, sincerity and generosity of those who attended - from the paying guests to the staff – teachers, waiting, kitchen and bookshop). I felt like I’d been enveloped in a giant hug and I was on a high for days after still am. I also have to mention the elegant table settings which featured candles and a circlet of Venetian masks – it’s proof of how emotional I was that I forgot to take a photo (did that a lot!).
And then there was the Friday night dinner. That commenced with drinks and conversation as it usually does.But what happened after was magic. First, we were entertained by students from Somerset College who performed two magnificent numbers, bringing tears to more than a few eyes with their songs and dance. It was quite simply lovely. The other was the gust speaker and one author I haven’t yet mentioned, Sandy or A.J MAcKinnon – author of Jack de Crow and other books. From the moment he stood, after main course, to speak to us, he had the entire ballroom in the palm of his hand. Regaling us with his adventures from the northern UK to Romania as he travelled in an 11 foot Maradinghy (?), and described his encounters with the English, French, German, Belgians and so on, he had us captivated and laughing so hard my stomach hurt. Naturally a gifted speaker, he performed with an appreciation for his audience, a respect for the occasion and delivered what I think was one of the best dinner speeches I have ever heard. I was sat at his table, so was very glad to be able to tell him how much i enjoyed his efforts. Slightly eccentric, he really is an amazing man – reminiscent of the adventurers of early last century or before, with his bonhomie and positivity and pith helmet. He ended with an important message though: that while we talk about stranger danger and fear the incurions of ‘others’ and what they might do in our lives, the harm they may inflict, the truth is, most people are lovely and helpful, I guess, friends in waiting, if we would just give them the chance. It’s a message I have long preached as well and it was refreshing to hear it delivered by someone so experienced and erudite.
So, that was my festival expereince. I also was able to have dinner with one of my dearest friends, Katherine Howell and her beautiful partner Benette and catch up with my gorgeous cousins, Tyrone and Shannon and their partners. That I hadn’t seen Tyrone in almost forty years, didn’t matter. We were all as comfortable together as a old shoes. Now what was magic!
How lucky am I then? Can you understand why I’m so inspired? But oh, I haven’t told you everything… I forgot to mention the very thorough body search I was given at Gold Coast airport, witnessed by my husband and Jacquie Harvey (who said my eyes nearly popped) and where I had my breasts squeezed and my inner thigh stroked - all in public and by a woman security officer. After the initial shock, I thought, “maybe there are some advantages to having a pacemaker!” LOL!