The Brewer’s Tale: How beer went from being suspicious to delicious

The wise Homer once famously declared: “Alcohol: the cause and solution to all of life’s problems.”

That’s Homer J Simpson of course, not THE Homer of Iliad and Odyssey fame. Even so, the yellow man with four fingers makes a very good point. When you examine the relationship society has with alcohol – from a social lubricant that makes an appearance at almost every occasion, to being held responsible for inciting lust, passion or facilitating terrible violence and reckless, foolish behaviour – what Homer says holds true. Alcohol can polarise people and behaviours. Yet, since time immemorial, through good times and bad, rites of passage from birth to death have been marked with the consumption of alcohol.

 

While alcohol continues to play an important part in many significant social and private events, in the era the novel, The Brewer’s Tale, is set, the 1400s, alcohol not only solved and caused many problems, it was also an essential ingredient in everyone’s lives.

 

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In medieval times, people didn’t have the drinking choices, knowledge or understanding of health that we do now. Water, which was often polluted and brackish, was considered dangerous – and it was. While other alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks were available, in England before the 1400s, the main beverage consumed by young and not-so-young; particularly in the lower classes and religious houses, was a home-brewed ale. In the 1400s, people drank on average between 1.5 – 5 litres of ale a day (often on top of wine, sack, cider and mead). That meant that most people were at least a little inebriated most of the time. Ale was regarded as a safe means of quenching thirst.

 

Ale was drunk on rising, given to children, downed regularly by paupers and princes, nuns and priests, sailors and soldiers. People went to battle, farmed, birthed children, treated illnesses and injuries, made important policy and diplomatic decisions, married, died, cooked, cleaned, sewed and accomplished a range of tasks effected by the drink they consumed all day every day. It’s a scary thought!

 

Professor Lynn Martin, who has done a study on alcohol, sex and gender in history, claims that “normal” drinking was a very social activity in traditional Europe. “Normal” drinking is still considered a pleasant social activity in the Twenty-First Century. It’s the abnormal or excessive kind we read about in the media and which arouses grave concerns and causes many of those life problems to which Homer refers. What’s evident is that what passed for “normal” in the 1400s differs considerably from today.

 

The other huge difference between drinking now and in the past was that unlike the ales and beers of today, most of which are produced by big conglomerates who export their drink, or smaller craft brewers who are trying to diversify the market, ale was made overwhelmingly by women (called brewsters or ale-wives) and was localised.

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Ale-making was a domestic industry or a by-product of other cottage-type businesses like baking or milling. The ale was flavoured with various spices and herbs as well as the woodsmoke used to cook the grain and was often sickly sweet. There was great variety in quality and taste.

 

Quantities made differed, but whatever was made had to be drunk very quickly before it soured, so it was sold or shared with neighbours (bartering likely happened in exchange for a brew) and impromptu parties erupted with the attendant fun, violence, accidents, propensity to curl up and rest the head and fire passion they still engender.

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People appreciated that a kind of magic occurred when water, grain and yeast came together. Though the term “yeast” was yet to be used, they understood that the frothy head that was produced must be preserved and transferred to each new brew. They called this “godisgoode”.

 

While almost anyone could brew, few were genuinely good at it. Woe betide the person who sold sour or tasteless ale. They not only attracted the wrath of the authorities and fines, but worse the fury of the townsfolk. Pilloring, dunking (called “cucking” – there was even a special “cucking stool” designed for this purpose), and all sorts of punishments were regularly meted out – mostly to women – sometimes even those who produced a fine ale or sold one. This was because women’s role in brewing and people’s dependence on what they produced and/or sold was regarded with suspicion. It was a double-edged sword. Women associated with alcohol-production, with brewing and sales, while providing something necessary to everyday life, were often resented and perceived as “disorderly”, as trouble-makers who were licentious, dishonest and needed to be reminded of (male) authority, God and the law.

 

imgres-4While some monasteries (and thus monks) were involved in large-scale production (relative to the era) and often sold their ale for a profit, brewsters and alewives played a really important role in the manufacturing and local distribution of ale up until around the 1500s, after which men slowly took over. Historian Judith Bennett attributes this to an interesting and quite complex notion. She argues, “When a venture prospers, women fade from the scene.” That is, once decent profits could be made from brewing and the scale of production grew, it became a male-dominated and very profitable (despite assizes and government controls which were strict) business. Men stepped in and women were eased out due to facts like intensive labour, dealing with authorities and workers (mostly men) and the capital needed to maintain and start a brewing business at this level. The only exceptions were a few widows and resourceful wives and daughters – most of whom inherited the business but also passed it over to male hands either through re/marriage or sale.

 

Another reason that women left brewing and which is directly related to the above is because of the additive hops. Before roughly 1420 in England, with some exclusions, the ale the women made contained no hops. This herb – from the same family as marijuana – came from Europe and when placed in a brew made the ale quite bitter but also preserved it. Preservation and thus hops was what changed the face of the brewing industry forever.

 

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Once hops was introduced as a regular part of ale/beer making, the product had a longer shelf-life. The new drink, called beer to distinguish it from ale, could be made in larger quantities, exported around the country and overseas. It was also cheaper to make, requiring less grain, so the overheads were fewer and the profits greater. Regarded with distaste and “unEnglish” by many at first, beer was gradually adopted as the preferred beverage. Initially, even the laws reflected the negative attitude towards the hopped ale, as those who made ale were forbidden from making beer and vice-a-versa. (Important to note that “ale”, as a description of a type of beer, didn’t come into use until the 1800s).

 

It was the ambivalent role of women in brewing – as makers of something essential to the diet of medieval folk – as bitches and “witches”, and the constant assertion of authority and control over them and their product through the presence of ale-tasters and taxes and guilds (the latter which virtually excluded them) that finally clinched the story for me.

 

I started to think, “what if a woman did succeed as a brewer in the medieval man’s world? What would she endure? What would she have to do to earn respect and make a living? Was it even possible in a time of plague, church corruption, powerful religious beliefs and strict gender roles? What would be done to prevent and/or punish her temerity?”

 

I began researching and uncovered so much fascinating information – not just about medieval times, of course, but brewing ale and beer.

 

From being indifferent to beer, I’m in its thrall. In awe of its colourful history and the dedication of contemporary craft brewers (mostly men), many of whom advised me in the writing of the novel – from the fabulous Bill and Lyn Lark, whisky makers extraordinaire, to Owen Johnson formerly of Moo Brew, Ashley Huntington of Two Metres Tall in Tasmania, Scott Wilson-Browne of Red Duck in Ballarat and many others who knowingly and unknowingly helped, I have a deep and abiding respect for the brewers who make something so suspicious and dimgres-5elicious (to paraphrase Lorenzo de’ Medici).

 

Finally, there’s my husband, Stephen who, inspired by my research and delight in all things brewing, shared his formidable knowledge with me as well as started his own craft brewery, Captain Bligh’s Ale and Cider in Hobart (and yes, you can visit the brewery if ever you are here and also taste some of his delicious beer jams as well!). I even enjoyed being his “brew bitch”, assisting him and having a hands-on experience.

 

Homer may have been talking about beer in the present when he joked that it caused and solved all life’s problems, but it holds true for the past as well. Only for women, the problems outweighed the solutions. That is, until The Brewer’s Tale…

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The Inspiration behind The Brewer’s Tale: or What Was I Drinking?

Authors often get asked where their inspiration for writing a particular story came from. Some people have been very curious as to what motivated me to write a tale about a medieval brewer and all things brewing – particularly when they discover I don’t drink beer. The simple answer as to what inspired me is, curiously, a glass of whisky; one I tossed back in a wonderful bar in Hobart during a very dark period in my life.

 

 

Only days before, my beloved friend, the writer Sara Douglass, the person my husband, Stephen, and I had moved to Tasmania nine and a half months earlier to care for, had died. On top of her loss, I was also coming to terms with the changes my own cancer diagnosis had wrought upon my life, the numerous operations I’d had and the ones still facing me. Then, there was survivor guilt. I was still here; Sara was not. I was empty and felt terribly alone and sad.

 

In the weeks leading up to Sara’s death, I’d been unable to conjure a word or creative thought. It appeared I was losing not only my closest friend but my creative heart as well. Determined to continue after she died, I took my sister and her friend (another Karen) from the USA (both of whom had come south to console me) to the famous whisky distillery and bar, Lark, on the Hobart waterfront for a drink. A visit to Tasmania is not complete without a trip to Lark. But I had an ulterior motive as well.

 

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This place, like so many others around Hobart, had become a special part of my husband’s and my shared life with Sara. Not long after arriving in Tasmania, Stephen and I introduced Sara to the joys of a locally made Whisky liqueur – Slainte. Made by Lyn Lark, Bill Lark’s (the then owner of Lark and man known as the “godfather of whisky”), wife, it’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted. It’s pure golden sweetness followed by a warm caramel heat that coats your throat before delivering a small kick below the heart. It’s magic. The first time Stephen and I tried it, we knew Sara would love it, and bought her some. We were right. Thereafter, Sara and I referred to Lyn as a “goddess” and swore what she made was ambrosia. Stephen would ensure there was always some for Sara and, Bill, in a spirit of generosity, not only discounted what we bought, but gave Sara a bottle for free with every order as well. She’d have a dram or three every night with all those toxic medications she took. That a simple drink could bring so much pleasure amidst so much pain….

 

 

Photo of Sara Douglass and Karen Brooks

It seems fitting somehow that the first time I returned to this place after Sara died, a place that though Sara never graced its cosy rooms nonetheless brought her so much comfort and joy, I found a story – the basis for The Brewer’s Tale. It was there, waiting for me, and I accepted the gift of its presence gratefully.

 

Listening to the husky-voiced barmaid, Becs, explain the origins of whisky to my sister and her friend, I asked her to pour them some Slainte. Finishing my drink and enjoying the sensations that raced through my body, I started to think about women producers of alcohol in what is a male-dominated field. I vaguely recalled knowing (but I don’t know how I knew) that what Lyn was doing shouldn’t be seen as a rarity, but a harkening back to historic practices, a reclaiming of old and familiar territory if you like. Sort of a recovery of women’s space and talents.

 

Then, it hit me. Right in my very core, a tale took root and before I’d left Lark it had blossomed.

 

Instead of being a story about a whisky brewer, I knew (and my research confirmed) it would have to be about a female ale brewer – but no ordinary one, this would be about a woman at the vanguard of beer production in the United Kingdom, someone who had the sass and flair to succeed in what was a man’s world.

 

So, the medieval brewer, Anneke de Winter, was born: smart, kind, beautiful, she’s overcome some terrible obstacles, but when the book starts, little does she know her real trials – trials of the heart, head, body and of being a businesswoman – are only just beginning.

Beer Mo

 

Doing the research and starting the writing process brought a healing I never expected. It’s wasn’t quick and nor would I want it to be, but it was a sweet and tender ache that brought with it unexpected bouts of sadness followed by moments of sheer joy – joy in the power of words and imagined characters to transport you beyond your own life and propel you into times and places otherwise denied. This is something Sara knew as well and used after her initial diagnosis and towards the end. It might be escapism, but it’s also a blessing. I like to believe, perhaps indulgently, that Sara made sure that my muse, my mojo, returned that day and gave me a wonderful tale to tell – Sara and Lyn Lark’s marvellous drink, Slainte.

 

So whisky was the inspiration for my ale tale and in a weird and wonderful way, it seems appropriate. After all, it started with a drink and, as the adage goes, no great story starts with someone eating a salad.

 

 

 

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Meet My Character: Blog Hop

This is an unusual blog for me as I don’t often write about my books (a situation that will change as I am upgrading/changing my website soon – watch this space!) but the notion came via a lovely invitation from the wonderful writer, Josephine Pennicott, author of the fabulous Poet’s Cottage and Currawong Manor as well as award-wining crime novels. This is a “meet my character blog”, where I answer questions about a character from one of my books or a work in progress. I have chosen to discuss the lead character in my latest novel, The Brewer’s Tale which is published by MIRA, Harlequin. I really hope you enjoy learning a little more about her – thank you for the opportunity, Josephine!

My latest novel

My latest novel

 

1.) What is the name of your character?

When the reader first meets her, she’s called Anneke Sheldrake but due to circumstance, she undergoes a slight name change, taking her mother’s family’s name and hoping it gives her some anonymity and autonomy as well as the ability to put the past behind her.

2.) Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

She is most definitely a fictional person but her life-story is grounded in historical research and fact. Some women had incredibly tough and poignant lives and Anneke’s, with all its trials and tribulations, reflects that.

3.) When and where is the story set?

It’s set in early Fifteenth Century England, commencing in the fictional town of Elmham Lenn (on the east coast of England and loosely modelled on Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn) and Cromer) before moving to Dover, then Southwark. In order to be authentic, I not only read many, many books, articles, spoke to brewers and distillers and poured over old maps, my old life as a cartographer came in handy after allbut in the final stages of editing, travelled to the United Kingdom. At one stage, I wandered along the Thames, walking in my characters’ footsteps. I stood on the banks of the river, in Southwark, in approximately the place Anneke ends up living, which is in a dwelling called “The Swanne”. Lo and behold, when I turned my back upon the river to see what was built there now, what did I see but this…

The modern day "The Swan", Bankside,  Soithwark

    A modern day pub called “The Swan”. I confess, I welled up and then went had a drink (or two) to celebrate! How amazing is that – not that I was drinking –  but the serendipity of it all?

 

 

 

 

4.) What should we know about him/her?

Medieval beer barrels

After her father drowns at sea, and Anneke and her young siblings are left orphans, she is forced to make a living in order to keep her family together, so turns to what once made her mother’s family in The Netherlands prosperous, brewing ale. This not only drives her into competition with nearby producers but more significantly, the local priory who dominate the market and do not like others impinging on their trade. Beyond being an excellent and ethical brewer, Anneke is loyal, brave, smart and lovely – inside and out. But she finds being a female brewer tarnishes her reputation and exposes herself and those she loves to terrible danger.

 

5.) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

The main conflict comes in the form of people and organisations with power – familial, social, financial, class, political, those who don’t like seeing a single, talented and lovely woman succeed – so the people representing these forces come in various shapes, sexes and sizes, from family relations to bailiffs, ale-conners, sheriffs, and the church.

There is much that “messes up” her life, and in this regard, despite so much happening, it reflects what women of that era endured. But there is always hope and love and friendship  as well.

 

6.) What is the personal goal of the character?

To be ethical and successful; to be loyal in love and life, to care for those for whom she is responsible and to not let injustice, in any guise, win.Different kinds of beers

 

7.) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called The Brewer’s Tale. It was its working title (drawing inspiration from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales – it even features the Wife of Bath as a character)  and that never changed. You can read more about it at Harlequin’s website (which also features a video with me discussing this and my next novel)   http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/product/9781488742620  or just Google the title.

 

8.) When can we expect the book to be published or when was it published?

It was published by MIRA, Harlequin October this year!

Cheers and thank you!
Beer Mo

 

 

Now it is my turn to nominate another author to introduce you to their character. It is with great pleasure, that I would like to introduce you to Sheryl Gwyther.

Sheryl Gwyther_image1Sheryl is a children’s author and artist who has written many books, such as the wonderful Secrets of Eromanga, as well as Secrets of Eromanga

plays and short stories and is actively involved in the writing community and very generous with her time and support. I know she is juggling many writing balls at the moment, so I’m looking forward to discovering which of her characters she decides to let us meet.

 

Over to you, Sheryl!

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Book Review: Wool by Hugh Howey

Like quite a few readers and writers before me, I have a confession to make. I tend to avoid self-published books – generally, at any cost – for a whole variety of reasons that blur the professional and the personal. I like my books validated by a publisher, editor, copy editor, marketing team and everything in-between. I figure if they invest in something, then it’s good enough for me. Of course, us readers know that isn’t always true – some professionally published stuff doesn’t make the grade either but, in my experience, that happens a great deal less often than with self-published work. I know, I have read quite a few in an effort to give them an opportunity to both shine and prove me wrong. Up until now, I haven’t been….

Then I read Wool. On the recommendation of two people (one a fabulous writer – OK, it was Anthony Eaton – the other was his lovely wife, Imogen, thanks, Tony and Min!) whose taste and judgement I bow to, I bought and read Wool by Hugh Howey and, in doing so, every negative preconception I ever had about self-publishing has been turned on its head. Not only can Howey write (and then teach a few of us with more novels under our belt how to), but also Wool is one of the finest science-fiction books (no, dammit, forget genre, it’s just one of the best books) I have ever read. I am not kidding. It is absolutely brilliant. I want to sing it from the rooftops, shout it from the car as I drive down the street, blab it all over my website, blogs and FaceBook pages – well, I am doing the last bit 🙂 Read this book!

I am not the only one who feels this way either. What started off as a self-published novella of 12,000 words, about a post-apocalyptic world where humans are confined to a place called the Silo, and the levels they exist upon, their roles within these spaces and the laws and punishments meted out are strictly regulated, in less than 12 months, it has become a publishing sensation. Fans in the USA begged Howey to write more in this world. He did. Thank goodness. Now, Wool – or the Wool Omnibus, which is what I read and which is made up of five novellas that when read together make for one utterly compelling story, is available. It’s a tale about humanity, or lack thereof, power, totalitarianism and a range of deeply philosophical and ethical questions. But don’t think for a moment this book is preachy – on the contrary, by focussing this epic tale on a few characters whom we quickly grow to love, admire and loathe, Howey has made this wide-ranging and fabulous story incredibly personal as well. You invest in both the plot and the people who inhabit the Silo. So much so, I was crying, catching my breath, laughing, and despite being exhausted, unable to put the damn book down.

Upon finishing it, I felt something I don’t often feel on completing a novel (for good and bad reasons): I felt satisfied. The ending is perfect. I don’t need the tale to continue (or even particularly want it to, which is always a good sign for me – when, like Oliver, I want more. But here, I feel it’s also indicative of just how right Howey has paced this), even though a great deal of what occurred within will resonate with me for a long time. Nor do I feel cheated. Reading Wool wasn’t only a marvellous fictive experience; I also received a lesson in how to write. Howey paces this book perfectly, maintains suspense, ups the ante at every opportunity, the emotional cost, the sacrifice and consequences. Nothing is laboured. Thank you, Mr Howey.

If you think I’m raving too much, well, not only did Random House in the UK pick this tale up and is publishing hardback versions, but Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox are optioning the rights for the movie. Credit to Howey, he is keeping the book rights in the USA for himself.
But before all you self-publishing gurus go mad, consider this also: not only is Wool a joy to read as a story, it is also mistake free. Grammar, syntax and punctuation (apart from one minor error I picked up – and that’s much less than appears in my professionally published books!) has been honed and painstakingly corrected. It reads beautifully in that regard as well. The language is wonderful, evocative, moving and polished to a shiny perfection.

I think you get the picture – Wool is a literary, sci-fi reading treat, a genuine surprise and pleasure. It is not “fad” literature or jumping on any literary bandwagon (as many are wont to do). It acknowledges its roots in an old and proven genre and then takes it forward. Magnificent. Really.
Make sure you don’t miss out.

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Acceptance Speech Norma K. Hemming Award

The Norma K Hemming Award was announced on June 11th in Melbourne, at the Continuum conference.

Sara Douglass was a joint winner for her book The Devil’s Diadem. For health reasons, i was unable to be there to receive it on her behalf, but I did write the acceptance speech which I know would have been beautifully read by fellow author and friend, Jason Nahrung.

I thought I would share the speech with you – it is only short. Here it is:

It is difficult to accept an award on behalf of a beloved friend who has died, suffice to say, you try to imagine how they would feel and what they would say and that’s what I will try and do now.

Firstly, however, I want to thank Jason Nahrung, my dear friend and fellow writer for being so kind as to accept this award on my behalf for Sara.

Secondly, I know Sara would want me to extend warm congratulations to the joint winner, Anita Bell – it’s lovely to share this recognition with you, Anita.

As for winning the Norma K Hemming Award for Devil’s Diadem, Sara’s last novel, it’s a great tribute and Sara would have been humbled by it but also, I think, grateful that the judges and this community understood what she did with the tale and, in particular, the character of Maeb.

The citation says that Maeb, the main protagonist, was “…an ordinary woman (who) lives extraordinarily, questioning and evolving her place in history, in patriarchy, and in an unfurling horror.”

This could have been written about Sara. Those of you who knew her would agree with me that she was simultaneously an ordinary and extraordinary woman. She was a trailblazer for us speculative fiction writers, a great but quiet supporter of the national and international community of writers, readers and fans, and someone who, while writing this book, suffered the unfurling horror of cancer.

What many of you won’t know is the pain, blood, sweat, and tears that Sara poured into this novel – something her original dedication noted. I was privileged to share this dreadful yet wonderful time with Sara. She loved this book with a passion – it was her escape, her salve.  Towards the end of writing and throughout the editing, when she knew unequivocally she was dying, Sara allowed her emotions, her fear, her dread, her confusion and grief to transfer into the story – into Maeb.

Yet, for all that, it’s not a bleak novel; on the contrary, it’s beautiful, otherworldly and haunting – like Sara really. Read Devil’s Diadem, and you will find Sara Warneke and Sara Douglass on every page, in every line and every word.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for the honour you have bestowed upon her, thank you for remembering her. As she walks the falloway paths, I hope we’ll all continue to do so.

That was it. But I would like to add something here:

My heartfelt thanks to Jason, the organisers of Continuum and the judges of the award – and to all of you who love her works as much as I do.

Karen x

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Somerset Celebration of Literature: A Wrap Up

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!

 

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