Tuesday, March 27, 2012


The last five days I've been at a writer's festival about an hour's flight from Sydney. They worked me like a dog and made me walk to work every day. But before you feel too sorry for me, I only had to walk three minutes across a bridge, and this was the view from my window.

It was only a small festival, with a couple of big names who never talked to the rest of us. But what struck me was the way all the writers supported each other. It's not always so. One writer told us how she was at an international poetry festival last year and asked a German writer about his German counterparts.

'Why should I tell you about them?' he asked her. 'They are my OPPONENTS!'

She was astonished.

And anyway, it's just not true. We only compete against our own shortcomings, not with each other. It's not a battle, it's a shared passion; we all love the written word, and we love creating stories or songs or poems, no matter what form or genre we write in. 

If we are 'opponents,' then here are some of mine from the weekend: Kate Forsyth, who writes brilliant fantasy historical fiction and is an especially fearsome opponent, because she carries a sword around with her. She also has a huge following in Australia and has won many awards. She has struggled with a stutter all her life - something I never knew until I read it on her website; she is a brilliant public speaker. She is also a notorious underachiever, having only published 24 books into 14 countries

Kate, this time without her sword
Here's her blog right here: KATE FORSYTH'S BLOG.

She is one of the warmest and most generous opponents I've ever had.

Then there was Andy White, an Irish poet and singer; I dare you to download 'If You Want It' and not walk around singing it all day. He travels the world with a twelve string guitar in one hand and book of his poetry in the other. Van Morrison and Sinead O'Connor have both featured on his albums. (He didn't tell me that, by the way, I had to find it out for myself.)
if you're in WA he plays Fairbridge 13-15 April

Sophie Masson is another underachiever; only fifty books so far, while also serving as President of the Australian Society of Authors. I suspect she writes in her sleep. I only ever see her at Writer's Festivals; she always greets me like I'm the next door neighbor she sees every day. This opponent writes for the huge US site, Writers Unboxed; here's her most recent post in January:  

Sophie Masson: Writer Unboxed

Sophie after finishing her first book. Not really, but couldn't have been much older ...

Or there was Mark Tredinnick, (who has the most sensational cowhide boots, I was jealous) and last year won the Montreal International Poetry Prize. Again, he never told me that. I researched it.

See his winning poem here: MONTREAL PRIZE

Mark: 'the original title was this long.'

And then there was Bronwyn Lea, one of Australia's most decorated poets. She read this at the Festival, it's some lines from one of her poems, Born Again, about her divorce from her husband:
   Instead of dying, god spoke to him.
   God forgave all his trespasses. But I
   Didn't forgive his trespasses against me.
   My heart was a long ledger.
Read CHRISTMAS DAY or CHEAP RED WINE ('In love, there is always one who suffers while the other gets bored.'). Her poems are both tender and lyrical. I'm not a poetry fan but Bronwyn, Mark, Andy and Kit Kelen converted me.

Bronwyn Lea
 So these were my 'opponents.' As you can see, I didn't stand a chance.

But whether they write fiction, like me, or poetry, or song lyrics, we all shared the same sense of wonder at the language and the spirit of invention. And so, of course, so did the most important people at the Festival - the readers. 

Thanks to the Bellingen Writers Festival (http://bellingenwritersfestival.com.au/) for hosting so many bitter opponents. We had a brilliant time and so did all those readers and writers in training. I'm sorry I missed the Paddle With A Poet though. Next year perhaps - Abseil with an Author? 

It just proved the point Kristen Lamb has made again and again - We Are Not Alone: unless we choose to see other writers as opponents, of course. 

And that would have to be a pretty sad choice, wouldn't it?

battling the traffic to get to the 2nd day of the Festival