The inaugural Yarra Valley Writers Festival was broadcast online last weekend and, as Festival Director Brook Powell put it so eloquently in her opening remarks, ‘No, it’s not the same, but it is of the moment.’ While I missed not being in the beautiful Yarra Valley, mingling with readers and writers, engaging in lively conversations over local wines, I did get to listen, learn, share ideas, question and reflect. As an added bonus, I got to do this with friends.
In a real treat, a number of bloggers wrote up the sessions, including the two that I chaired. I say this is a treat because I always want to write posts after the festivals I’m part of, but try as I might, I’ve yet to master the art of simultaneously chairing and live blogging (or even tweeting).
Sue at Whispering Gums blogged the session I did with Christos Tsiolkas, The Road to Damascus. She writes, ‘I’ll start by saying it was a lovely conversation, held between two people who obviously know each other well. That’s one of the lovely things about these writers festivals – you get to see the camaraderie that exists between some writers, and discover some of the ways they support each other. In this case, it came out that Savage had read some of Tsiolkas’ drafts and had had discussed them with him. She praised him for the time he takes with his work, for the way he honours his art.’ (Read the whole post here).
The lovely thing about Sue’s response is that Christos and I had decided in advance that there was no point in pretending we didn’t know each other as well as we do and we made this part of the conversation. It turned out that this was a big part of why we were programmed together. Said Brook, ‘There is something wonderful about watching people communicate that have a genuine love for each other. I really wanted the audience to feel and experience that – whilst also being given so much in the actual literal content too. In a time where people are missing connection, some desperately, I felt it was important to share that with them wherever we could.’
There is a particular joy and ease in interviewing people whom you know well as friends as well as writers. For one thing, I think it makes it easier to forget about the technology and delve into the conversation. After interviewing Christos, in a slightly nerve-wracking jump from one Zoom room to another, I chaired a session with my crime writing mates Emma Viskic, Jock Serong and Robert Gott. In addition to talking about their work, we also talked about their 2019 US tour as ambassadors of the genre, together with another dear writer friend, Sulari Gentill. Again, Sue did a terrific write up of the session on her blog, capturing in particular Jock’s response to the question of what defines Australian crime fiction besides the setting: ‘we are bringing indigeneity into our stories, and are exploring Australian identity in terms of how far you can push the Australian character.’
Heartfelt congratulations to Brook Powell, Program Direector Hannie Rayson, and all the team behind this adventurous event. It lifted my spirits to be part of a writers festival during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.