2014 Perth Writers Festival

The University of Western Australia
The University of Western Australia

Searing sunshine. Beautiful buildings and gardens at the University of Western Australia. The Swan River. Pop-up shelters on green-grassed ovals. Bunting. The smell of Moreton Bay figs crushed underfoot. Smiling faces. Encounters with old friends. Congenial conversations with strangers. A buzz,  excitement,  movement. Packed performance theatres, lecture theatres, tents, Winthrop Hall. Local writers centres seeking new members. Children, craft and ice-creams on Family Day. Writers, would-be writers and readers mingling.

Sensory overload.

Sun shelters in UWA gardens
Sun shelters in UWA gardens

The four-day festival included a day-long seminar on publishing; sixteen three-hour workshops with experienced writers and one hundred other events, as well as a day-long program of activities especially for children on Sunday. Almost one hundred and eighty novelists, memoirists, biographers, journalists, travel writers, comedians-and-actors-turned writers, poets, academics, retired politicians, several lawyers and a Catholic priest  stimulated, enlightened and entertained their audiences in a number of venues.

Crowd outside Romeo Tent
Crowd outside Romeo Tent

There were international speakers, among them Margaret Drabble, Jo Baker, Lionel Shriver and Simon Garfield; a strong contingent from other parts of Australia as well as numerous locals. Experienced and emerging writers spoke about their latest books and discussed their writing processes. There was something at this festival for everyone.

With so much to choose from, John and I missed things we might have otherwise attended. But we did the best we could with the program published a month earlier, and ticked and crossed those sessions we thought would best suit our temperaments and our interests.  In spite of our plans, we often changed tack and went to different sessions which we mixed and matched according to whim, and often to our great delight.

I’ve been going to the Perth Writers Festivals for decades. One that I remember with great fondness was held at the Fremantle Arts Centre, a tiny venue by today’s standards. That year, a dear friend and I booked into bed and breakfast accommodation within walking distance from the Centre, because we didn’t want to miss anything. We went to everything on offer, including a bus tour of Fremantle.

The festival has moved on since those early days. At at various times it has been held at the Perth Concert Hall and the Perth Art Gallery. Each place offered something unique, but UWA provides a delightful setting with a central hub and nearby venues. After speaking at Writers Festivals in Melbourne and Sydney, I’m convinced Perth’s festival is best. Biased? Perhaps.

Novelists Hannah Kent and Jo Baker with Chair Rachel Robertson in a discussion
Novelists Hannah Kent and Jo Baker with Chair Rachel Robertson in a discussion

There were many highlights, of course. and other people might choose differently. But some of my stand-outs were the wise Dame Margaret Drabble, author of seventeen wonderful novels; the fresh new writer, Xavier Toby, who had doubled as a comedian the week before in the Perth Fringe Festival;  Angela Meyer, whose careful research and bubbly persona made the sessions she chaired a special delight; and a thought-provoking session about the current political language being used in Australia to talk about asylum seekers. Speakers in this conversation were Thomas Keneally and  Rosie Scott, who have edited A Country Too Far, a book of asylum-seeker stories contributed by eminent writers; Debra Adelaide; and ‘reformed’ asylum-seekers, last year’s Young Australian of the Year, Akram Azimi, and Carina Hoang.

Last week, I wondered if perhaps I was too old now for writers festivals. Tonight, I know I am! I won’t need rocking to sleep. But I have so much new information to think about, so much to process, so many new ideas to share, that I’m glad I’ve attended another festival. And I look forward to doing it all again next year.

14 replies on “2014 Perth Writers Festival”

  1. Fantastic summary, Maureen — I’ve shared it on my FB page. Each year, I pore over the programme, buy tickets and plan to attend many events, but it never works out. My family is not quite old enough — not yet. Maybe I need to do what you did in Fremantle, and move out of home for the weekend!

    1. Thanks for your comment and for sharing on FB, Louise. I looked for you at the festival, sure you’d be there at some stage over the weekend. That weekend in Fremantle with Marcia was one of the best breaks I had in those days. Next year!

  2. Oh my dear Sister! You have so much energy, so vibrant in your writing! You are a truly amazing person. I missed your blog last week. Glad you’re back in track. Love you dearly x

    1. And I love you dearly, too! But you’re the one with the energy – running a bed and breakfast, caring for grandchildren the way you do, travelling so far so often to visit family, involved in so many things in your town…I’d love you to come to a few things at the Writers Festival next year. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

    1. Indeed I am lucky, Rosemary. I saw Maureen Cherry at the festival, and we talked about how you would have loved it.

  3. What a great summary, Rosemary. It truly is a sensory overload. I actually DID need rocking to sleep – not because I wasn’t tired – I was exhausted – but I was so stimulated I just couldn’t get my brain to switch off. I’m with you on your highlights – Margaret Drabble was a delight and I’ve been lucky enough to be chaired by Angela Meyer and think she’s brilliant. The session on asylum seekers was deeply moving and very thought-provoking too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog, Annabel, and for your kind comments. I hope you have found enough time to relax so you can process the weekend and get back to your writing soon.

    1. Angela, you make your ‘work’ look like the best fun. It was wonderful for me, a member of the audience, to see your guests sparkle in your sessions. Thank you.

  4. And it was lovely to catch up with you, ever so briefly, at the Festival, dear Maureen. It really was a great day – Bev and I loved the session with the delightful Jo Baker, and Longbourn will be my choice for BookClub, then we were really lucky – a very nice woman gave us tickets to Thomas Kenneally, and what a gift that was! We followed this up with Richard Flanagan (I think I’m in love!) which was just so good. Bev went on to enjoy Saturday and Sunday, and I’m looking forward to hearing all about it when next we all meet. Thank you for your lovely description of the Festival.

    1. Coral, Good to hear from you. Now you know what I’ve felt like all these years at the festivals where Alex Miller has been! See you at the book club. Like your choice of book. I really liked Jo Baker, too.

  5. Great summary and really enjoyed reading about the history of the festival. Wonderful to catch up at the festival and I am so pleased you are blogging. Glennys

    1. Thanks for your comments, Glennys. I’m loving blogging and hope to become more proficient at it.

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