In contrast to the Adelaide Writers Festival which I attended at the beginning of March the Newcastle Writers Festival is a smaller regional affair with predominantly home-grown authors on the dais. I was up there at the beginning of April, with Bill and I being house-guests of long-time friends, and attended events on the Saturday and Sunday. This post will be another for dedicated bibliophiles, so my feelings aren’t hurt if others bail out now 🙂
The events were grouped into topics, and I’ve decided to write about which I attended by sticking with those groupings. And rather than get into way too much detail, I’ve included links to the various speakers to let you decide for yourself if you wish to explore them.
- Crossing Over – the challenges of writing across genres (I picked this because I am switching from memoir to historical novel). . . . Jessie Blackadder writes novels for both children & adults, and is an emerging screenwriter. One novel which captured my attention is Chasing the Light, based on her research into the first women to join Antarctic expeditions. Janette Paul writes rom-com as a relief from the crime thrillers she publishes as Jaye Ford. And Jane Rawson writes non-fiction, fiction and short-stories incorporating a quirky, sometimes dystopian, style.
- The Last Taboo – writing about Mothers Who Murder . . . Nancy Cushing, Xanthe Mallet and Alistair Rolls are all lecturers at the University of Newcastle. Cushing, an historian, gave a fascinating insight into the last woman to be hanged for murder in Sydney (1889) after enduring four trials. Forensic criminologist, Mallet, is campaigning for a retrial of Kathleen Folbigg, one of several women who are the subject of her book. Alistair Rolls, I sensed, was there to support his colleagues and provide comic relief with his enthusiasm for Agatha Christie and her murderers.
- Outside the Square – is experimentation in Australian literature dead? . . . Julie Koh, Ryan O’Neill, and Jane Rawson (again). This was a delightful off-the -wall presentation. The book that “caught” me this time was O’Neill’s Their Brilliant Careers which is a sham because none of the characters he covers ever existed. It’s also a bit naughty of a Scottish-born writer to nick his title from Miles Franklins’ My Brilliant Career. Just as well Aussies are good at taking the mickey. Oh, and I may have forgotten to mention that Rawson’s latest book, From the Wreck which tells the true story of an 1859 shipwreck survivor, also includes a shape-shifting alien octopus from a future dimension.
- Making it Up – What is fiction for? . . . another outing for Ryan O’Neill, this time joined by Lia Hills and former lawyer Jock Serong. Hills uses her book, The Crying Place, to take us into the world of a remote aboriginal community, while Serong weaves his love of surfing into a story of asylum seekers in his book On the Java Ridge.
- The Corridor of Truth: what fiction adds to history. This was a presentation by Irish author Evelyn Conlon, discussing her novel Not the Same Sky which is closely based on the true history of the 4114 Irish “girls” who were sent from workhouses to Australia between 1848 and 1850 under Earl Grey’s Famine Orphan Scheme. I read this book a few years back and it is kept in my “research box”.
- Revolutionary Women – Caroline Chisholm, Elizabeth Macquarie and Queen Victoria. Julia Baird, author of a biography on Queen Victoria, was unable to attend as scheduled. I have already written of Sarah Goldman’s biography of Caroline Chisholm in Day 6 of my Adelaide Writers’ Festival post. New to me was Luke Slattery’s novel Mrs.M. Inevitably her husband, Major General Lachlan Macquarie, who served as Governor of the penal colony of New South Wales from 1810 until 1821, managed to wriggle into the discussion – but Mrs M was a force in her own right. When she first arrived, the First Fleet had only landed a bit over twenty years before. Together with her husband, Elizabeth Macquarie transformed the young colony into a thriving settler colony, although not all appreciated their efforts at the time. It was fascinating to hear more about her.
Just a small selection of the many sessions on offer over that busy weekend.
A credit to the hard-working organisers.