Perth Writers Festival 2016

Or, to use it’s official title: The weekend I tried to make Susan Midalia my Australian Auntie, Fell in Love Four Times and Out of Love Once, and Cried Five Times.

I don’t really know how to write this review. There were so many things that stood out to me about this weekend. A lot of them were in the sessions I went to, the people I saw and listened to, people who are so passionate about writing and their subjects and characters, people who are so passionate about the very act of writing and reading. It makes me incredibly proud to be part of this community in a very minor way, and it makes me proud, in a major way, that Perth can deliver these events with such professionalisum and poise. I feel, as I always do at the end of Perth Writers Festival, that something has changed within me. I’m a different person on Sunday night than who I was on Friday morning.

There were other things that stood out to me – the smaller, quieter things. The background noise of people chatting and music playing and the smell of the food trucks as I lay in a deck chair reading a newly purchased book. The grass beneath my feet when I kicked off my shoes and the late evening sun on my face. That absolute contentment of having nowhere to be but where I was, no other-work to rush off to, no emails or messages to respond to. No feelings of wasting time because I wasn’t writing, because I had written; throughout the day I was able to make notes and start to construct stories and catch ideas by the tail as they wafted past me.

Because I don’t really know how to convey both parts I’m going to write a list.

1. I want Susan Midelia to be my Australian Auntie. The very first panel I went to on Friday morning was Pointed, a session on short stories with Susan, Fiona McFarlane and Michelle Michau-Crawford. All of the authors clearly love the shorter form, and I just find Susan so inspiring. I want to sit at her kitchen table and drink tea (and probably wine) and roar with laughter. I want to show her my stories and get her feedback, and weirdly, because I think it’s weird to want this from someone I’ve never actually met, I want her to read my stories and be proud of me. Of course I was much too shy to talk to her.

2. Patrick deWitt is terrifying and intreging and a bit vague but insanely intellegant and funny. I fell instantly in love with him. He sat behind me in another session and I got sweaty palms. Which I think is what happens to normal people when they see their favourite rock star.   

3. At last year’s festival, an older man spoke at the Q&A of a session which I have now forgotten. He mentioned at the beginning of his question that his wife had been diagnosed with a particular form of Alzheimers. It stuck in my mind because although she had Alzheimers’, she was still there with him.

I saw them again, often, throughout this weekend. It seems that the year past and the disease in her brain have robbed her of her mobility and her husband, wearing shorts and socks pulled halfway up his calves, pushed her around in her wheelchair. I saw them laugh together and when they were sitting watching a panel he held her hand.

4. Listening to Etgar Keret talk at Barefaced Stories about the time he got stoned with his driver on the way to a book reading and having to climb up the stairs on all fours and then ate a whole cheesecake that someone fetched from their house made me howl with laughter. This was the first time I cried (joy), and the second time I fell in love.

5. Rosie Waterland (also at Barefaced Stories) talked about the abuse her and her sister experienced at the hand of her foster-father. This was the second time I cried.

6. In ‘This Fragile Life’, Dennis Haskell read from his book of poems written during and after his wife’s battle with cancer. As he was reading, his voice thick with emotion, I noticed a man in the row in front of me who had lain his hat on the table. It was made of straw and the black fabric around the base was stained with shadows of salted water, as if he worn it to the beach and the spray of the ocean over time had gently left it’s mark. Listening to Dennis talk about his wife, and hearing the absolute rawness of his feelings was the third and fourth time that I cried.

7. Jasper Fforde is the personification of an English Gentleman. He was with Felix J Palma in a session about mixed-up genres, where fantasy, comedy and crime all come together. Felix J Palma doesn’t speak English, so spoke through an interpretor. Towards the end of the session, Jasper realised that although we had a reading from his book, we had not had one from Felix’, so he offered to read a section which he did with such great clarity and warmth. Third time I fell in love.

8. My last session was On the Funny Side with Etgar Keret, Patrick deWitt and Helen Ellis. Helen started off the session by saying ‘butt plug’ a couple times in her wonderful soft southern accent, turns out she was offered $20 everytime she said it during the panel, I think she more or less got $100 for that hour alone. This was the fourth time I fell in love.

After all the sessions were over, I went and got some food from a truck and sat on the grassy bank over looking the tent at the centre of the festival. I sat there, watching people walk around or sitting on deck chairs and on rugs, reading or talking and laughing. I sat there thinking about the days gone passed and all the wonderful people I had seen and met and feeling full to the brim of inspiration and the very pure joy that surrounds events like this, were people are given the freedom to talk about their art and creativity and revel in it. I sat there until it started to get cold and I needed to go home, and as I left I felt the familiar tears start to prickle in my eyes.

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2 Comments

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  1. It was such an amazing weekend, and your blog does a great job giving us a glimpse into your experience of it. I wish I’d seen the old couple holding hands…

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