This year, for the first time, I took a week off work just to go to Adelaide Writers’ Week. It wasn’t really a whole week off, because I could only go on the three days Finn was in childcare, but it was such a wonderful experience that it felt like far longer.
My week began on the Friday before Writers’ Week started with a forum run by the SA Writers’ Centre. Provocations and Conversations brought together visiting writers from interstate and overseas alongside some of SA’s local authors. The sessions were all really interesting and it was great to hear the perspectives and experiences of published writers as diverse as Isobelle Carmody, Emily Perkins (NZ), Sean Williams, Zsuszi Gartner (Canada), Nick Jose and Jennifer Mills, to name just a few, alongside publishers, booksellers and marketers.
I must admit I’ve rarely been attracted to many of the events put on by the Writers’ Centre in the past. The majority of workshops have been either very specific or aimed at beginners – which is fine, there hasn’t been much on offer for more advanced writers. But I’ve heard they’re really making an effort this year to expand their program for different levels and types of writers, and if this is an example of their new direction, I’m impressed. Apparently this forum will become an annual event run in conjunction with Writers’ Week. You can bet I’ll be signing up for next year’s.
The Sunday of Writers’ Week was kids’ day, so we took our 18 month old son to see Mem Fox. I bought Mem’s first book, Possum Magic, as a five year old when she visited my primary school, and I now read that same much-loved book to Finn, along with many of her other wonderful books. She’s a great reader, almost performing her books rather than just sitting in an armchair and reading them. Afterwards I used my son as a cover for my fangirl-dom and had her sign a book for him.
I returned, blissfully on my own, on Tuesday, where I caught the second half of Emily St John Mandel (Canada) discussing her books. As a writer, I love hearing authors discussing their path to publication and their writing processes, and Emily was open about all this and had the most lovely voice that I could’ve listened to her all day. Next I saw a panel on the rise of food culture, which was interesting in that a foodie and a wine writer were teamed up with Steven Poole (UK), a freelance journo who has just published a book decrying modern food fads as ‘gastro porn’. After this I saw Kevin Powers (US), author of the award-winning The Yellow Birds, an interesting session about his experience during and after his time fighting the war in Iraq, but sadly little about his actual writing. Next up was Charlotte Wood, who has published a series of diverse novels plus a book of essays on food. I enjoyed Charlotte’s down to earth nature and her openness about how her writing is influenced. I ended the day with an enormous books purchase and an indulgent glass of wine and a chat with a work colleague I met up with.
My third visit to Writers’ Week was Thursday, the final day of the festival. This time I brought my laptop and started the day with a coffee and a bit of writing. The first session was Chloe Hooper, the author of The Engagement. I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to hear her philosophy and intentions behind the story. I’d been planning to see Kerry Greenwood, author of the Phryne Fisher series, next, but at the last minute I changed my mind and went to see Chika Unigwe (Nigeria/Belgium) instead, and I’m so glad I did. Chika is a most interesting and accomplished woman. She was born in Nigeria and now lives in Belgium, writes in both English and Dutch, has a PhD in Literature and (I believe – may have misheard) holds a Senate seat in her state in Belgium. She spoke about a variety of interesting topics, including the research she did for her novel On Black Sisters Street, which tells the story of African women who traffick themselves to Europe to work as prostitutes and raise money for their families. Chika was easily the highlight of Writers’ Week for me, and I’m looking forward to reading her books.
After this, I had a break for lunch and did some more writing before seeing a panel on book reviewing with Zsuzsi Gartner, Emily St John Mandel and Geordie Williamson. This was interesting but not really my thing. I then saw Toni Jordan, an author who has moved from writing romantic comedies to a family saga set during and after World War II. I really enjoyed Toni’s openness and sense of humour, and promptly returned to the book tent afterwards to buy two of her books.
By this point, the humid weather got the better of me and I decided to call it a day…and a year. I loved every moment I spent at this year’s Writers’ Week, and can easily see why it’s described as the holy grail of writers’ festivals. I’ll be making this an annual holiday for sure.