On Friday afternoon I jumped on a plane with the baby while my husband headed off in the car with the two girls. Destination Geraldton. I made it in an hour, my husband took six. This is the first perk of being a writer – you get to fly.
First stop was the opening ceremony where I met my partners in words for the weekend, young adult writers like AJ Betts, novelists like Andrea Goldsmith, Must Wine bar chef-turned-author Russell Blaikie and many others.
Then it was off to dinner. I can’t remember the last time I went out to dinner. With grownups. Grownups who like to talk about writing. Oh the bliss. It was only the first night of the festival and I was already hooked.
On Saturday morning a tentful of kids and I recited Edward the Emu together and I decided that if I ever tired of writing for adults, then I’d try my hand at writing for kids. Kids laugh at your jokes. They read along with you. They share their stories. They shout and stamp and make funny faces. You know if they like you. They were the kind of audience that would be a hard act to follow for my next event – the launch of What is Left Over, After.
Six-time novelist Andrea Goldsmith had agreed to launch my book. All I could think as she took to the stage was: a person who has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award has read my book. She is about to tell people whether they should buy it or not. Help!
She stepped up to the microphone with a very grave face. Her first words were, It’s always a risk to agree to launch a book written by someone you’ve never heard of. Things weren’t looking good. I could feel the crowd tensing. Everyone was thinking the same thing, that she didn’t like the book.
But then she picked up What is Left Over, After. She read the opening paragraph. She smiled. She said she was hooked. That she couldn’t put it down. Now everyone was smiling. I was too.
Then it was my turn to speak, to read, to thank everyone. I sat at a table in front of a pile of my books. And people came to buy them. They wanted me to sign them. Luckily I’d practised this bit, just on the off chance. The pile grew smaller. Even the other writers bought copies. The guys did too, despite the bright pink splashed all over the cover. I signed books for half an hour. I was late for my next session. Did I care? No. I finally felt like a writer.
That afternoon AJ Betts and I talked about the long and winding road to getting published. And then it was off to dinner. This time, a four course meal prepared by Russell Blaikie, with wines matched to every course. When I walked in, I was handed a glass of French champagne. I wanted to stay in Geraldton forever.
On Sunday, I had a panel session with writers far more famous and well-known than me, chaired by Paul Murray, discussing ‘topical issues.’ What if they talk about politics, I asked my husband before I ran out the door. We did talk about politics. But we talked about politics as it relates to us. And I knew I couldn’t talk convincingly about things like emissions trading schemes. So I didn’t. I talked about what I knew. Reading to kids. Firing up their imaginations. Turning this generation from, according to recent research, the least imaginative into the most imaginative. And I think I did okay.
So what’s a writers’ festival really like? It’s a place where you get to talk to readers. Lots of them. It’s a place where you get to talk to people who love books. Lots of them. It’s a place where I finally began to feel like a writer. A writer with a book that people might not just buy, but they might also curl up with it and a cup of tea and read it. Perhaps even enjoy it. I hope.