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Writers Unleashed Festival 2013

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect day, cold and rainy, to go to a writers festival. And yesterday delivered in both content and weather. The drive over was somewhat lonely, I still haven't fixed the cd player in my Renault and because it was raining I kept the windows closed therefore chatting with passengers in other cars was out of the question, and apparently a little weird, in any case.

When I arrived at my destination, I had a quick change of shoes (thankfully, I always keep a spare pair in the car) because the heel came of the one's I was wearing - what are the chances of that happening? Apparently pretty good!

I signed in and was immediately tagged with a blue paper bracelet. This needed adjusting to my skinny wrists (the only skinny thing about me at the moment) or it would slide off so I applied my MacGuyver skills, which was a simple manouver of folding it over and sticking it down. Problem averted, I begin walking aimlessly searching for signage telling me where to go next when I hear the sweet sound of my name being called and woohoo!, there was my writer's group sitting down.

The first session I planned to attend was cancelled so I went to the Susanne Gervay talk on

'Stories That Matter.' Susanne is a lovely lady and talented writer, though she may be somewhat obsessed in talking about her family's escape from Hunagry and her divorce from hubbie. Please don't misunderstand me, they are interesting stories that also resonated with me because my own family escaped communism, but we only had an hour and I think she could have spent more time discussing the difficulties and hurdles one faces when writing stories that are often considered taboo or too difficult to broach. Susanne wrote a wonderful picture book called Gracie and Josh (Ford St Publishing) about two siblings, one that has a terminal illness, and how they cope with it. It is a courageous and noble piece of work, and not her only one, of course.

Then teatime! I drink coffee ...... and enjoy a bluberry muffin.

Next up was a masterclass with Libby Gleeson. I must admit she (as well as Paul Collins) was the draw card for me to attend the festival. Two minutes in and we were away and writing, honning our picture books and figuring out what the crux of our story is. Next Libby read us her latest book Banjo and Red Ruby. Of course, I sat in the front row, a decision I regretted because midway I had to pretend there was something caught in my eye but the truth is I was ready to bawl my eyes out. The story is heartwarming and as is Libby's way, perfectly written.

Next up was Emma Quay whose brillant illustrations proved to me that any hope I had of illustrating my own books is surely in vain. I'm sure Emma was intriguing and offered wonderful advice but I was too distracted by my meeting with Paul Collins, which was up next, to listen intently.

I dashed to the toilet, nothing worse than being in a meeting discussing one's work whilst trying not to pee your pants. Paul ran over time with the dude before me and I tried to be like 'that's totally okay' when they came out and apologised but secretly I wanted to stab the dude in the throat.

So....... the publisher's thoughts. Well, Paul found my ideas and concepts to be strong and entertaining. Positive. And that was it for positive. But that is half the battle, the next bit concentrated on how I told the stories. Work needs to be done. This isn't news to me, I actually deduced that myself. I think as a writer you secretly know when your work is up to scratch and ready for publication - if you are prepared to be honest with yourself, that is. The rest of the session was spent giving advice about the industry and sharing stories. All in all, I found Paul to be utterly personable and interesting and, for any writers out there, completely approachable.

Lunch time! I was late because Paul owed me ten minutes and I missed out on the wraps and was left with triangle sandwiches. What is it about sandwiches that caterers can't get right? These were the most unappealing sandwhiches ever!

  1. Ham, tomato and sweet mustard pickles. What? Why? Ugh! Yes I ate one, had no choice, I was hungry!

  2. Deli turkey and cranberry sauce. Again, what? That's it? And, yes I ate that too. I said I was bloody hungry.

  3. Chicken, mayo i.e. that's it, just chicken in mayo. No lettuce. No tomato. Just chicken in mayo. That wasn't too bad actually but I took the last one so I couldn't go back for more.

  4. I think there may have been a salad sandwich as well. I'm not too sure cause by the time I got there I was left with crap.

So.... I grab another muffin - apple cinnamon.

Next up: the editors panel that included Paul Collins (Ford St Publishing), Zoe Walton (Random House) and Heather Curdie (Penguin). Each gave insight into what they were looking for and all expressed interest in accepting unsolicited manuscripts, however before you get your hopes up, roughly only one per year get through to publication this way. Basically you gotta have a damn great story to get noticed and enter through this doorway.

Tea time again! Seriously, there's only so much tea/coffee a woman can have - meaning: there's only so many times I want to go to the toilet! And NO! I didn't have another muffin.

Finally, and what a great talk to end on, James Roy. This man is funny, funny, funny (I might even have been a little turned on). He also read the first chapter of his YA novel Town and boy, not only can this man tap into the minds of teenagers but he does so that even adults are intrigued. No surprise, I felt inspired, wanting to sit down and try my hand at a YA novel too. I recommend getting any of his books and reading them, you will not regret it.

Finally with all talks over I enjoyed a well deserved glass of Pinot Grigio, a chat with my fellow writers and drove home.

By day's end I was pooped but my mind was still firing away with all the information and advice of the day. It was indeed a truly fruitful and worthwhile day.

Next year...... get your tickets and join in, you'll LOVE it!

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