In Writing + illustration

2017 Newcastle Writers Festival – Everyone has a story

The Newcastle Writers Festival is over for another year. I knew it was going to be inspiring, I just didn’t realise the inspiration would be on and off the stage.

This year I was one of the 150+ volunteers helping at the event. We were easy to spot decked out in our black and yellow t-shirts. We were ushers, crowd-controllers, information transmitters, speaker assistants, coffee makers, post-it-note scribes, runners, bottled water deliverers, ‘get speakers to a taxi so they make it to the airport in time’-ers, and whatever else was needed! It was a busy weekend, but very rewarding.

It’s easy to see why festivals like this are so important. Watching the children in the Family Fun Day marquee in Wheelers Place, captivated by the guest authors and illustrators was wonderful to see. I don’t remember anything like this as a child. The speakers out the front weren’t just names on a book cover – they were real people just like me. People with a story to tell. I wonder how many budding writers were born in the marquee on Saturday, inspired by the words of Jackie French, Richard Roxburgh, Nick Earls and more!

I was really inspired by the generosity and openness of the speakers in sharing their stories, the intelligent debate and the broad spectrum of topics discussed over the three days. Current affairs, women’s rights, history, politics, death, art, memoir and the secret life of bees! Many people in the crowd carried programs covered in scribbled notes. Their only concern? What to see next!

It was heartening to see the diversity of ages in the audience, and that cost was no barrier to experiencing the event with over 2/3 of the sessions free. Speaking to audience members between sessions, this open access did not go unnoticed and was greatly appreciated.

I thought all the inspiration would come from the speakers, but it was everywhere. In the spontaneous conversations in the meeting room with the other volunteers, watching the hard-working event organisers and the tireless Macleans bookstore staff in action.

I love hearing people’s stories and feel privileged when people share them so openly. We could be complete strangers one minute and suddenly I know a little about what brings them joy or makes them angry, where they grew up, where they’ve travelled or where they hope to travel one day, what they’re reading or currently binge-watching on Netflix …

Humans are story-tellers by nature. Everyone has a story to tell and people are so interesting. ‘Why did you volunteer for this event?’ was a popular conversation starter.

After some introduction, a volunteer I had the absolute pleasure of sharing an information desk with, wanted to know what my picture books were about. She suggested I pretend she was a publisher and practice my ‘pitch’ on her. The first words that came out of my mouth were:

‘Well, basically, it’s just…’

I never got to tell her the rest because she stopped me there and we had a good laugh. We laughed a lot. So much so that another volunteer kindly reminded us that we were in a very echoey foyer and our voices might be heard in the nearby sessions. Woops! She went on to give me some great advice from her perspective as a soon-to-be-published author. I now realise ‘winging it’ is not a plan. Well not a GOOD plan anyway. She reminded me to think clearly about why I wrote the book and how I could articulate that. It’s a conversation I never would have had if I didn’t put my hand up to be part of this exciting event.

Thanks Newcastle Writer’s Festival for providing an inspiring weekend for readers, writers and dreamers in our ever evolving city. I can’t wait to hear more stories and see what the organiser’s have in store for 2018. I just hope they have a well-earned rest first.

You might like to think about volunteering next year too. I promise not to practice my pitch on you – unless you ask!

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