There are many aspects of writing that I find humbling. Firstly, that someone would publish my book. Secondly, that it sells at all. Thirdly, that people enjoy it so much they want to talk to me about it. The inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival ran from 5-7 April and I was asked to speak on a memoir panel. (This photo was taken by Festival staff).
The other two writers on the panel, both wonderful, were the much awarded Marion Halligan (who you can just see on the left of the photo) and Michael Sala, who, while only having published one book, has published many short stories in a range of publications. I found Michael’s book, The Last Thread, to be compelling and so engaging that I can still recall certain scenes months after reading it, so it was a real buzz to be on a panel with him. The Last thread has also just been shortlisted for the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for New Writing and the Commonwealth Book Prize. Marion’s most recent piece of memoir appears in the anthology of Canberra titled, The Invisible Thread: One Hundred Years of Words and with the title, ‘Luminous Moments’, I think she captures everything we were trying to communicate on the panel. Memoir is all about revealing the luminous moments, or making moments luminous, or seeing the ‘luminousness’ in the every day. There were some great questions from the floor and, as the panel was held in the old exercise yard of the old Newcastle jail, the ‘floor’ was a particularly evocative one!
Afterwards I met a young woman, also called Phillipa, who spelt her name in exactly the same way as I do – a rare thing. Phillipa is in her last year of high school and was almost moved to tears to meet me – a very flattering thing to happen. She said that both she and her mum read and re-read my book. That’s the fourth humbling thing on my list. We both got teary in the sandstone alcove of the lock up. Bryan also came up to speak to me. He asked me about writing and how I remember as much as I do. Simply put, I find that once I start down the road of ‘remembering’ other memories quickly rush up ahead of me. I hope Bryan writes his memories down as he has had a fascinating and thoughtful life. He told me about his early life in the seminary and one particularly vivid memory of young men dressed in black leaping out of train windows to avoid returning for the rest of their training. It was instantly engaging and I wanted to know more. Bryan left the priesthood and married and continued on with his life but has always had questions around his desire to be a priest. I really hope he starts writing. I would love to read his book.
I also hosted a great panel on travel writing with three marvellous women: Nancy Knudsen, Hilary Linstead and Monica Trapaga. What fun! Their books, Shooting Stars and Flying Fish, Growing Old Outrageously and A Bite of the Big Apple respectively, are inspiring for all sorts of different reasons but the women had a few things in common: ‘chutzpah’, curiosity and all kinds of bravery. They were such lovely women with fabulous books.
Newcastle was nothing like I remembered from my childhood. It felt warm and relaxed as well as being old and grand. I think the point, Nobby’s Beach and the waterfront on the harbour is one of the most beautiful areas on the coast. The festival was also terrific – many thanks and congratulations to Rosemarie Milsom the director and chief organiser, and her many supporters. I am already looking forward to next year’s.