The Gloucester Writers Festival is taking place from May 4 – 6. Festival Director, Lindy Dupree, tells us about the intimate festival for readers and writers.
Could you tell us about your background and how you initially developed a passion and love of books?
I have always been an avid reader since childhood. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t reading. My parents encouraged me from a very young age to enter the magical world of books. Books became close friends and have seen me through some tough times, helped me to relax and encouraged me to think and ponder the world. As a mother, I am only too aware that young people are to have their imagination encouraged and nurtured.
Tell us about how the Gloucester Writers Festival come to be?
I opened the Gloucester Bookshop four years ago, and it became very apparent that despite a wealth of writers in the Hunter Valley and Mid North Coast, there was no Writers Festival for them to expose their work and for our readers to hear the story behind their stories.
As an avid reader, I have always found it fascinating hearing writers share the stories behind their stories. I really wanted to act as a community catalyst to bring together, stimulate, encourage and support all writers and readers. I want us to be able to present the world of literature as a place of social and cultural dialogue – and fun! I also wanted to create a smaller country festival that would provide a perfect base for emerging writers to engage with award winning guest writers and to learn some of the secrets of their success.
One of our objectives is to advance literacy by introducing youngsters to the wonder of books, and there will be workshops for high school students on writing a short story; every picture tells a story (about the graphic novel and creating caricatures), poetry and creative writing.
As part of our schools program, we are running a short story (500 words) competition, featuring the word/theme ‘edge’. This is open to all high schools in the Mid North Coast and Hunter. The winning entry will be announced and a presentation made on Saturday 5 May, during the Gloucester Writers Festival. The winner will attend a Master Class with a writer of their choosing, based in Sydney or Newcastle.
How does the festival work in terms of attending guest writer talks and panel sessions?
It’s a bit different this year. The venue is Gloucester High School, and we have arranged for a courtesy bus to operate between the town centre and the school during the entire festival.
This year we decided to hold the workshops on a separate day from the panel sessions, so that attendees could attend both. On Friday it is a whole day of workshops – spaces are limited, so if anyone wants to participate, we recommend booking prior to the day.
Saturday and Sunday there are panel sessions which will address a number of genres. These include historical fiction, young people’s fiction, creating alternative worlds (including fantasy and science fiction), travel writing, what makes fiction so popular, chicklit (which does not mean dumblit), poetry (who reads it), what kind of books are selling today, and aspiring writers get the chance to make a real pitch to real publishers.
The panel discussions are followed by questions from the audience, inviting free interaction between thinkers and artists, writers and audience.
We have book launches on both Saturday and Sunday at lunch time, which is very exciting. Saturday a local writers group, ‘River Writers’, will launch their first publication Eavesdroppin, which is a compilation of short stories and poetry. On Sunday our keynote speaker, Susanne Gervay, who is opening the festival, will launch Alien Shores: Tales of refugees and asylum seekers from Australia and the Indian subcontinent. This is a book ahead of its time; it has stories about refugees and asylum seekers from Linda Jaivin, Arnold Zable, Amitav Ghosh, Sophie Masson, Jamil Ahmad, Ali Alizadeh, Sujata Sankranti, Abdul Karim Hekmat, Anu Kumar, Susanne Gervay, Deepa Agarwal, Michelle Cahill, Tabish Khair, Joginder Paul, Andrew Y M Kwong, Bijoya Sawian, JuliaMackay-Koelen, Sharon Rundle and Meenakshi Bharat.
An emerging writer, Anna Campbell, will talk on Sunday about the ups and downs to get her book ‘off the computer and onto the shelves’.
The full program and details of the guest writers is on our website:
www.gloucesterwritersfestival.com where bookings can be made securely on line. Day and weekend passes will also be available at the door from 8.30am each day.
Will people be able to engage in debate and/or meaningful discussion with the writers attending the festival?
Our audience will have the chance to ask questions at the end of each session, have books signed by our authors in the Festival Bookstore, as well as chatting with our writers at the Welcome Barbecue on Friday 4 May and our Festival Dinner (with guest speaker Jesse Blackadder) on Saturday 5 May. Bookings are essential for these social events.
What are some of the programs taking place in which people can participate in?
People can participate in the Friday Workshops, which include a Master Class on Fiction Essentials (with Dr Kathryn Heyman), the Art of the Poem (a three-hour workshop for poets with Judy Johnson) and Getting Published (a three-hour practical seminar for fiction and non fiction writers with Irina Dunn).
As I’ve said, people can participate at the end of all the panel sessions.
On Saturday after the last panel session, we again have the ‘Poet’s Sprint’, which is free for festival attendees and $5 for others. For anyone wanting feedback on the progress of their ‘work in progress’, the Sunday afternoon pitching session with a panel of publishers will be invaluable. Details are on our website for anyone who wants to register to ‘make a pitch’
Speaking of writers, which writers can people expect to rub shoulders with at the festival?
Once again a great line up of award winning writers: our keynote speaker, Susanne Gervay AOM, the NSW Ambassador for the Year of Reading in 2012; Jesse Blackadder, winner of the Australian Antarctic Arts Fellowship Award for 2011/12; chicklit writers Lisa Heidke and Lisa Walker; award winning poets Judy Johnson and Robert Adamson. Historical writers Justin Sheedy, Carol Baxter and Isolde Martyn; children’s authors Stephen Measday and Aleesah Darlison. Wildlife photographer Jann Latta; and some great fantasy writers, Kim Falconer, Michael Pryor, Claire Corbett and Meg Mundell. Publishing is represented by Michael Wilding of Australian Scholarly Publishing and e- publisher Jacob Coates of Jaffa Books.
The Gloucester Writers Festival is billed as an ‘intimate festival’ in which people can expect ‘small town informality and hospitality’. Tell us about this …
Many Writers Festivals are held in major cities at very large impersonal venues. Comments we received from participants last year said they loved coming to a Writers Festival that is so personal and not so self promoting as larger festivals. While we do want our Gloucester Writers Festival to grow, we do not want to take away the informal and relaxed atmosphere.
Gloucester is a warm and welcoming town; it is set in a beautiful natural environment and its scenic beauty create a wonderful frame for our guests and participants to meet, discuss, debate and relax and enjoy this literary festival.
Why is this a festival for everyone (and not just for poets and creative writing types)?
Writers and books – they are intertwined. Readers get the chance to meet writers they would not have otherwise had the chance to, hear why they wrote their stories, as well as be introduced to new writers and ideas. We know that both readers and writers will find something of interest and be stimulated and entertained with the talented line of speakers and guest writers at this year’s festival.
Interview by Karen Farrell.
This story was published in issue 63 of Manning Great Lakes Focus