I returned home around midnight on Sunday after spending four wonderful days at the Mildura Writers Festival. I should clarify that while I’ve returned physically to Perth, my mind, and heart, are still in Mildura. The festival was one of the most special weekends of my life and it will be some time before I come back down to earth.
Signing the Mildura Writers Festival autograph book
The Mildura Writers Festival is a festival like no other.
People book for the whole weekend and, as there are no competing sessions, everyone attends the same discussions. You share meals together—writers, readers, committee members, everyone, sits down at the table. Conversations that began in the sessions continue over lunch and dinner and long into the night and, basically, you only part to sleep. At the festival opening, it’s as if you’re ushered into a literary sanctuary from which you don’t emerge for three-and-a-half days. Surrounded by words and food and friendship, you almost forget the rest of the world exists, and when you eventually come out, you’re renewed, transformed even.
Opening address by Robyn Davidson
There were so many highlights that I can’t list them all, but here are a few of my personal favourites:
1. I shared a session with Marie Munkara, an indigenous writer from Arnhem Land. She was so warm and humorous, and a delight to share the stage with. I’ve also never seen an author crack themselves up while reading their own work aloud at a festival. (Tess Woods and I only do that in private!)
(L to R) Louise, Diane, Marie
2. I shared a session with Sian Prior. Her beautiful book, ‘Shy’, touched me four years ago when I first read it (I reviewed it here), so it was really special to meet her and discuss her book both on and off the stage.
3. I met David Malouf—need I say anymore! To hear his words of wisdom would have been enough, but to share a weekend and converse with him was something I’ll treasure forever.
I’d worship him for this statement alone:
‘The most difficult thing to do is write a second novel.’
As a writer struggling to pen her second novel, it helps to know David Malouf found it hard, too.
4. I discovered Cate Kennedy is one of the wisest authors ever, and one of the kindest, most encouraging and supportive, too.
Before I go any further, I’ll just say that publishing a book isn’t only champagne and bubbles; it has its downbeat moments, too. Like when someone gives your novel the thumbs down or doesn’t review your book at all. Or when you’re ignored for a literary event. Or when another author’s book garners a lot more attention.
Since my novel came out, I’ve had to give myself a serious talking to on a number of occasions. I’ve told myself to put my blinkers on and just worry about me, not what other people think or how other authors and their books are doing. I’ve stepped away from Goodreads and stopped checking my Amazon ranking.
I’ve reminded myself that I did the best I could with my book, and that’s all anyone can ask. I’ve remembered how proud of it I am—I think it’s pretty good for a first effort! I’ve tried to hammer home that I need to keep doing my thing, my way, because ultimately the only person I have to please is me, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
And I’ve kept reminding myself of why I do this: it’s for the writing and only for the writing. Because I love crafting a beautiful sentence. Because I enjoy creating something from nothing. Because I love my fictional worlds and characters. Because I’m happiest when I’m writing. That’s what it’s about, not reviews or rankings or any of the hype around publication.
You’ve no idea how often I’ve had to tell myself these phrases, over and over and over. When I embarked upon writing a second novel, apart from doubting I even had another story in me, I wondered if I was tough enough to undergo the craziness of publication again.
People say prizes don’t count, but they do. Well, this one did to me. I didn’t write my book in the hope of winning something—not even in my wildest imagination—but it’s nice to know that someone, and a New York professor of English at that, liked my book.
It also says I might have written something worthwhile and perhaps my crazy mid-life career change wasn’t so silly after all.
Most importantly, it’s encouraged me to commit to my art, to learn more, practise harder and become the best writer I can be.
After spending four days with these intelligent, accomplished writers, I realise I’m just out of the starting blocks and I’ve much to learn. But being surrounded by literary minds, I’ve resolved to do that: to work harder, to give myself completely and utterly when I’m writing, and to try to create an even better book next time and every time after that, so that all of my future books will be better than the last.
This festival and the award were exactly what I needed—to be reminded of why I write and how much I love it.
I’m already feeling ripple effects from the past four days and my zest for writing is returning. I have so many ideas bouncing around inside my head, enough to keep me writing for the next ten years at least. And I’m making a commitment to becoming the best writer I can be. To improving and giving my all to everything I create.
While I was at the festival, I was also reminded of the personal blogging I used to do, which I’ve largely stopped because it took me away from writing my novel. But I miss it, and I think it actually helps me write a novel—it’s where I process my thoughts. So, I’m going to return to blogging again. (I can’t promise anything, but I’ll try!)
Before I go, I’ll mention one more thing about the Mildura Writers Festival—the food! It was amazing! All meals (except for a special dinner by Tony Tan) were prepared by Stefano de Pieri and his wonderful team of chefs. It’s worth attending the Mildura Writers Festival for the food alone, but a word of caution: fast beforehand or, like me, your girth will be a little wider when you return.