Books and Reading

Perth Writers’ Festival 2014

IMG_0607If you’ve caught sight of my Goodreads to-read list at any time over the past few days (I know, it’s my go-to internet reading material too), you may have noticed a small flurry of new and unusual titles have appeared there over the course of a seemingly regular weekend. The books I’ve added recently might not be the sort of thing you’d expect there; they’re quite a departure from the slew of classical novels, philosophy how-to guides, and academic texts generally selected to make me seem clever and well-read in company. The authors of these newly discovered books don’t seem to have all that much in common. Their interests range from the history of maps and map-making (yes, there’s a book on that) to Australian Aboriginal myth and storytelling.

But there is, in fact, a linking factor; apart from the fact that all the authors I’ve discovered over the past weekend are interesting, well-spoken, and intelligent individuals, they were also all guests at the 2014 Perth Writers’ Festival (cue balloon drop and party poppers).

Yes, that’s right, the little city of Perth, Middle-of-Nowhere Australia* has its very own Writers’ Festival. It’s a big, three-day event on the grass of one of Perth’s oldest universities (and yes, we do have more than one). Every year, thousands hundreds dozens of people converge on the (slightly parched) grass of one of our most respectable institutions; most of them spectacle-wearing, tote-carrying English majors (of which I am proud to say I am one), and elderly people with books tucked under their arms and big, floppy hats on their heads. The day is theirs to enjoy. There is an almost non-stop program of talks, presentations and workshops. The only difficult thing is figuring out which one to go to. In one of the nearby halls, there is a temporary bookshop, because making a little money off a cultural event is always in the best interests of everybody and even authors need to eat.

Now, if you haven’t already begun packing your bags and calling your travel agent to book your flight to Perth, you may be wondering how I have managed to enjoy this festival for years on end without sharing my absolute joy in it. This is because, dear readers – and prepare yourselves for a shock – I have only been attending the festival for two years. Yes, that’s right. Despite my long-time identification with reading and all things book-related, I never attended the Perth Writers’ Festival until 2013; and even then I only went to two events. The reason behind this is that I only discovered the festival last year, when it was halfway done already.

My rumpled program. I’d let you see inside, but you can’t really see the text; it’s mostly just black pen markings.

But do not despair! This year, prepared for everything, I did my planning early. Almost as soon as I arrived home from Europe the other week I picked up a brochure for the festival and decided which events I would be attending. The result was one heavily scribbled-on program and one overly-excited booklover. Thanks to my early planning, the weekend turned into quite a success. So here are just a few of the interesting events I attended:

  • A discussion between Rabih Alameddine and Dame Margaret Drabble (no, I’m not lying) on literary allusion in their work
  • An exploration of adventure travel-writing with three Australian traveller/writers
  • Australian author Alexis Wright and WA author Julienne van Loon talking about the way they use myth in their latest novels
  • A panel trying to answer the question: is letter-writing dead? (Apparently not; at the end of the session quite a few people whooped and cheered, which made me feel a little like I was at a rock concert. As you can probably tell, I haven’t been to many rock concerts)
  • Jo Baker talking about writing a ‘subquel’ to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which I think I’ll have to talk about when I write my review of her novel. Yes, I finally lifted my in-house ban on books based on Jane Austen, thanks to the Perth Writers’ Festival)
  • An interview with Simon Garfield and Rick Gekoski about collectors and dealers, both in the cut-throat rare book world, and in the gritting stamp-collecting business (okay, nobody actually used the word ‘cut-throat’ or ‘gritty’. It was an intelligent and amusing look at the significance of collecting, but I couldn’t resist)

I don’t think I was disappointed by a single thing I saw this year. Some things didn’t turn out as I expected, or didn’t do what they said they would on the packet (though thankfully in this case my foot didn’t turn green and threaten to fall off), but if they didn’t end up discussing what they’d originally planned to, the conversation always ended up going in a new and interesting direction. Which means that I’m now much better-informed, anxious to be better-read, and wondering what a book nerd is supposed to do for the next twelve months in a place like Where-On-Earth Perth**.

*I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to the good people of Perth for the merciless fun I have at its behalf. I am a disgrace to the citizenry of the good town city of Perth. I should be locked away for good. Perhaps in Perth’s historic Fremantle Prison, which, apart from boasting lovely views across the ocean, is a very good weekend trip for the whole family.

Please don’t chase me out of town now. At least not until I’ve completed my final year of university.

**I couldn’t help it. The rhyme was irresistible.


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