Wollongong Writers Festival Wrap-up

One of the important things about being a writer, is not just churning out the words, re-writes and edits in your dark writer’s cave, but also connecting with other writers and story-tellers to connect with your people, your community. Local writers festivals are a great way to do this and a few weeks back I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Wollongong Writers Festival!

So what did I get up to (beside being a volunteer)? I kicked off my Saturday with a speculative fiction workshop with local horror and urban fantasy author, Alan Baxter.

alan baxter
Author, Alan Baxter, photo credit: Author website

No matter how many workshops I attend I always learn something new, and this time was no exception. I loved Alan’s neat definitions of speculative fiction as fiction that speculates in a way that stretches the reality of our world, stretches using science is science fiction and stretches involving the fantastical, is fantasy with horror able to genre hop in the same way comic fiction does. He also gave us timely reminders about ignoring genre and market and telling the story you want to tell.

I sometimes struggle with narrative drive so found Alan’s tips to check in on pacing, immersion, investment, empathy and tension super helpful, with good pacing leading to tension and tension created through one or more of immersion, investment and empathy. I will definitely be getting future beta readers to tell me when they get bored by my story, when they stop caring about characters and their struggles and if they have empathy for those in the story.

Quote of the workshop to leave you with: Reading equals staring at paper and hallucinating.

Thanks Alan! What an awesome image!!!

I then attended a session on how writers ‘feed themselves’ (because it doesn’t come from the money we make on our art!). It was great to hear about the importance of supportive communities and ways collaboration can lead to better outcomes for more writers. Being a nice, interested person and supporting other people’s work in a genuine way is so key to making sure the literary scene stays vibrant, but also helps you in the long run.

panel talk
Photo credit: Codie Croasdale

Saturday afternoon, I caught up with some fellow Hard Copy alumni and we mooched around a rooftop bar drinking cocktails and mocktails and talking about our various wips.

Sunday was kicked off in the great outdoors behind the Wollongong Art Gallery in the Arts Precinct, with some slam poetry, live music and Hidden Harvest to feed us a brunch of re-purposed bread and jam made from unused fruit. This was such a chill way to spend the morning and left me in a great head space to attend more panels!

hidden harvest
Hidden Harvest all set to get brunch started, photo credit: Wollongong Writers Festival Facebook Page

I started off with a super interesting panel on romance and consent. The all-female panel discussed whether society distrusts romance fiction because it’s overwhelmingly written by women in Australia (95% in fact) and therefore often deals with women as subjects rather than objects and the liberating and challenging way we can write romance when we start with the two golden rules of 1. Make sure characters seek active informed consent at all times and 2. Anything consenting adults do after that is natural. There were also welcome reminders for being mindful of slut-shaming, ageism and the alpha male slipping into a creepy emotionally abusive style relationship with the heroine. These things are pervasive story tropes in our society, but we should think about them and critique them and challenge them in our writing.

I had some great fun in a break seeing a bibliotherapist (a librarian who gives you tailored one on one book rec’s), then ran off to another interesting panel on lived experience of mental illness and telling stories about madness. I loved that the panel covered the importance of thinking about who has the right to tell such stories and that voice matters, that ‘truth’ can be owned by people and claimed back and that stories can be a way of escaping from the DSM medical narrative of mental health experience as a problem to be fixed. Writing poetry and stories becomes a matter of expression, rather than a means to treat the experience of mental illness itself.

By now, I was getting pretty tired, though I managed to fit in one more session right at the end of the festival on writing as a person of colour or from other marginalized groups such as First Nations or Muslim Australians. The panel discussion was full of interesting points on writing genuine experience and getting away from mainstream, often harmful, stereotypes of race, gender or culture which definitely got me thinking about how I consume mainstream TV, film and books and how this can accidentally bleed into my work.

I drove home to collapse in a heap, but what a great weekend! Congrats to all the guest speakers, organisers and volunteers who helped make it all so great. See you next year!

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