28 August 2018

Canberra Writers' Festival - biggest ever!

| Suzanne Kiraly
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The Canberra Writers' Festival: The Capital's literary cornocopia. Image: Canberra Writers' Festival website.

The Canberra Writers’ Festival: A literary cornucopia. Image: Canberra Writers’ Festival website.

Amongst the literati and the ‘cliterati’ ( coined by the badass women of history, not me), this past weekend, I joined the imbibers of passion, power, & politics at Canberra’s 3rd Writers’ Festival; the biggest ever, as rumour has it.

I attended nine sessions all up and the highlight for me was the diversity of presentations on a number of eclectic topics, and I have to say that last week’s shenanigans in the political arena turned out to be a gift to many of the speakers in multiple sessions.

The outstanding event for me, however, (as a cut above the rest), was the ‘Canberra Criminals’ session moderated by Dan Bourchier. Guest speakers were journalists Chris Uhlmann, Steve Lewis, and Tim Ayliffe. Those who watched (or read) The Secret City, would be well aware that Canberra was the centre of the action for that series, and that the film adaptation created from the book was not only world class, but grippingly paced through to the end. Tim Ayliffe, also a hard-boiled journalist, centred his crime novel in Sydney, and there was playful banter in the accusation by Lewis that Tim’s research may have been a bit ‘too thorough’ in the red light districts of Sydney! There was hilarity in the discussion of politics over the past week, and process in writing political thrillers, and it became apparent that such writing was obviously good for the soul. There were some secrets revealed in the form of personal responses from politicians to the books, in particular, those who thought that they had been represented (or misrepresented), in the book. ‘Mum’ was the word on who was actually involved in this, but the author banter gave clues. I think Dan Bourchier has lots of grist for the mill for his upcoming breakfast show this week.

From politics to passion, the session on ‘The Romance Gauntlet – the Battle of the Sexes’ was a joy! Craig Cormick was the ideal host for this (as he has written one of the most hilarious short stories based around a boudoir scene, called Hallway Lovers – look it up), and in between introducing the six-member panel of romance and speculative fiction writers, he gave us snippets from the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. These were the worst sex scenes ever written. Here is an example:

‘At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it whacked and smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.’

The participants in this battle of the sexes formed two teams, appropriately in opposing gender formation. They were Darcy Delany, Elizabeth Dunk, and Maree Hanson vs Dave Versace, Rob Porteous, and Simon Petrie. Each member of the panel entertained us with readings of sensual scenes of the titillating kind, and we were even introduced to a new invention: An App that guaranteed that each partner experienced equally satisfying sensations simultaneously. The stage demonstration had them laughing in the aisles!

‘The Badass Women of History’, presented by Kathy Lette and Annabel Crabb, with Jean Kittson MC, was also humorous, and with a theme of ‘let’s change HIStory to HERstory’. Kathy Lette took us through many ‘badass’ women who have been forgotten in history and should be worthy of a statue erected in their favour. She made the point that we erect statues to sheep, kangaroos, fruit (think ‘Big Banana’) prawns and pigs before we raise a single statue to a woman who deserves to be remembered for her invaluable contributions to this nation. Political correspondent for the ABC, Annabel Crabb, for some unknown reason, announced that she was tired from her work on the Hill this past week, but still managed to give us a solid account of whom she also feels deserves the erection of a statue in her honour.

These were the standouts for me, and of course I thoroughly enjoyed the discussions on Citizen Journalism, which raised many poignant points on the direction in which the media is heading. Michael McGoogan from The RiotACT had much to say that resonated with the audience and he put out a call for Canberra citizen journalists to contact The RiotACT if they wanted to be part of this community news organisation’s rising trend of local voices. The RiotACT wants intelligent, dissenting voices that can shine a light on local issues, and be the source of unbiased news that the locals will be interested in.

Finally, the author of Happy As, Lisa Portolan in conversation with Tony Maniaty, was an uplifting experience. Her topic was well researched and judging by the audience engagement, it made many happy enough to buy her book.

As far as my own personal experience was concerned, along with the vibe of the audiences in the rooms I entered, the team at the Canberra Writers’ Festival deserve our warmest congratulations. My only complaint? Too many sessions I couldn’t attend because we were spoilt for choice! But that’s what’s special about Canberra, isn’t it? Don’t quote me on this, but when I owned a bookshop, I remembered we were privileged to have the most readers per capita in Australia, and judging by this Canberra Writers’ Festival, nothing has changed.

What was your favourite session at the Canberra Writers’ Festival this year? Comment below.

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