May 21, 2012, James, Archived in Whispers
Just back from the Sydney Writers’ Festival on the weekend. Spent Thursday and Friday there and really enjoyed it. It was my first writers festival – no I wasn’t a guest, just a punter – and I thought it was well done, interesting topics, good talent, lots of free sessions and, a great location in amazing Autumn weather.
A few minor gripes. With a 30-minute break between session blocks, you basically have to leave one session and join the queue for the next one straight away. Then stand in line for half an hour. Pretty annoying when I did that and still missed the cut to get in a few sessions. Most of the punters I struck up conversations with seemed pretty staid and boring. It was pretty lovely in the sun at the wharf complex, watching boats moving past on the harbour like ideas. The queues did diminish the extra-curricula opportunities for coffee and food and book shop browsing, not to mention needing to take a leak, the latter especially painful at times as the session rooms were freezing.
I also cadge a little at the shameless book plugging (as an author though, I would appreciate the opportunity too), and the fact that books on sale by those on stage don’t carry any kind of discount; if you’ve made the effort to come out and see them, I reckon you could offer your books at a nicer price.
Thought the demographic was surprising. Seemed the mean age was about 70. Lots of shuffling grey heads, asking about where the toilets are and what line this is. Crumbling and bent backs rather contrasting with the shiny and straight spines of the books being discussed and touted. The habit of many of the old matrons of tittering at the slightest hint of a jokey aside or a quip was particularly annoying. So too, the usual suspects – frustrated panelists – who leap up at audience question time to pontificate aloud, to push their own barrow, take minutes to find the ‘right’ word, or actually forget wtf they were talking about. I have long thought audience participation at such events should be limited or cut out entirely as it is both patronising and a waste of everyone’s time and head-space.
Some random thoughts from the festival:
* Writers use the word “profound” far too much
* Culture is politics
* SWF queues are a bit like life: An exciting prospect ahead, a slow start in getting there, movement in spurts ending with a seat in a cold room
Brief thoughts on some of the people I saw:
Heather Brooks: Hard woman
Alex Mitchell: Jolly curmudgeon
Peter Corris: Gothic. Funereal
Michael Wilding: Dotty Pom
Richard Aedy: Wants to be in a sitcom
Andrew Clark: Beetroot
Richard Lowenstein: Reads too much. Screen eyes
Jeff Sparrow: Dangerous hands. Voice like a girl when excited
James Valentine: Old lady
Richard Fidler: Ex-DAAS. Very.