As many of you may already know, I spent last week at the Somerset Literary Festival up on the Gold Coast. WOW!!! What an amazing festival it was (and will be in the future, I’ve no doubt)! For all the technical info, check out here, but basically the SLF is all about getting kids to meet authors and listen to them talk about being authors. I’ve forgotten the exact number of schools that made it along (you know, the whole numbers thing) but it was between 30-40, I think, and a number of these were actually sponsored schools – several Somerset families sponsored them to come along! And that sums up the whole atmosphere of the festival. Open, generous, sharing, inclusive . . . I could go on throwing adjectives at you all morning, but all you really need to know is that everyone involved was simply FANTASTIC! Everything ran smoothly, and the organisers (including the students who took care of us authors and worked so hard in the background – thanks, Amelia!) were professional, friendly, and just all around talented, wonderful people who treated us all like rock stars.
Okay, so what about the festival itself? I had a great time talking to the students about heroes past (did Achilles really fight Hector naked?), modern (Superman, Batman, and Wolverine – ‘nuf said?) and contemporary (Lenis, Missy and all of my heroes – come on, I had to get a plug in there somewhere, right?). These sessions were SO MUCH FUN! I mean, heroes are basically my life, and if there’s anything I like better than reading and writing about them, it’s getting in front of a crowd and talking about them! But you know, I learned something from those talks. Something I’ve suspected for some time but can now back up with (albeit anecdotal) evidence. We truly have entered the Golden Age of Geekdom (sorry, nerds, you had your chance during the dotcom boom), and it’s astonishing and wonderful and heartwarming all in equal measure. In my day (*ouch* – that stung just writing it), if a bloke came along to my high school class and started going on about comic book superheroes and ancient Japanese swordsmen (and yes, there’s a connection – see my PhD thesis if you don’t believe me), I would have been thrilled, ecstatic even. I also would have exulted in silence with one or two other geeks (the ones who shared around those fantasy tombs of the 70s/early80s during the lunch break) while the ‘popular kids’ were busy being ‘too cool’ for such ‘kids’ stuff’. Imagine my delight to have to battle to be heard over the choruses of ‘Batman!’ and ‘Wolverine!’ and even, strangely (but who am I to judge?), ‘Mary Poppins!’ as I delivered my talks. The students LOVED it, loved heroes, unabashedly. No cowering under the bedsheets with a flashlight for them! Geek has become the new Chic. Superheroes are in. Reading is cool. Thinking about it now, writing about it, just makes me smile. Thanks, guys, for being so enthusiastic and so unafraid to show it!
And I suppose I should talk about all the other writers’ talks that I enjoyed during my time there, but you know what? Confession time. I only got to one. Michael Pryor’s talks are always a great deal of fun (any man who can legitimately claim to have run into knights and ninjas in his local park has got to be worth listening to, right?), and also, he’s a magician. No, seriously. Now, the reason I didn’t get to any other talks is because I was so busy in the green room catching up with other authors and meeting new ones. Michael writes about the experience of catching up with colleagues here on his blog, so I won’t belabour the point except to say that it truly is an unexpected joy that comes from doing these festivals. As a recently published author, I’m still a little starstruck. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that I was a fanboy reading books by Kate Forsyth, Fiona McIntosh, and Michael, and dreaming of getting published. Now I’m on panels with them talking about writing fantasy (which was so much fun but, of course, ran far too short), and I get to sit down behind the scenes at literary festivals and talk to them as, I won’t go so far as to say equals, not yet, but as a Journeyman might talk to the Masters of the trade. It’s surreal and wonderful and please don’t wake me up because I’m having too much fun!
Finally, a special shout-out here to the winners of the Novella Competition. These bright young writers from all across Australia were smart, savvy professionals, several of whom I mistook for visiting teachers (and they’re still in school!). The list of 2011 winners isn’t up yet, but when it is it should go up here, so check back soon. Each of these young writers has a promising future ahead of them, whether they decide to keep writing (hopefully!) or not.
So if you’re in Queensland (or can make the trip) next March, check out the SLF. They do run public sessions, and the more support they receive the greater the festival will be. Trust me – it’s well worth the price of admission!