Here, as promised, is my report on the St Albans Writers’ Festival:
Anticipating a drive through the usual Sydney traffic blockages, we were gratified to find ourselves instead winding through sunny country lanes. We passed cherry trees in bloom, burgeoning jacaranda, and willow-fringed creeks. The two hours seemed to pass in a flash, so that our city stress had already dropped away by the time we arrived, via the old Wiseman’s Ferry, at St Albans.
Spring had sprung in all its glory as we meandered our way to the tent where the first talk, with Bernadette Brennan, author of “A Writing Life: Helen Garner and her Work” was being interviewed by Nicole Aberdie. Long a fan of the incomparable Garner, I was entranced by Brennan’s astute insights into each of her works, and also into the life of this iconic Australian author. Brennan’s biography is now top of my reading list.
On my way to the next tent I was waylaid by the great Tom Keneally.’Young Davis,’ he flatteringly addressed me,’how’s that book of yours coming along?’ Tom was referring to “Capriccio” which I was working on during his writing workshop a year or so ago. His interest in my work encouraged me to finish writing this novel, now rewritten and on a publisher’s desk somewhere. His session with Susan Wyndham, “Tom Kenneally: a Life in Writing”, was a highlight. Tom had us practically rolling in the aisles with his anecdotes and dry humour. This prolific and much-loved author, winner of the Booker prize for “Schindler’s Ark” on which the film “Schindler’s List” was based, is another of my heroes.
After a picnic on the sunny grass and a wander around the crowded bookstore, I climbed the hill to the tiny convict-built church to hear a panel of Emerging Australian Novelists. They were all young, confident and successful writers, who’d had the good fortune to be ‘picked up’ by agents or publishers early in their career (before the rot of despair kicks in). I must admit that, although applauding their early success, I left that session rather cowed, especially when I overheard one writer say she’d finished a first draft in two weeks, and it was all just a matter of being ‘organised’. If Only!
Our literary feast was finished off with a panel on “Rebellious Daughters”, comprising Caroline Baum, Jane Caro, Leah Kaminsky, and Susan Wyndham. A fitting dessert indeed. As we left, Caroline asked me if I’d be coming to the Festival dinner. (Sadly, it was booked out). It was that sort of Festival, where one could talk to one’s Writing Heroes and Heroines as if we were old friends. definitely on my calendar for next year!