Monday, May 24, 2010

2010 Sydney Writers' Festival - my take

There is no doubt about it – this is a big festival. There are 350 writers involved. There are hundreds of sessions to choose from which include workshops, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and music. Venues are scattered over the CBD and in suburban hubs, including the Blue Mountains. It attracts tens of thousands of participants. The programme runs as an insert in the Sydney Morning Herald, this year with catastrophic results which the festival worked like a dervish to rectify. The programme is also available on line from which those interested in attending are able to craft their own schedule. There are limitations to this service. Annoying limitations, but there is a work-a-round, which if I can work it out, so can others. The vast majority of sessions are free, but increasingly events are ticketed. They cost between $15 and $25. The festival commences on a Saturday and ends on a Sunday, 9 days later.

This is the fourth consecutive year that I have attended. I have adjusted my participation each time. In my third year, I took two annual leave days to attend the Thursday and Friday. This year I was retired. The last four days are the most hectic. The earlier days have a high proportion of workshops. My attendance this year was:
Friday – two free sessions in the morning; two ticketed events in the late afternoon and evening.
Saturday – three ticketed events before lunch; one ticketed event in the afternoon, and in the evening.
Sunday – one ticketed event in the afternoon.
All up, it cost me about $130. In an earlier post, I listed my ticketed sessions.

My choices threw up some interesting hassles. Five sessions on any given day is too many. I am going to restrict myself to three per day next year. I had no fiction sessions at all this year. Need to mix it around more. The ticketed events are easier to combine because your attendance is guaranteed. The queues are such that you and 200 others could miss out even if you queue for 45 minutes.

Let me describe myself. I am a little, grey haired woman, aged in my mid-60s. I am of the educated middle-class. THE MAJORITY OF THE FESTIVAL IS ME CLONED!! It can get very depressing standing in a queue for 45 minutes listening to the minutae of the educated middle-class. Very depressing.

I made some dumb choices. No fiction. Fiction is hard because you should at least have read some of the author prior to attending. You get more out of it. No poetry – mainly because the language has been distilled of meaning. So I replaced it with three sessions on ‘mangled language’ – Ruddspeak. Not one. Not two. But three sessions. I need my head read.

I had a couple of sessions on the 2008 recession which were ... interesting. I listened to David Wessel go two rounds with Paul Keating. I listened to Don Watson mumble his way through a disjointed session at the Barnet Longroom in Customs House. I enjoyed the session at the SH Ervin Gallery on the history of Sydney Harbour. But that was predictable – and they did keep the wine flowing.

This is not a festival for radicals. This is not a festival for the young. This is not a festival for writers. This is not a festival for dipping into. You have to make like Napoleon before the battle. Take your own thermos. Your own sambos.

This is a festival for readers.
This is a festival for conservative readers.
This is a festival for conservative, readers over 50.
This is a festival for conservative, female readers over 50.

So ... shoot me.


Martina said...

the newspaper-hand photo is so "wow!" (haha, what a comment in a posting about literature, ;-)). WOW!

Joan Elizabeth said...

I've often thought of attending some of the festival but you're scaring me off ... 45 minutes listening to the minutae of the educated middle-class. I loathe such people but in reality am one of them myself!

Julie said...

It is good fun - mostly. I spent a lot of the time with my daughter, but not on the Friday when she had to work. It is better to go with someone and meet each time your sessions overlap. It IS fun and you learn heaps, and it is an exhilarating area of Sydney.

There are just some downsides, and the mug punter needs to be aware of them.

altadenahiker said...

I'm quite smitten with photo #2.

Ann said...

Thanks for such a detailed insight. Often wondered whether it was my thing or not. Still not sure. Certainly not while I'm working.

freefalling said...

You are not "a little, grey haired woman, aged in your mid-60s" - at least, not to me.

diane said...

I think you have put me off, even though iIam a little, grey haired, educated, middle class, boring woman.

Julie said...

I think I have put ME off. I would have been better served sitting in the Mitchell Library (or a cafe) for four days and reading a variety of books.

Anonymous said...


bitingmidge said...

I loathe such people but in reality am one of them myself!

Not being a girl seems to have paid off for me then!

Sunshine Coast Daily Photo - Australia