I recently had the opportunity to be part of the All Saints’ College Literature Festival.
This was my second invitation and it was great to see its still attracting excellent crowds and lots of interesting writers from all around Australia. The festival started in 2002 and is modelled on the Somerset Festival, which has been running in Brisbane for the past 15 years. Although there are several Festivals on the East Coast that cater for young adult and children’s literature, we had nothing like that here in WA until All Saints came along.
The school really gets behind the event and the organization is superb. Students from All Saints played an important role in hosting writers for each session. They picked us up at the Green Room, delivered us to our venues and introduced us to the audience. I had four sessions and met kids from all over the metropolitan area and also a group from Geraldton who had travelled 450 kms to be part of the festival.
A few of the kids I’d met before at various Bookweek events and one called during a session… “You whipped me three years ago!” … which is not the sort of politically correct comment one expects in these days of Working with Children cards. Luckily he was referring to a simulated flogging with a cat of nine tails I sometimes perform as part of a story about the maritime world of the 18th century. Thankfully the teachers relaxed and didn’t move in for a citizen’s arrest, so sensing my career was still on track ‘the cat’ came out of its bag. Then followed an overwhelming response to my call for volunteer whippers and whippees. It’s comforting to see a good flogging can still restore public morale.
As well as seeing lots of kids it was great to meet other writers and have the chance to sit in on some of their sessions. There were over 30 writers at the festival and it was a good chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones. I spent some time talking with Carole Wilkinson (another black doggie) at the festival and it was very interesting hearing about her current writing project – a subject that interests me greatly. There was also a chance to talk with other writers at an evening gathering hosted by the Children’s Literature Centre based in the old Fremantle Prison.
One of the other benefits of getting together with writers at Festivals such as this is sharing ideas and stories. I was talking with Vivienne Glance, another WA writer, about my new black dog book HMAS Sydney. She mentioned her father-in-law had collected signatures from the crew of Sydney while they were on shore leave not long before the battle with the German raider Kormoran. One of the signatures was particularly poignant, written exactly a month to the day before the ship and all the crew disappeared. It was signed Able Seaman Arthur Andrews with the cheery comment “Here today… gone tomorrow.” I’ve arranged to go and look at the original signatures in a couple of days … bit sad they’ve surfaced after the book has come out, as it would have been great to include them. Maybe in a second edition if the Cole enquiry finds out something dramatically new about the battle in the Commission that’s currently in session.