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Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in Books, Culture | 0 comments

Newcastle Writers Festival a success

I devoted this weekend to the Newcastle Writers Festival, which appears to have been completely successful. I attended sessions, schmoozed with other writers, acted as a bit of a taxi service for some of them who’d come from interstate, and generally immersed myself in the ambience. No one really knew how much hunger there would be in this city for such an event, but it appears to have considerable, with scope for even better attendances in future years as the festival becomes better known. I’m sure that it will quickly gain a good reputation in literary circles across Australia as authors from across the country return home with a good vibe about it.

My own sessions were a panel in celebration of Australian speculative fiction (which I convened, with Janeen Webb, Jack Dann, and Margo Lanagan as panellists) and a panel on church and state issues (convened by radio presenter Jill Emberson, with Jane Caro and David Marr as the other panellists). The church/state panel, in particular, attracted a large audience, and both audiences would clearly have continued interacting with the panellists for another hour.

There appears to be a real hunger in Australia to hear about, and to thrash out, church/state issues. Let’s face it, Marr and Caro were the big drawcards for this particular panel (both have high profiles in the Australian mainstream media), but I enjoyed the chance to talk about the importance of secular government, including the fact that it’s not just something for atheists. Jill Emberson asked me the opening question for the panel, which asked me to identify three key political issues that are affected by the debate over secularism. I identified women’s reproductive rights; issues at the end of life (euthanasia/physician assisted suicide); and the rights of gay individuals and the gay community. All of these look very different depending on whether or not they are considered with a religious overlay. David Marr agreed with this enthusiastically, as did Jane Caro, while adding issues to do with education and its funding.

Thanks to all the other participants on these panels – their presentations were at a very high level – and to the festival director, Rosemarie Milsom, who did a fantastic job at all levels, and whom I found to be extraordinarily responsive and helpful during the lead-up to the event.

Hopefully, the 2014 festival will be even bigger and better. The writers I spoke to are keen to come back, and I’m sure many others would like to come along and speak at what looks like becoming a wonderful new event on Australia’s literary calendar.