Festival books its place with writers

NEW Norfolk saw what organisers hope will be the first of a succession of Writers Festivals over the weekend. The event drew hundreds of people from across the state, many to learn the craft of writing from such successful authors as local talents Sally Wise and Meg Bignell.

Three days at the Barracks were packed with workshops and panel discussions, talks and Q and A sessions designed for readers and writers alike. Entertainment included a series of movies drawn from books, and music from the Derwent Valley Baroque Trio.

A series of conversations with authors provided an understanding of what publishers are looking for in new writers. “What makes a ‘good read’ from the consumer’s perspective? That’s something we all want to know,” said Sophie Reid, the Festival Director who’s also secretary of Derwent Valley Arts.

Local historians Alison Alexander, Dianne Snowden and Ros Escott introduced a number of remarkable New Norfolk stories, including a closer view of some of the inmates of Willow Court. For writers, the festival provided a rare opportunity: 10 minutes to pitch their work directly to the publisher, Allen and Unwin.

A senior editor, Annette Barlow, had face-to-face interviews with 12 prospective authors whose names were drawn from a hat. About 50 writers had put their names forward. Among those with a manuscript ready was Stella England, a student from MacKillop Catholic College in Mornington. The 13-year-old lives in Forcett with her mum, Debra Suhr, and dad, Todd England. The session with the Allen and Unwin editor was productive: Stella is to send her first three chapters for a full review.

Her own book – the working title ‘The Ocean’s Apprentice’ – is a fantasy novel, inspired by such work as Wings of Fire and Hunger Games. “While I’ve had the idea a while, it took the spur of the Derwent Valley Writers Festival to get it finished,” she said. “I actually got it down on paper in a month.’’ What do her friends think? “My school friends are happy for me, although I don’t think they’ve bothered to read it,” she laughed. Meanwhile, Stella has work to do. She’s back to the keyboard tonight for the next book that’s been forming in her mind.