National Young Writers Festival–Or What I did last Weekend

The first thing I have to say is the NYWF was awesome, and everyone should go next year. The second thing I have to say is that respiratory illnesses are much less awesome, especially when they hit two days after returning. I seem to have come down with a probably-not-flu-flu-like viral infection, and although I’m no longer aching everywhere, I am still feeling massively fatigued all the time, which sucks. I suppose I can only be thankful it happened *after* the festival. I thought I was being careful and taking care of myself so this wouldn’t happen, but well, that’s a story for another day.

The NYWF happens every year in Newcastle-Newy, as it is affectionately known-and This is Not Art (TiNA), the umbrella festival of which NYWF is a part, has become Newcastle’s biggest tourism weekend. In the words of one person I spoke to on Grindr, the ‘influx of hot gay men’ over the festival weekend is something to look forward to.

It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon, and I was a NYWF virgin. My flight was delayed and when I finally rocked into Newcastle airport, the first thing I noticed was how…regional it was. I guess the first thing that struck me was the feeling that I was about as far away from a major city in Australia as I’ve ever been, and this was the very first time I’d been out somewhere like there as an openly gay man, and visions of homophobic, possibly racist, rednecks swarming along on utes filled my brain. And then I put those thoughts aside, collected my luggage and went in search of the bus to town.

Eventually, I found myself outside my hotel, the Newcastle Ibis, which was a little further from the festival locations than I really would have liked, but on the upside, it was a room for myself, which I wasn’t sharing with another four artists. Not that I have anything against other artists, mind you, but there are considerations–like snoring, smelly feet, and enough space for me to pull out my laptop and get some work and social networking done. Yes, I’m a bit paranoid about my computers at times. Go figure.

In any case, I spent the first afternoon wandering around Newy and trying to find out where all the festival venues were. In doing so I also discovered something I’d forgotten about smaller town Australia-everything shuts early. And when I mean early I mean by 5 PM. And when I mean everything, I mean everything. It then mostly doesn’t open on the weekends…or public holidays, as Monday was in New South Wales. At times I feel like I spent the entire weekend trying to find somewhere to eat that was open.

Thursday was a nice, slow easing into the whole Festival scene, with an Artist Meet & Greet, and then the TiNA launch party. I started Friday with a swim at the Ocean Baths, which seem to be a very NSW phenomenon, as seen in the ill fated Where the Bloody Hell Are You tourism campaign. Basically, they create a pool by the beach, and fill it with seawater. And then you swim in it. We don’t have them down in Victoria, sadly, because they’re awesome–if outdoors, and cold and salty. Next time I’ll remember to wear goggles.

I also met a nice local bartender, who I never saw again, and had a chat while we were between laps. It was 9 AM in the morning, and by the time I climbed out and went to wash the salt from my skin, there was so much salt and cold that my skin felt like it had been abraded by sandpaper-raw to the touch. It was fantastic, seriously fantastic. Then I dropped into Staple Manor for a creative health check with Rebecca Giggs, in the process, getting in early enough to learn about Cryptic Crosswords from Mark Sutton. It was a bit deflating to realise that Cryptic Crosswords aren’t so much cryptic as written in code. It’s sort of like an exclusive semiotic code available to a select few (like opera perhaps), and if you know the language, you can do them. But that’s another story. I asked Rebecca what I should be doing in the run up to my second novel, and what I should be looking to do to take my career from ‘first time novelist’ to ‘self sufficient novelist’. The gist of her answer: Go get grants. Sign up to mailing lists, get residencies to write elsewhere. Hmm…I’m going to have a lot to think on and research in the weeks to come.

The rest of Friday was full of scheduled events–The Postmodern Romance, Erotica and Sex Panel, and then the ‘Writer Wants a Wife’ event, which I agreed to do on a whim. The panel went fantastically, and it was fun catching up with Haylee Kerens again, having last seen her on the Romance Genre Panel for the Emerging Writers Festival. There are apparently a lot of interesting changes happening over at Harlequin Australia, so keep an eye out for more detail on that. There was of course one clown who showed up intent on telling us about how he was going to reinvent (or possibly redefine or reclaim) masculinity–and then started demanding what ‘we’ the panel was going to do to get men to read. It felt almost as if he wanted us to throw the question back onto him so he could say ‘Well, I am going to reclaim masculinity’, and when we didn’t, he then cornered Chad Parkhill after the panel and apparently talked his ear off for half an hour. At which point I’d dashed off to change for Writer Wants a Wife.

I’m sure there’s probably another time I’ve worn a pillowcase on my head, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever done it for the sake of writing. As opposed to prentending to be a ghost at the age of six. The problem, as I pointed out to our fantabulous host, was that the very title of the event ‘Writer Wants a Wife’ is incredibly heteronormative, and I nearly didn’t sign up for precisely that reason. Neither did a lot of other guys I understand, and I ended up with a grand total of one contestant, who it turns out has been emailing me all year for Farrago contributions-I should really take myself off that email list.

I have to admit, it was at that point that Newy showed it’s country stripes. Given the way I dress and carry myself, I often get mistaken as being straight. My date…probably not so much. Our date picnic was located under a lamp outside (for the camera) and was the closest one to the road, and there was a fair amount of honks and yells from passing cars, and later, when we were walking through Newy, a fair number of homophobic comments. Newy: the town of one gay pub and a lot of closeted and careful men on Grindr and Manhunt. I can’t say for certain, but the University seems to be a bastion of tolerance, what with people coming in from all around, and then there seems to be a fair amount of tolerance striving for equality if the Zines I picked up on Sunday are anything to go by. The conversations I’ve overheard of the kids on the buses in the CBD on the other hand…I don’t know. It’s almost as if there’s the new progressive, modern Newcastle, and then there’s the conservative mob baying around the edges. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being there, but it felt like the bad old days I’ve only ever heard about.

Saturday was the start of an insane weekend, with the festival’s Young Adult Queer Fiction panel, which was noticeably lacking in lesbians. It was five gay men chatting about Young Adult fiction, Queer Fiction, and wishing we had someone who could talk about the other side of the queer market, but it was very refreshing to be able to speak about bisexual and transexual characters–or rather the lack of them, which let us speak about biphobia and to some degree transphobia, that still exist in the wider community. I know I tend not to write bisexual main characters because I don’t believe I can do it convincingly. One of the things I remember saying was ‘You may have to write those stories yourself’. I know it was the main reason I was the main reason I started writing, and Alasdair Duncan started writing for the same reason. The more important question is whether or not there’s a market for bisexual fiction in the marketplace, which I have no idea. I feel there ought to be, but I would have no idea how to crack that market–or find it for that matter. Over the rest of the festival I was constantly hearing back from festival punters saying that the two panels I was on were their favourites from the festival as a whole, which isn’t all me, but I like to think I played a part. Given that Chad and I were on both of those panels together, we were a bit chuffed, but I just hope that means what we said was useful and relevant. I then went back to Staple Manor for a talk on freelancing (AKA How to Start a Writing Business) run by Cameron Pegg, which told me a lot of what I knew in terms of the bare basics of business management, but the actual ins and outs and day to day business of being a freelancer, chasing invoices and what the rates are that one should be pushing for… that was very helpful. Follow him on Twitter. Seriously. Oh and check out this graphic he referred us to: Should I work for free? I get the feeling I should be making a creative writing version.

Sunday was a day for packing (yay…not), and rain rain rain and rain. That wild weather that hit Melbourne and flooded everything, finally rolled up the coast and hit Newy, and it washed out my plans to go and see a piece of outdoor theatre in the larger TiNA festival, so instead, I went to the Zine fair, caught up with friends from Melbourne, and checked out the Video Games Writing panel, which I must admit was a bit disappointing. There was a lot of portfolio showcasing, and where players are using games as storytelling mediums, but until I actually pushed and asked questions, there was no discussion as to where jobs in the industry are listed, ( and, and the possibility of breaking into the industry via modding–think Fall From Heaven for Civ 4, or the Portal series. Still, the games industry in Australia is so tiny, I have to admit I wasn’t expecting much from the industry in general. Then later that night there I did a reading of Mr Perfect, sold all the novels I brought up–I should have brought more–and then instead of going to a warehouse party, I went home with three random students I’d just met to watch the Doctor Who finale.

I think that was the right thing to do, yes?

After next to no sleep, Monday was a day for checking out of the Ibis, and then checking out the Small Press Roundtable discussion where I plugged the hell out of banQuetpress (hint hint), and stuck around for the workshop on grantwriting, which I hope will be useful in the future.

And then, amidst promises to keep in touch, and a determination to pitch a DnD session or two for next year (Geeks write, who’d have guessed?), I boarded the plane for Melbourne, ran into festival people at the Airport, and then got sick. And I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Minus the getting sick part.

I hope.




Comments have been disabled.