This was my first Writers Festival. I had no idea what went on under all those tents, marquees and big tops I could see from the road but I was a little scared of being bored by people I assumed were much cleverer than me because they wrote a book.
I had an idea it would be like a swap meet for bespectacled people who speak in seven letter words or more. I thought I would be nodding off as a bunch of academics argued the toss between thus and this. None of that happened. Instead, I met some of the most fascinating people I have ever come across. I listened to first-hand accounts of the most bizarre nature. I saw the faces behind the headlines. In some cases, I shook a hand that may not have been there had the owner of said hand done one small thing differently. I tell you this festival is amazing.
Let me say up front I don’t read much anymore. I have become a purveyor of podcasts. For whatever reasons I have wedded myself to that altered state of consciousness that listening brings. So for me, this festival was perfect, three days of being off my face with auditory stimulation. Its like I took a tab of conversational acid so please don’t’ ask me what day it is, I have no idea. I have had a weekend of soundgasms. I made that up but I have defined it: the state of ecstasy one achieves while listening to another describe a heightened state of tension, uncertainty, absurdity, compassion, fear, pain, release, the list goes on. I had multiple soundgasms by the way. This festival is amazing.
I suppose the more experienced festival goers have a list of people they want to see. There are 140 speakers over 3 days so I guess you have to have some sort of a plan. I didn’t. I was free ranging this trip. Expect nothing be prepared for anything. So it is and so it will be.
Imagine if you will an open paddock, no fences, a few makeshift shelters with a bit of noise emanating from each as you stroll past. I’m drawn into one when I hear the question “so why did you go there?” I sat down asking myself the same question. I’m there for another 25 minutes as Peter Greste explains his personal challenges of being locked up in Egypt on the flimsiest of charges. Here is a man who is smiling and joking all the while he recounts the horror and the uncertainty of that time. He is happy and grateful to be alive. He is reminding us to do so as well. He explains how sometimes its just dumb luck, such as being named Peter not Mohammed, that kept him alive. The crowd are quiet, respectful, attentive. There are no popcorn munching interruptions. This isn’t the cinema of the absurd this is the simple reality of being a journalist in a time of distrust and complex social manipulation. How lucky was I to hear him. It ends, we applaud, and I moved on in an easterly direction wanting to hear more.
I felt like I was stumbling through as the thoughts that had just started welling up in me were overwhelming. I stopped for a minute to think. Yes, I was thinking my own thoughts. That’s what writers do they inspire us to think. I realized then this might be a big day, with a lot of thinking yet to come.
Photos and words with thanks to Scott Ferguson