We forgot to set the alarm for Sunday morning, so we slept in, had a late breakfast at the Schaller Studio, and then checked out before #triumph finding the second last parking spot at the Bendigo Writers Festival venue. (You can easily walk from the hotel, it’s only 20 minutes away). My first session was a most interesting one: it was called Fantastic and it was all about fantasy fiction.
I can almost see you frowning: why would Lisa who doesn’t read fantasy fiction go to a session like that? Well, I had two very good reasons. One was that the panel included Ilke Tampke who wrote Skins (see my review) and she exemplifies the kind of writer who incorporates a bit of fantasy (or magic realism as I would call it) into what is otherwise literary fiction, and the other is that #NoDetailsYet later this year I am chairing a panel at the Stonnington [untitled] Festival with three authors who incorporate odd, inexplicable elements into their literary fiction. So I wanted to learn more about fantasy.
Sean Williams and Erica Hayes write the kind of fantasy fiction that you will most probably find on shelves dedicated to that genre in the bookshops, but through good questioning by enthusiastic chair David M Henley, they did make it sound very interesting. Erica writes what is called Dark Urban fantasy where the real world intersects with the fantasy one, whereas Sean writes about amazing worlds beyond our own. (He’s published a lot of books, it was hard to keep track of all the titles he named). But Ilka Tampke‘s book (her first) is what they call cross over, with a cover that is emblematic of that: it has a Celtic symbol on the front, but it is in gold foil. (LOL Gold foil on a cover is used in publishing as code for genre fiction).
The panel had a bit of a laugh poking fun at people like me who ‘don’t read fantasy fiction’ but have read #InsertYourOwnExample. Yes, I have read, and loved The Lord of the Rings; yes I have read and enjoyed Black Glass by Meg Mundell (see my review); I was obsessed (a little bit) by Alan Garner’s Cheshire fantasies, and by Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series; and for a while I was quite fond of Arthurian stuff like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and Mary Stewart’s sagas. Lately I am quite taken by the new sub-genre of Cli-Fi (about which more later). The panel took ‘having read and enjoyed’ some fantasies as an indication that if people like me weren’t so #InsertYourOwnAdjective – and if marketers didn’t segment their books but integrated them on the shelves as they apparently do with YA – then we too would love their books. But I could also name a swag of fantasy books that well-meaning friends have been quite sure I would love, and it was a terrible chore to read them before handing back the loan with a fervent lie that yes I’d love to borrow the other titles in the apparently never-ending series but just not right now, thanks all the same.
But even though I left unconvinced about gold foil fantasy fiction, (which is only because (as we all know) reading is a matter of personal taste), I found this to be a very interesting, informative and entertaining session and I can understand why this genre is so popular.
From there, I went to a session called The Ethics of Writing. It was chaired by Meredith Doig from the Rationalist Society, and the panel comprised David Musgrave (in his capacity as a publisher, not as the author of the wonderful Glissando which I absolutely loved); Peter Craven the literary critic proud to wear the epithet ‘elitist’; Anne Buist who is a psychiatrist who’s written a psychological thriller called Medea’s Curse, and Anne Elvey, a poet. This diversity of talent amongst the panel was IMO both a blessing and a curse for the moderator. There were any number of angles that could be explored, from plagiarism to censorship self-or-community-imposed, but not all panel members could contribute to all topics, which makes it difficult. We skipped questions because we had to squeeze in lunch before my last session of the day.
(A word about the festival eateries: things were much, much better this year. Anyone with any imagination can understand why it’s not easy for eateries in country towns to gear up for one-off events. All of a sudden places are swamped with demanding diners wanting food quickly, but there isn’t a pool of great chefs and super-efficient well-trained wait staff just hanging about ready and available for work just for one weekend of the year. But this year menus were simpler and easier to deliver quickly, and the long irritated queues were nowhere to be seen. Our restaurant of choice was Borchelli’s where the service was friendly, the prices were reasonable and the food was hearty and warming on a cold Bendigo day. But the café next to the Capitol had good food too, and there were plenty of other places to choose from as well).
So, to my last session of the day, ‘A Climate for Change’. There was a good crowd, an indicator in itself that whatever our political leaders might think, there is deep interest in this topic. Speakers were Iain McCalman, Anson Cameron, Gerry Gill, and two lovely authors reviewed here, Alice Robinson (Anchor Point) and Jane Rawson (A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists). Without exception they spoke with passion and authority about the issue. For me, this session brought the other two together: to use speculative fiction to write ethically about climate change is very powerful indeed. As Jane Rawson said, it’s one thing to be able to predict what will happen to climate and rising ocean levels and so on, but what we cannot predict is how people will behave. She used her experiences in developing countries to write about how the rich will be ok because they always are, and the poor will just have to get by from day to day as they do in places like Phnom Penh. It was an absolute delight to scamper up afterwards to the stage to meet Jane and Alice at last!
I was exhausted by the time I got back to Melbourne – next time, I’m going to take the train!