Well, that was fantastic. There’s something exhilarating about being behind the scenes of an enormous event, seeing the cogs and dramas behind the smooth presentations. Fortunately 2017 was a relatively drama-less year with the exception of a few walk-outs and one small fire (literal, not figurative), and some visitors called it “the best BWF ever!”
I’m not joking, they actually said that. This from a couple of lovely ladies who had been attending BWF for decades.
I strongly advise anyone interested in entering the writing and publishing world to volunteer for a writers festival at some point, preferably early in their career. Beyond the usual benefits of coming into contact with a variety of eccentric people (excellent character inspiration), working behind the scenes at a writers festival gives you a unique glimpse into the worlds of editors, publishers, readers, and writers of every strata. It’s invaluable when you’re building a map of where you want to go with your career, and discovering what you need to get there.
For example, when I was a student I somehow assumed that writers who made it to the green room, that bastion of excellence and affirmation, would have impeccable social skills and never feel the awkwardness of a classic introverted personality.
Boy, how wrong I was.
The Friday evening of BWF 2017 found me up on the green room deck, serving drinks to our hard-working artists. The artists, being more used to starving than being waited upon, were quite confused when they had to ask me to serve them drinks from the table right in front of them. I admit, I was confused about the necessity too, but I believe we (BWF) were trying to present a front of professionalism and luxury. Unfortunately the result was less luxurious, and more that of a single rickety suspension bridge traversing the final chasm between a caravan of camels and an oasis at the end of a long stretch of desert. Eventually, practicality overcame pretension and I stepped gratefully aside.
In any case, it was an awkward situation.
Moral of the story: you do not have to be a perfect, TV-ready superstar to succeed in the publishing industry. Any media and networking skills you gain along your career journey are a bonus that will certainly be helpful when it comes to breaking in to the industry, but they are not essential.
Other highlights of Brisbane Writers Festival 2017 included Angel’s Palace and Carpentaria, where performers and FX wizards brought to life select scenes from Alexis Wright’s award-winning novel Carpentaria. The performance was delivered inside a unique dome marquee designed by indigenous artist Gordon Hookey, and the whole experience was shiver-inducing in the best way. I look forward to more such cross-medium experiences in future BWFs.
I also had the pleasure of sitting in on the Media Madness panel moderated by Adrian Levy and starring Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Benjamin Law, and Rebecca Shaw. These four great minds combined to offer gut-clenchingly real experience on how to be a prominent minority figure in the news and online, particularly in the precarious worlds of Twitter and Facebook, where a spate of cyber-bullying can ignited with a single Tweet or post. Their humour was dry and witty, and their advice practical and empathetic. I wish I could see it again.
Last but certainly not least, it was a complete joy to meet the other BWF volunteers, wonderfully quirky and generous people that they are. I was sad when the final toast came around Sunday night; I’m already looking forward to BWF 2018. I wish next year’s team all the best, as they have big shoes to fill.