The intriguing title. The shiny cover. The new book smell as you pick it up and read the blurb on the back.
You flick to the first few pages, run an eye over the first paragraph. Two paragraphs. You snap it shut, running your hands over the smooth surface. It promises so much. You look around, the new book clutched to your breast. So many to choose from; is this the one? Surely I can get two…
Hi, my name is Sheree, and I’m a biblioholic.
You’d think, knowing I have this problem, I should avoid bookshops and all places where writers congregate. Instead I was welcomed on to the board of the Newcastle Writers Festival a few years ago, and am privileged to organise the volunteers who do the bulk of our public interface during the festival weekend.
I love it. It combines organisational skills and personal interactions which revolve around books and writers. Apart from the buzz of the festival weekend – which is brilliant – I’ve met great people and made good friends. Our volunteers are an awesome bunch, whether students, editors, medical specialists, stay-at-home mums or business executives.
Being the volunteer coordinator naturally limits the number of sessions I can attend at the Newcastle festival. I’ve been to scattered sessions at other festivals, but this year I had the opportunity to attend Sydney Writers Festival for four days, Thursday 19th to Sunday 22nd May. It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to immerse myself in a writers festival with no responsibilities.
It was amazing. More than ten sessions ran concurrently, five sessions a day, at the Walsh Bay area alone, with more in the evening and elsewhere in the city and suburbs. The sessions I attended ranged from astrophysics and forensic photography of early 20th century Sydney to racial discrimination and fantasy in young adult novels.
One of the great things about writers festivals is discovering new authors.
Kirsten Tranter discussed her novel, Hold, in which a woman finds a secret room in her new house which seems to have an unsettling will of its own. As I’m a lover of books that are strange and ‘unreal’, a copy of Hold happened to come home with me.
I’ve been intending to get hold of an Emily Maguire novel for a while, so took the opportunity to get a signed copy of her latest, An Isolated Incident. I thought I’d read the opening chapters while sitting at the wharf at Circular Quay, just a few metres from where the ferry was to leave for the trip back to my niece’s house where I was staying. Unfortunately I was engrossed and didn’t notice when the ferry arrived, or when it departed. At least I had a good book to read while I waited an hour for the next one.
I discovered others, but there’s too much from those four days for one post. However, I have to confess to something.
I watched the volunteers. Does that sound creepy?
I also chatted to as many as I could without impinging on their jobs. Maybe there were pointers I could pick up. How were they rostered? What sort of training did they get? What motivates Sydney volunteers?
The results? SWF volunteers – at least, those in the non-representative, convenience sample I chatted with – are motivated by the same things as NWF volunteers. They love books. Some write, and love being around writers, most read voraciously, and all believe in the promotion of books and literacy, and the debate of issues which good writing stimulates.
The vast majority of volunteers I had contact with at SWF were helpful and pleasant. At NWF we discuss how happy volunteers make a happy festival, and I enjoyed seeing that play out at SWF. Cheerful volunteers can make waiting in a line amiable rather than onerous. When someone smiles and asks if you wouldn’t mind finishing your coffee before you go inside it makes you feel so much nicer than if she’d snapped that drinks aren’t allowed.
I finished my coffee with a warm, contented glow, which wasn’t just the caffeine.
Okay, maybe it was partly caffeine, but it felt good to be treated the way we asked our Newcastle volunteers to treat festival attendees. It makes no rational sense, but I felt proud of the Sydney volunteers. I had no actual connection to them, but I knew how hard they worked. Most of them would have been on their feet much of the day, and it’s surprising how much energy volunteer duties take. Near the end of the day they were still polite and smiling, and doing a great job.
I picked up a few ideas and, though SWF is huge compared with NWF, by the end of Sunday I was left with the same feeling I have at the end of Newcastle’s festival.
Booky people are awesome to hang out with.
I mean booky, too, rather than bookish, with its connotations of prudishness and myopia. Some booky people can be overly fond of debate, and some can be pains; you know the ones, who get up to ask a writer a ‘question’ and spend five minutes making-a-comment/giving-an-introduction/blowing-their-own-horn, etc, etc. But on the whole people who read, especially those who read widely, are great company.
I never fail to learn from booky people, even the occasional pain in the butt. Four days among volunteers, writers and festival attendees in Sydney was brilliant.
I’ve come home with ideas, and maybe a few too many of those shiny, smooth, new smelling books. Hey, they have author signatures, okay? And they’re beautiful…
Hi, my name is Sheree, and I’m a biblioholic.