Perth Writers’ Festival 2016 – The Wrap Up

What a weekend it has been for Perth’s writers and readers alike.

Across three days the UWA campus had creativity oozing from its halls, with a program chocker-block with interesting sessions on a wide variety of literary topics; nostalgia, coming of age, grief, politics, love, food and humour to name but a few. What’s not to love about a festival that inspires, informs and introduces the masses to great talent.

Beyond the mix of free and ticketed sessions, the calibre of Australian (local and national) and international authors the event attracts highlights its worth to the WA writing community. Big names like Roman Krznaric, Rosie Waterland, Lisa Genova, Magda Szubanski and Jane Caro throw enormous weight behind the profile of the festival and guarantee a crowd.

Roman Krznaric, the highly acclaimed activist for social change using the power of empathy, wowed a sell-out opening night crowd in the Octagon Theatre, asking the audience to consider the difference between empathy and sympathy, and how conversations between strangers can result in a change of view and a better understanding of the world at large, or even just the world around you.

Roman Krznaric author of Empathy

Krznaric is the creative mind behind the Empathy Museum and The Human Library.

The human library is like any other library, except instead of borrowing a book, you  borrow a person and listen to their stories. Some of Perth’s local spoken-word artists  from the popular and very entertaining Barefaced Stories team, were recruited to be the human books. It would be good to see The Human Library form part of future programming.

Similarly, the Empathy Museum, which can be found in Stirling Gardens in the city over the duration of PIAF, presents a series called A Mile in my Shoes, where visitors are invited to choose a pair of shoes, don headphones and listen to the raconteur share true life tales. Be sure to check it out.

Rosie Waterland, was a definite drawcard for the festival this year, with her Rebel Wilson style humour, and penchant for dropping in a swear word or two. The 29 year old Waterland gained notoriety for her satirical blogs about the top rating show ‘The Batchelor’ and on the strength of its popularity was offered a two-book publishing deal with Harper Collins.

Rosie Waterland and her memoir The Anti-Cool Girl

Her memoir The Anti-Cool Girl, tells of her traumatic childhood. Her honest accounts of growing up in foster care, being separated from her sisters and her parents drug dependencies, paint a startling picture.  It’s a story of survival told with Rosie’s ingrained wicked sense of humour and a heaped teaspoon of hilarious ‘oversharing’.

The 2016 brag sheet of authors is testament to the festivals commitment to showcasing both international and local talent.  The on-site bookshop was bursting between sessions, with readers snapping up titles of the authors they’d just heard speak. And for those punters that didn’t bring the credit card along, somewhere in their handbags and shirt pockets is a list of new novels that are sure to appear sooner or later on a bookshelf.

Among some of the new activities that were trialled this year, the Paddock to Print series, focussing on the nation’s obsession with food and cooking, failed to tempt the taste buds of many. While it’s good to experiment with new material to see if it floats, these sessions didn’t gain momentum. Perhaps more genre specific sessions such as romance, speculative fiction and creative non-fiction would have greater appeal to the writing and reading community of festival goers.

The Masterchef Effect
The Masterchef Effect with ex Masterchef contestants Alice Zaslavsky and Jessica Arnott, food editor of Delicious Magazine, Valli Little and chef and host of River Cottage, Paul West

There is certainly room in the program for one or two grassroots sessions. While audiences enjoy listening to published authors about their accomplished works, many people attend the festival for guidance on how they too can take the leap from manuscript to publication. Many Q&A sessions were fuelled by questions relating more to the mechanics of the writing process and where to start, rather than the end results of the publicity trail.

While the attendance stats have not yet been released, being an attendee over the course of the three day event, it is safe to say numbers were well up on previous years. Particularly on the Sunday family day. Most sessions across the weekend were at capacity and many of the ticketed events were sold out well in advance.

The closing event presented by best-selling American author, Lisa Genova, was a fitting way to end what was a world-class event. Genova wrote the book Still Alice which was swiftly picked up by Hollywood and made into a movie of the same name, starring Julianne Moore.

Lisa Genova
Lisa Genova author of Still Alice

It centres around Alice who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers and through her eyes we see how it effects her from the inside out.

Genova is an unassuming Harvard graduate neuroscientist, turned author. Genova spoke about her research process for her books and regaled the final night audience with lighthearted anecdotes on an otherwise dark subject. She shared her own experiences of watching her grandmother’s demise with Alzheimers and told of how this lead her to writing a book on the subject.

Genova brought the festival full circle, once again reminding writers of the importance of empathy and how by standing in someone else’s shoes, the view can be so much clearer and the narrative so much more connected.

Congratulations to Katherine Dorrington and her team for another great festival. Now you can all pop the champers and bask in the glow of success. Next challenge, working your way through that ‘Must Read’ book pile until the planning process starts all over again.

#pwf17 Bring it on.

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