My Day at the Sydney Writers Festival
On the 5th of May, I was fortunate enough to attend four panels at the Sydney Writers Festival, specifically the festival’s ‘All Day YA’ sessions. I got to hear some great authors discuss their experiences and learnt a lot from the day.
Panel 1: From the Sidelines
This panel was all about discussing Own-Voices novels and stories and talking about how to make real and authentic characters that stem from diverse backgrounds. The panel included Sarah Ayoub, Tamar Chnorhokian and Patrick Ness and was moderated by Rameen Hayat. Patrick Ness was definitely a popular name throughout the festival but the other two authors I had not heard of, so it was quite interesting hearing about their experiences as Australian authors from more ethnically diverse backgrounds than my own personal experiences (if you don’t know by now, I am white as white can be). There was a lot of discussion about how people should be encouraged to share their stories as authentically as possible and write diverse characters without tokenising their diversity and making it their core characteristic. Ness also teased a future book of his, apparently narrated by a whale, and he joked that he would “receive backlash from the whale community” and “was having a hard time finding a sensitivity reader”. Ness’s humour and witty comments were definitely a highlight of the panel.
Panel 2: Writing for YA Books and Film
The second session of the day discussed how authors approach adapting written works of fiction into film. This session also featured Patrick Ness and was paired with Jesse Andrews, an even more eccentric character, with Will Kostakis moderating the panel, which made the majority of the panel more banter than actual discussion (though I cannot say I objected). Andrews used a peculiar metaphor, in which he said, when writing a screenplay based on an original text, it is like one is standing on a bridge with everything from the book and some things you just need to throw off the bridge into a pond. The panel was definitely my favourite of the day and I am ready to dive into all of Ness’ and Andrews’ books.
During the break between panels, I was lucky enough to get two books by Patrick Ness (The Knife of Never Letting Go and Release) signed by the man himself, even after waiting nearly an hour in line in hot Parramatta sun. I had brought The Knife of Never Letting Go with me but wasn’t able to buy Release before Ness’ second panel. I was so grateful for my friend who came with me, who ran to the book tables to buy me a copy of Release after the new delivery came in while I was standing in line so I could get both signed. The signing ran late and we missed the first ten or so minutes of the next session, but it was definitely worth it.
Panel 3: Architects of New Worlds
The third panel of the day was all about worldbuilding and how to make authentic worlds that are a reflection of our own. Featuring this panel was Jay Kristoff, Claire G. Coleman, Jesse Andrews (again) and Cally Black with Adele Walsh as the moderator. Despite missing the introduction of this session, it was an incredibly beneficial one. As an aspiring writer myself, I learnt a lot about the process of worldbuilding and what is involved in creating an alternate world to the one we live in. I definitely resonated with Kristoff’s approach to worldbuilding, where he said he likes to explore every detail such as the monetary system or where names of certain practices come from. I too feel like I need to explore a created world that deeply to truly understand it and be able to write about it.
After this panel, I purchased a copy of Illuminae on a whim, having borrowed it from my school’s library but never got around to reading it. However, I thought it the wiser choice to be content with just the book and not stand in the, again, incredibly long line to get the book signed. Once I can do, twice you’re pushing it. Thankfully, this meant we were right on time for the fourth and final panel for the day.
Panel 4: #poetrydebate: Who Takes the Crown?
Probably the liveliest of the four panels, the #poetrydebate saw two poets, Omar Musa and Evelyn Araluen, with experience in slam poetry, debate over topics relating to poetry and poetic expression, with Sina Aghamofid, Layla Mkhayber and Ali Al Haj as moderators. The three topics debated were:
- Has technology reshaped poetry for the better?
- Should poets tell other people’s stories?
- Are schools teaching the wrong poetry?
After three intense rounds of debate, the two performed original pieces which reflected their own personal experiences and gave a real sense of what it means to be Australian. Afterwards, Omar Musa was declared the winner and accepted his congratulatory handshake from moderator Sina Aghamofid. With mentions of Trump, Kanye, a certain poem about fruits from the 2017 HSC English paper and monster trucks, it was quite an entertaining performance.
And that brought an end to my wonderful day. I wish I could convey how much I felt today and how happy it made me being around other readers and writers but I don’t think my tired brain could do those emotions justice. So rather, I encourage all young writers to consider attending the Sydney Writers Festival next year, for it was definitely a valuable experience.