13 March 2012

Mad March, Writers' Week and small-minded people

March in Adelaide is the time rather a lot of strangers roam the street, map in hand, looking for one of a number of events that happen in Adelaide.  Melbourne envies us our cosmopolitan insouciance as we natives wander white-hatted from outdoor event to outdoor event. They can only look on in wonder and disbelief as rain stays away, the sky is blue and a light breeze blows through the parks.  Writers' Week, Womadelaide, The Fringe, the Adelaide Festival, and oh yes, that race. The city is, for a few short days, practically shut down as roads are turned over to race tracks and cars with writing all over them shred their tyres through our leafy parkland streets.  Quite frankly I'd be very happy for Melbourne to steal the race from us like they stole the last one and good luck to them, Albert Park can have it. This year the screaming engines rather spoiled Ennio Morricone's concert and our beloved Premier had to call someone to suggest they turn off their ignitions. Now.  

Boori Pryor – first Australian Children's Laureate speaking at Adelaide Writers' Week
My favourite this year was Writers' Week. With a new director, Laura Kroetsch, at the helm  aided by Anna Hughes they managed to pull off the best event I think we have had in a long time. The truth is, and there are rather a lot of people in cardies who won't like this, Adelaide Writer's Week had become insular, stuffy and boring. There was nothing at all for children's writers, for example, so if you happened to be one or be interested in one it wasn't the place to be. There was nothing for families, the white marquees flapped noisily in any slight breeze and when not flapping did a rather remarkable imitation of plastic saunas.  People used to emerge from sessions and wring out their clothes. 

This year Laura disposed of the marquees which caused instant consternation among the white-hatted brigade. How dare she? Really! Those tents were an institution, didn't this foreigner know that?  (Oh yes, she isn't 'one of us' – indeed she had an actual accent which clearly put her at the back of the bus.)  She moved the food away from the areas where speakers were speaking and the book tent moved closer to the food with a very nice area between them for seating. The weather was perfect (sorry all those who were hoping for bog and wind to ruin it) the speakers were potent and the audiences excellent. There might not have been as many huge names there but our Writers' Week is famous for bringing in writers before they are famous. We may not have much money to fling at these overseas guests but those that come love the place. There was a brilliant family day, the marquees were replaced with light airy spaces covered by blue sails and the backdrops and entrance were woven sapling branches which added to the sense of lightness and creativity. And in a master stroke, the week was dedicated to children's writer, Margo Lanagan. Margo and I began writing at the same time – both published by Allen and Unwin. Margo went on to international fame ... sigh.

What a pity some of the very big publishers decided not to send their publicists when they had up to fourteen of their authors attending. There were no publisher parties this year either - are these publishers pinching in their belts and sticking the good wine under their desks perhaps? There is no doubt the industry is suffering right now and if it wasn't bloody-mindedness then I can only assume lack of funds was the problem.

Congratulations to Laura and her team.  Here's to many more innovative and exciting Writers' Weeks under her guidance. And here's to all those doubters and naysayers realising change isn't always a bad thing - sometimes it actually improves our world. Bring it on, Laura!

A note from your Conductor xx

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