March 2015 Festival Update
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What a weekend!

I am a little bleary-eyed but I am so thrilled the 2015 festival was a success. We are yet to finalise attendance figures but I am confident it will exceed 5,000 people – a large increase on the 2014 figure of 4,150.

I had the opportunity to speak with many festival-goers between sessions and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Visiting writers embraced Newcastle, in spite of the gloomy weather, and many seized the opportunity to enjoy Bathers Way and the Hunt & Gather Markets in Pacific Park on Saturday. Some guests had never spent time Newcastle before the festival and they were impressed by the enthusiasm of the audiences and the professionalism of the large team of friendly volunteers. I extend my heartfelt thanks to each of them. The festival would be impossible to pull off without their willingness to give up their time. It is reassuring to see so many familiar faces in the black festival T-shirts and it is great to know they are keen to return in 2016. Our volunteer co-ordinator and festival board member Sheree Kable deserves a big pat on the back – and some time to put up her feet.

Highlights for me included Bob Brown's clunky but passionate performance of his 'Anthem for the Earth' – using a grand piano we hastily wheeled on the stage 30 minutes before his solo session. Michael Robotham's anecdote during the opening night event about writing a fan letter Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, as well as his childhood obsession with Lord of the Rings, brought tears to my eyes. Helen Garner's candid chat with Booktopia editor and facilitator extraordinaire Caroline Baum on Saturday night revealed Helen's humility, wit and authenticity. Read Caroline's overview of her first Newcastle Writers Festival experience here.

Helen Garner (left) & Caroline Baum
Bob Brown

I thought Blanche d'Alpuget was wonderful and host Meredith Jaffe's artful questioning led to a wide-ranging discussion. Blanche revealed that she writes in an unattractive room in the backyard without internet access. The Sunday morning panel discussion about the impact of the 24-hour media cycle was lively and thought-provoking. I even stood up and asked a question. As a journalist, it was impossible not to. I was heartened by The Saturday Paper editor Erik Jensen's support of long-form journalism. He mentioned that one of the most-read stories his newspaper has published online was 6000 words long.

The Political Novel panel
David Leser, Erik Jensen & Ed Wright

There were so many other highlights – too many to list – but I had an encounter on Sunday after the final session had concluded. More than 250 people were filing out of the Concert Hall after the lively launch of Radical Newcastle: Unearthing the Radical Past and Present of Newcastle and the Hunter Region and a woman stopped me. "Hello Rosemarie, I'm from Muswellbrook, and this might upset you, but I don't read and I'm not a writer. I come to the festival each year and go away filled with ideas. It's wonderful."  I wasn't upset at all. I have always felt that the festival is as much about the exchange of ideas as it is about books and writing.

Thank you for your ongoing support and if you attended the festival and have a couple of minutes to spare, I would appreciate your feedback via our online survey - please click here to participate.

I want to thank the NWF board, as well as the guest writers, the brilliant hosts, and our key sponsors – Newcastle City Council, University of Newcastle, Newcastle NOW, Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, as well as Hunter Writers Centre. Our media partners, Newcastle Herald and 1233 ABC, help spread the word about the event and the line-up of guest writers. Thank you to MacLean's Booksellers for their hard work and enthusiasm. The festival atmosphere would be diminished without an on-site bookshop. Thank you to photographer Chris Patterson, of Intervision Photography, who captures beautifully the many facets of the weekend. Scion Audio and City Hall staff, aka The Men in Black, are reliable, professional and help me with logistics. I couldn't do it without them. I want to also thank designer Miranda Whittle, who created a good-looking 2015 program, which was no mean feat given its expanded size. Staff at Newcastle Region Library helped organise and manage a very successful kids' program this year and NWF board member Katrina McKelvey brought together a team of keen volunteers across the five-day program. Thank you!

Don't forget to mark the dates for the 2016 Newcastle Writers Festival in your diary, 1-3 April.

I am going to take a short break and get stuck into my day job at the Newcastle Herald so the next newsletter will reach you in May.

Until then, happy reading.

Rosemarie Milsom

Audience at our children's sessions
Geraldine Doogue
Chris Uhlmann & Rosemarie Milsom
Festival volunteers hard at work
Scott Bevan & Gavin Fry
Marion Halligan

Festival titbits

A fun festival! – @GarthNix

For some, the muse comes in and settles on the desk. For others, she's dragged in at gunpoint – Don Watson, This Writing Life session.

Write to the writers you love – Jessica Rudd, The Book That Changed Me session

Good times volunteering at the festival this weekend. Will be back for more fun next year, especially if they keep up the free mentos â€“  @Ewa1979

There's something utterly unknowable about all of us – David Leser, Blurred Lines session

I think it's pathetic and wimpy to expect that you have to like a character to enjoy a book – Helen Garner in conversation with Caroline Baum

Until we vote with our children and grandchildren in mind, we're bound to fail – Bob Brown.

Very interesting session on asylum seekers. Take home message: Legislate to protect the vulnerable and we are the voters – @RaeYesac

A couple of times some nong has called Bob ‘Mr d'Alpuget – Blanche d'Alpuget in conversation with Meredith Jaffe.
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