Today in class, I asked who had been to something at the Writers' Festival. Two people. Admittedly I hadn't specifically asked this class to go (but my poetry class was supposed to attend at least one session - won't that be interesting when they all have to admit non-attendance). But then I have to ask - why not? It's on for 10 days - it's not like they've got a full booking sheet for 10 days in a row (and this is not really the time of year for major assignments to be due).
I know that for some it's a money issue, with many tickets costing $12 concession, and for some it's a family issue, with kids to organise. But surely they could manage one session ...?
Maybe it's a matter of perception. One perception is that last year's festival (and the ones before) were boring, with little to offer the new writer, so why should this year be different? That may be true, but I'd say: read the program - there were tons of things to choose from. I'd also say that that perception partly stems from NOT READING - festivals always look boring when there are a lot of writers there you've never heard of. Hello? If you read more widely, not only might you have heard of some of the writers, but you'd also be far more open to listening to writers unknown to you. I'd never heard of Vendela Vida before, but I was interested in her topic - rewriting - and ended up buying one of her books.
Some students have complained in the past that writers spend all their time in the sessions promoting their latest book. True. This year it seemed to have been mostly solved. Writers talked about writing, and left the promos at home (in most cases, but not all, judging by some eavesdropping I did!).
This year, most speakers I heard seemed to have left the academic-type, dry papers at home and talked freely and with energy from their notes. One person tried to wing it, and was a miserable speaker - the others showed him up.
Students have also complained that the festival is impersonal - when around 340,000 tickets are sold, that's a lot of people interested in books and writing milling around. Rather than complain that the writers are "distant" (translate that to "staying out of range"), grab a coffee and sit for a while and people-watch. You'll probably get some good story ideas, especially if you eavesdrop.
While I enjoy going to the festival and meeting up with people, I also like going on my own, choosing my own sessions and just taking up the "sponge position". I wrote a poem at a book launch, got several ideas in different sessions that I wrote down so I wouldn't forget them, and gathered a great collection of quotes. I came away feeling like being a writer was a good thing to be, regardless of how hard the road might seem.