|All of Bellingen looks like this. Its disgusting. Pic via|
I arrive in Bellingen for the Readers and Writers Festival and go directly to the library in search of internet.
The little boy in line in front of me is eagerly reserving all the Tin Tin comics he has not already read. He glances around and notices my lanyard and the little laminated card which says, in bold red letters, WRITER. He looks at me with an expression somewhere between expectation and awe. I have to resist the desire to lean down and whisper conspiratorially “I KNOW.”
I’ve been to festivals before but I’ve never been in possession of an official writers lanyard. They are an elusive mystic thing.
I walk back through Bellingen, limping slightly. I’m having an unrequited love affair with a pair of sensible, black, leather shoes. I love them. They spend their time trying to render my heals unusable. To be honest the relationship is borderline abusive and I should probably get out while I can. But I keep thinking that, if I work at it, I can change them.
My mum and dad drive up from Grafton to stay for the weekend. That evening I have dinner with them and talk far too much. I relate to them to various trials of an being an editor and somehow that makes me feel better. I realise that, despite all the things I have to do before leaving for Melbourne on Thursday, this weekend away was worth it to visit them.
The next morning I’m on the panel about blogging and e-publishing. I’ve never quite understood why these two very complicated and separate things get lumped together. It’s a good panel. A woman asks how important an online presence is if you want to get published. I resist the urge to say that being “properly” published isn’t the be all and end all anymore. More than ever I feel as though writing is what you make it.
Having an online presence is actually pretty important for my sanity and well-being. Only half an hour before, as the pre-panel panic had set in, I’d used one of the library computers to check in with the world. Talking to the people now collectively known as Internet Party didn’t help me to feel important or knowledgeable (two things I always experience a drastic lack of at festivals) but they did make me feel happy. And that’s rather more important most of the time.
That evening I walk to the Memorial Hall to listen to people read poems and stories. For a while I find myself standing awkwardly in the foyer, texting a far away friend who I wish was here. But then a nice lady comes over to say how much she enjoyed this morning’s panel. And suddenly they let us into the dark, quiet hall and I don’t have to be social any more. Morris Gleitzman reads an article about wine and Libby gives me a glass of red because I’m a writer. I take it because she’s offering and listen to a funny Irish man sing lovely songs. Being partial to any funny man with an accent and a guitar (like most of the human race) I have to resist the urge to buy several of his books. I vow instead to look him up when I get home.
I walk back to the backpackers through the dark, deserted streets. On route I go and sit in my car. I turn on the radio and sit in the back with the door open the tiniest amount so the light stays on. I know I could go and sit at the backpackers but somehow I don’t want light and noise. I try to write the short story that’s been in my head all evening. I wish that stories could arrive at more convenient times, but they never do. This one is prosey and a little too true. I wonder briefly if it’ll ever see the light of day but decide that doesn‘t matter.
In the morning I accidentally miss the panel I wanted to see because I’m having breakfast with my parents. But it was idyllic and delicious so I don’t mind really. We have several cups of tea and dad fills up the oil in my car. I drive home to Newcaslte listening to a very bad Marian Keyes audio-book. I play the mixtape Alex made me between chapters.
I think the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival and I have a lot of things in common. We’re both young but promising. We have too much ambition and not enough money. And people have a tendency to pat us on the back and kindly tell us we’ll go far. And we tell them that, that’s the plan while quietly lamenting how hard such simple plans can prove to be.
I hope that one day, when I’m sickeningly rich and famous, they’ll invite me back. By that stage the festival will swelled in scale, grand and prestigious enough to rival Byron Bay. And sitting on panel and I’ll smile fondly and say I was there are the beginning.
And I always believed that we could go far.