Last week, I was off to my first ever writers festival. Despite having its benefits spruiked to me at uni, I had never been able to attend before because of work commitments. This year, having graduated to a permanent part-time job and freelance work, I was free to do whatever I wanted. I looked at the program and, lo and behold, it was filled with some intriguing and exciting events featuring bestselling international young adult authors.
10am-1pm – Creative Methods masterclass:
Acclaimed US fantasy author Laini Taylor takes you through exercises for brainstorming stories, building and keeping momentum as you write and how to become unstuck when things aren’t working. Useful creative methods for fiction writers of all abilities!
Laini Taylor has a casual and warm way of speaking that leaves you totally unprepared for the beautiful phrases that she slips into her sentences. Laini told a small-ish group of us that she used to spend a lot of her time brainstorming and world-building and she didn’t realise for ages that that wasn’t actually writing. She likened planning and plotting to standing outside a house and looking in: you can’t really know what’s going on until you step inside. And, once you do step in and start writing, you have to attempt to clothe stories in language in such a way as to make as direct as possible a bridge between your mind and the reader.
Laini gave us some of her favourite writing exercises to work with in the masterclass. For 15 minutes, we wrote lists of all the things we’d like in a story, until lists gave way to sentences and ideas and barely legible notes. Somewhere in that 15 minutes, I found the ‘shhhick’ that Laini mentioned—that feeling and sound of a puzzle piece fitting exactly into place. A problematic plot point in one of my current projects suddenly solved itself.
We made more lists about the kinds of books we wanted to write, the kinds of stories we wanted to explore in the future, and shared them with each other in small groups, getting excited about each other’s ideas and offering suggestions on how certain things could work.
We worked on crafting the perfect first line. If it didn’t work, we rewrote it again and again until some people were happy enough to share their first lines with the group for feedback.
Then, in a freewriting exercise, those first lines had to go somewhere. When that exercise was finished, I had a completely new scene for my current project that took it in a very different direction. Since this was my first opportunity in ages to get immediate feedback, I volunteered to read out what I had written and was really excited to see nods and a few people saying, ‘Oh!’ in surprise and enjoyment.
We talked more with Laini about her work and different methods she’d tried, and some specifics about her work. She read us the first lines of the three short stories in Lips Touch, which were all developed from writing prompts. I have to get my hands on that book.
When the masterclass was finished, those who had copies of Laini’s books lined up to get them signed and to grab a photo with her. I have signed copies of other books that I’ve bought but Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the first one signed personally for me by an author, and I’m so glad it was by someone that I really admire.
3.30pm-4.30pm – A Guide to Self-Publishing seminar:
Queensland Writers Centre leads a panel of self-publishing experts, from authors who found success publishing independently, to printers and digital vendors with tips to help you achieve your goals. With Caylie Jeffery, Darrell Pitt, Ben Aitchison, and Leonie Tyle.
This was only a small seminar and I’m fairly certain I was the youngest person in the room. Since I’ve heard a lot about self-publishing during my uni subjects, I looked at this seminar as a way to see what kinds of questions that future self-publishing authors might have and what prices industry professionals recommended for editing services. I ended up finding out about a lot of platforms that I don’t remember hearing about in uni and how authors might use these platforms to reach the widest spread of readers.
Everyone on the panel encouraged those interested in self-publishing to see what deals they could broker with talented friends when it comes to cover design and other specialist avenues that can impact the sales of a book.
5pm-6pm – This World and the Next panel:
Laini Taylor, Isobelle Carmody, and Kirilee Barker talk with Trent Jamieson about diving into fantastical other worlds, and bringing some of the magical to this Muggle one.
I absolutely loved this panel. I’ve never read any of Isobelle Carmody’s work (though some of my friends adore her) but she was so passionate and intelligent it was hard not to get swept away just by being in the same room as her. Laini was just as inspiring and even she seemed in awe of Isobelle’s passion, voting for her to be the face and representative of fantasy writers as a whole. Laini also wanted to advocate for time travel grants for writers so that anyone writing historical fiction (which she’s doing for her next project) could go back and experience things firsthand.
Kirilee Barker’s debut novel The Book of Days had only been released a few days prior and this was her first time being on a panel. She seemed just as caught up in the other authors’ presence as I was and her answers were relatively short, almost as if she didn’t want to take up too much time. I would’ve liked to hear more from her during the panel but, since I knew she was going to be in some other events, I was happy for any excuse just to admire her awesome outfit whenever she spoke.
Trent Jamieson (a spec fic writer) was a great moderator, sharing the questions equally and prompting the authors for more detailed answers on certain topics.
There was more talk of world-building and how, technically, it’s more like engineering than writing. Characters are the reader’s true doorway into the world and every part of the world should be revealed as necessary. (Basically, don’t do an info-dump if your character doesn’t need to know things yet.) The first person who has to believe in the world, your characters, and all magical creatures is you, the writer. If you believe, the readers will follow.
8.30pm-10pm – The Secret Life of Whovians festival club:
Sonic screwdrivers at fifty paces in a riotous discourse on DOCTOR WHO with Ben McKenzie, Sean Williams, Lauren Beukes, and Damon Young.
Lauren Beukes wasn’t actually there for this panel and I’m terrible with names so I can’t remember the name of the lady who took her place. There was a lot of talk of Classic Who, which I could mostly follow but I’m sure some of the finer points and jokes escaped me. There was also a lot of dislike for David Tennant (‘too many feelings’) and love for Matt Smith (whimsical fairy tale lord) based on their individual portrayals of the Doctor, which I didn’t necessarily agree with. I suppose the companions greatly impact my feelings about a particular Doctor and I’ve never been Amy or Clara’s biggest fan.
I was in agreement with the panel, however, that Christopher Eccleston’s run as the Doctor had some of the best writing in it. That guy is so underappreciated.
The night ended with some laugh-out-loud comments about preferences for Daleks or Cybermen, and whether or not Neil Gaiman’s attempt to make the Cybermen scary worked in any way (the panel agreed that it didn’t work at all).
And that was my first day of Brisbane Writers Festival. 12 hours learning, writing, note-taking and immersing myself in a place filled with book lovers and people who were geeking out just as hard as I was. I was exhausted, exhilarated, and excited to come back the next day to do it all over again.