Clunes Writers Festival

Yep…finally! This is the start of my global quest to visit 6 Booktowns in person. Clunes is our only Australian Booktown, and this weekend is the first of 3 events scheduled for May. BC (Before COVID), the annual Festival on the first weekend in May drew huge crowds to the streets and old heritage buildings, but 2021 sees a new format to cater for social distancing and the contingencies of lockdowned authors etc… a great lineup of Victorian authors. Easy access to Melbourne helps.

Friends know this has been a burning ambition of mine since M (affectionately known as LSM – Long Suffering Mate) and I stumbled over the historic gold mining town on a driving holiday a few years BC. So, with our tickets firmly in hand, we 4 intrepid adventurers headed through the undulating countryside to Clunes.

Of course no woman can adventure on an empty stomach, so we ate a wholesome breakfast at Johnny’s in Ballarat – actually delicious with the best gf bread I have had EVER……and that is saying something from a coeliac of 27 years. Thank you to the waitress with the most perfect teeth I had seen in a long time.

Gaynor and the best scrambled eggs in many a year.

Easy drive and in plenty of time to wander and orientate ourselves before the beautifully serene smoking welcome ceremony by Dja Dja Warrung Elder Aunty Paulie Ugle in the Town Centre. What an inspiring speaker and teacher. We learnt lots.

And so the program for Turn the Page on 2020 began. In between the sessions of diverse topics, writers and interviewers, there was time to wander the streets and ponder the history of Australia’s first recorded gold find. What a treasure trove!

The first session was In a Nutshell: The art of the Short Story. Elizabeth McCarthy chaired the panel of Sean OBeirne, Leah Swann and Scott Gardner who shared their insights in to that unique genre. Definitely steered me to more contemporary short story writing. A great way to kick off the day for me.

Short story – not short on ideas

Then it was on to the lively discussion with Margaret Hickey, Rosalie Ham and JP (Josh) Pomare around how Landscape can be character and steal the scene…..locales in country Australia taking a central role in delivering that intensity which grabs the reader through the smells, colour and earthiness. Thank you Robert Gott for a masterful panel moderation.

Of course the setting of sessions in the magnificent Town Hall added as special touch. As did the quirky and unique Clunes characters in its streetscape.

Session 3 was the well-known and regarded host of the ABC radio The Book Show, Romona Koval. Her quest to find the answers to human transition and where that might lead in an evolving future, took her on many global adventures and to the realisation that there is no definitive answer. Her novel Letter to Layla (her grand daughter) follows that thirst for answers, and hints at a more robotic future.

I discovered a very nourishing lentil curry gf pie for a quick bite before the final session for Day 1 – for flagging energy levels, the panel of Katherine Kovacic, Sandi Wallace and Lyn Yeowart certainly entertained. Their personal traits, backgrounds or preferences were revealed and discussed openly and courageously. What interesting women writers….and Maggie Barron was a great interviewer interrogating Rural Noir.

Sisters in Crime supported this session and the monthly YouTube sessions are a delight – highly recommended for those who enjoy exploring good crime writing.

And that was the end of our first day in Clunes……we drove back to Ballarat where we found delicious dishes at Thai Sala Pavilion within a short walk of the Lascelles digs and then we crashed and slept like logs.