31 August 2008

Melbourne Writers' Festival at Federation Square

The last two weekends, I've been attending the Melbourne Writers' Festival at Federation Square in the city (Melbourne). This is the festival's first year at Fed Square, and I've had some debate with writer friends about whether we think it will be a better or worse venue than the Malthouse Theatre, which is where the festival's been held in the past.

I've been firmly in the camp that it will be a much better venue, for two reasons: commuting and space. The trouble with the Malthouse is trying to get a park -- hard enough in itself, but trying to get one for any length of time... More than once I've missed part of a session because I was out moving my car, joining the half a dozen other sharks doing the circle, looking for spots. And as for space, the Malthouse between sessions was sardine city. Literally, pushing through people to breathe, let alone move.

Fed Square means I can catch a train in, because parking in the city -- well, forget about it. It can be done, but be one minute over (or three as my husband found out the other day) and you'll find yourself ticketed.

So, what have I found? Fed Square is certainly more spacious, with more seating in the theatres, and a choice of coffee shops and, as a bonus, a second-hand book sale as well as the festival book shop. What I hadn't expected though was the fragmented feel. A lot of the people at Fed Square aren't there as part of the festival, and festival goers are spread all around the place. I can't even tell who's a festival goer and who's not. It's meant that I've felt far less sense of community, and I think that sense of community is something we all need. It's probably something I have more than many writers because I'm teaching writing and surrounded in my day job, therefore, by writers. And because I belong to two writers groups I'm mixing with writers outside my work hours as well. Over the years, I've gradually whittled away most of my non-writer friends -- something that saddens me, but that's just how it is. Given the choice of shopping with the girls and working on my novel, sorry, but the novel's going to win out every time.

But even so, my writing life can feel a bit insular. Attending writers festivals gives a broader picture -- small fish in a big sea stuff. Usually, at the MWF, I see a number of people I know -- people I've done courses with or been students with or whom I've met through other writers. This year I saw only two (other than my friend Ellen, who'd I'd organised to go with): Kate Eltham, Clarion organiser extraordinaire and representative of the Qld Writers' Centre, and Kathy, one of our students, but not one I'm teaching. It was lovely to catch up (no matter how briefly) with them both. 

So, better venue or not? I'm currently undecided. But my loathing of the parking at the Malthouse is such that I've often chosen not to attend, whereas now I'm much more excited about going back next year. Perhaps that's all I need to reflect on!


Leah-Mae's Scribbles said...

hiya Tracey,
i also went to the writer's festival -with my sschool- we had no idea the venue had been changed! we arrived and wandered 'round for ages trying to figure out if this was the right place!!
please let me know if you'll be in any interviews next year,as i'll suggest it to my teachers!

cheers, Leah-Mae.

Sherryl said...

I agree about the lack of community feeling. And the cafes at Fed Square didn't seem to care that the WF was on. Attendees were just more customers. The cafe people at the Malthouse are very aware that people want food and coffee fast so they don't miss their session - a big difference, I felt.
Maybe we all need to suggest that the WF organisers should look at ways of creating more sense of getting together?