This weekend was the Williamstown Literary Festival. Actually, it began on Tuesday and finished today. I spent yesterday as an audient, and today I was ‘in conversation’ with Deborah Forster.

But, yesterday first.

The theme of the entire Festival was ‘Imagining the West’ and my first session took the imagining back millions of years. Yes really. The two speakers were Kristen Otto and Dr Gary Presland. The discussion ranged from volcanic eruptions to tanneries and Yarra pollution, and all the way back again. Gary talked about the effect of landscape on the ‘shape’ of Melbourne and also more recent history, both pre and post colonial settlement. Kristen talked about the flow of the Yarra and other rivers (including the river of sewage that flowed across Melbourne to Werribee via Spotswood). Between them, they described Melbourne’s past and present in a fascinating way.

My next session was titled Setting the Scene and featured Vanessa Cerne and Genevieve Bailey. Vanessa works in film and television as a set dresser and decorator and Genevieve Bailey is an independent film maker. Both talked about how important setting can be in establishing mood for the audience, but also for those being filmed. Vanessa talked about setting a scene for a film to wordlessly support or suggest time and emotion, and Genevieve talked about how being aware of the setting helped her connect to the participants in her upcoming documentary film, Eleven.

Session three was my friend Jackie Kerin and local musician Greg O’Leary telling stories through song and spoken word. We took a walk (or dance) through history from the gold rush, Ned Kelly and lyrebirds, and Greg played and sang, sad songs and joyful. Great fun.

I used my new camera to take pics inside so I didn’t need to use a flash (thanks Alwyn for the shortcut clues). All very well, but it’s impossible to catch a storyteller being still! So although Jackie’s body is in focus, her hands and head were moving, moving, moving!

My final session for the day was a special Willylitfest outing of Victoria Uni’s Rotunda in West, which pairs VU lecturers with writers, this time Sherryl Clark and Tasma Walton who talked about her novel Heartless and how the experience of writing a novel differed from writing screen plays and acting.

Today I out of the audience and onto the rostrum. I was ‘in conversation’ with Deborah Forster, writer of ‘The Book of Emmett’ which has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and also for the Kibble and Dobbie Awards. We met early and began chatting and really we just continued this on stage. We tag-teamed a little, comparing the varying experiences of writing for adults and for children, and of our backgrounds. We took turns to ask the questions. Deborah was great to talk to and her book is a fascinating look at a difficult subject.

So much to absorb, and such a breadth of experience. Amazing organisation by a small volunteer committee and extra volunteers on the day.