Yarra Valley Writers Festival 2020

This weekend readers were virtually treated to the inaugural Yarra Valley Writers Festival in a series of enriching online sessions.

It was the perfect way to spend a rainy day curled up inside, while also supporting local writers and tourism.

The festival was live-streamed on Saturday 9th May from the homes of local authors around the Yarra Valley, while hosted by MC Michael Veitch from ‘The Memo’ Memorial Hall in Healesville.

Launching in the midst of the current global pandemic, the festival certainly faced its fair share of challenges from the outset – but quickly responded to those challenges, handling them incredibly well by re-gearing the festival into a digital format that many could enjoy from home.

The result was a well-organised, enriching festival that was not only good for the soul, but also showcased the best that the Yarra Valley region has to offer – from local businesses, wineries and cafes, to bookshops and of course local writers. It was very thoughtfully put-together, and also interspersed with performances from local musician The Anecdote between sessions.

Performance by The Anecdote

The festival comes at a time now ‘where we need conversations, connection and our thinkers and writers more than ever.’

From 9:30am to 7:30pm, the program was jam-packed with an impressive line-up of authors in various conversations and sessions.

I was a late riser for a Saturday morning, so the first session I tuned into for the day was Place in the New World Order just before lunch-time – in which Alice Robinson, Meg Mundell, Karen Viggers and chair Elizabeth McCarthy discussed writing in the time of coronavirus.

‘Place in the New World Order’ – MC Michael Veitch with Meg Mundell, Karen Viggers and chair Elizabeth McCarthy

The group discussed the demand for stories and creative thinking post-COVID19, the impact and possible long-term changes it will have on social interaction, and the lessons they hope will stay with us once we come out of the lockdown.

This was followed by an interview with playwright and screenwriter David Williamson (Don’s Party, Gallipoli). In this session David reflected on his 50 year career, and the way his upbringing influenced him in wanting to tell stories and capture the way that people interact with one another.

David Williamson

Upbringing and family stories were also a key theme of the following session, titled How Weird Does Your Family Need to Be? – a very moving, poignant session which reduced many to tears. Writers Alice Pung (Her Father’s Daughter), Rick Morton (100 Years of Dirt), Richard Glover (Flesh Wounds) and chair Michael Mackenzie (ABC) spoke about overcoming difficult beginnings and ‘weird families’, embracing these and turning them into art – that ‘literature is an offering of empathy.’

‘The meaning of life is to come from somewhere dark and turn it into sunshine,’ commented Richard Glover.

‘How Weird Does Your Family Need to Be?’ – Rick Morton, Richard Glover, Alice Pung and chair Michael Mackenzie

From 4:45pm, crime writers from the Writers on the Run program gathered to discuss Australian crime writing in If I Tell You, I’ll Have to Kill You.

Authors Emma Viskic (Resurrection Day), Jock Serong (Preservation), Robert Gott (The Port Fairy Murders), and chair Angela Savage discussed crime writing as being a ‘social barometer’ for examining right and wrong within our society, and examining our cultural identity through the genre.

‘If I Tell You, I’ll Have to Kill You’ – Emma Viskic, Jock Serong, chair Angela Savage, Robert Gott, and MC Michael Veitch

The final session for the night was a thoughtful discussion between writer Eliza Henry-Jones (How to Grow a Family Tree) and musician, singer and author Clare Bowditch on her memoir Your Own Kind of Girl. The pair spoke about the way grief, loss and bereavement can shape your identity in growing up – and the way self-expression can help to set you free.

Clare Bowditch with Eliza Henry-Jones

The festival concluded with a beautiful performance by Clare Bowditch (her song Amazing Life), then the excited festival programmers handing out apple pies – ‘We’re all in a state of heightened euthoria BECAUSE IT WORKED!’

YVW Festival team bid us all goodnight!

It certainly did work! Congratulations to all involved on pulling off a wonderful festival in unchartered waters, in spite of such challenges. Looking forward to next year’s festival and seeing what it brings.

To find out more about the festival, head to the YVWF website.

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