June 11, 2013
So, the biennial, immersive, memorable Reading Matters 2013 conference is over. This is not a comprehensive, professional recap (see Danielle Binks’ posts here and Zac Harding’s here for that)—this is more a view from the trenches with tasteful photography. Ahem.
I prepared the shit out of this event (that’s what I have to do to head off an unsightly public meltdown—see previous posts alluding to OCD tendencies). I read eleven books in four weeks. I scribbled pages of notes for my panel sessions, hoping the act of writing my thoughts down would somehow keep them on stand-by, ready for split-second retrieval. The last thing I needed was for my mouth to get ahead of my brain (I get flippant and confessional when that happens). I boarded the plane with the niggling suspicion I’d forgotten something—my toothbrush, maybe extra socks—but of course (you’ve guessed already) I’d forgotten my NOTES. Cue: unsightly public meltdown. But it was okay because a) I got it out of my system among strangers and b) there were kind and solicitous flight attendants who brought me alcohol without judgment.
The Reading Matters experience was a little overwhelming and a lot surreal. This was my first conference as an author, not a delegate, but I went along to every session, barring one morning panel when I missed my alarm. Just a few of my most memorable moments (because my memories are subjective… and sketchy):
Keith Gray’s brilliant Connolly-esque speech: ‘Gatekeepers – the Good, the Bad and My Mother’. I hope this shows up on Read Alert soon because everybody needs to hear it.
Friday Night Fight – a hilarious showdown between emerging writers from the EWF and the ‘Dumb Adults’ represented by Libba Bray, Myke Bartlett and Garth Nix. Team Dumb Adult kicked ass against some worthy opponents, without resorting to sledging and with an invitation for EWF contestants to crash the Green Room. Classy.
A stirring discussion about the entrenched concept of ‘girl books’ and ‘boy books’: ‘Gender Less’ with Libba Bray, Myke Bartlett and Fiona Wood. (This made me realise how lucky I am to have fairly gender-neutral covers. I have never felt as if I ‘write for girls’, only that, so far, I have written from the female perspective, and this should not automatically exclude male readers from experiencing that perspective.)
Many authors were vocal about problems and imbalances within the YA book industry, which goes a long way to addressing issues rather than ignoring them for the sake of a united front. I loved that we didn’t all agree.
I did confess to stealing library books when I was young (which goes down as my most epically stupid blurt to date—in front of 300 librarians) and one lovely librarian granted me absolution after the session by squeezing my shoulder and saying, ‘It’s okay, You must have needed them’. Thank you, I did.
I was also a willing cohort in the ‘Appendage of Steel’ segue (Gabrielle Williams started it) which provided some comic relief after the serious but enlightening discussions about gendered covers and gatekeeping.
Watching from the Green Room as Melbourne put on a spectacular lightning display. Our official group author photo, taken on Saturday evening, will show a sodden bunch of exhausted but happy writers who were caught in a dumping-down as we headed back to our hotel after the conference. This is an unofficial photo (Keith Gray and I are apparently The Bogan Twins, separated at birth):
I would have taken pics of the lightning but by this stage I had misplaced my phone. It turned up later, in my room, with another inexplicable ‘haunted’ picture:
Shopping between events with Libba and Gayle who had to go undercover…
(see how casually I said that? You know, shopping with Libba and Gayle…)
Dinner with super-hot-librarians Nikki, Alison and Kat at an amazing restaurant where they served Myke Bartlett a Seuss-like dessert. Horton did a WHAT?
Wearing Cats beanies during the Geelong Regional Tour (gifts, apparently necessary for safe passage, except my family are Port Adelaide supporters—safe passage was not assured once I arrived back in Adelaide.)
Coming home to this:
The reason Young Adult books are so popular, the reason this part of the book industry is so vibrant and successful, is the community. Thank you to Anna Burkey, Adele Walsh, Jordi Kerr, Nicole Armstrong, Kelly Gardiner and the team from the SLV Centre for Youth Literature, who worked like fiends to pull this conference together and made it such a fantastic experience for all. And thank you, writers—you astound me with your words, ideas and generosity.