I have returned from the Snowy Mountains, where I was attending a literary festival. This was a festival of first-evers. It was the first-ever Snowy Mountains Readers & Writers’ Festival ( http://www.snowymountainswritersfestival.org/ ), but it was also my first-ever literary festival. I was thrilled to be a guest, but also a trifle nervous. I really had little to no idea what to expect. But, only mildly daunted, I packed my little car, and drove on up, over the hills and through the valleys, ascending towards Jindabyne.
Jindabyne is a charming mountain town, and a popular holiday destination. It’s the gateway to the snowfields, and for those unfamiliar with the Australian ski industry (or those unaware that there is an Australian ski industry), I can assure you that it’s big. Thousands and thousands of people ascend to the mountains when it’s snowy. Actually, they also ascend to the mountains when it’s not snowy, as I can attest, because they were all driving in front of me, and most of them were taking their sweet time.
It’s a very nice drive, despite the sweet-time-taking drivers, and if I had any sense, I would have taken photos along the way. Gorgeous landscapes, with the yellow grass, dark mountains and gigantic sky that always makes me feel incredibly patriotic.
Now, I hadn’t been to Jindabyne in forever. Not since I was a little kid, and I had only the vaguest of memories of the place. But when I arrived, I was completely. The town slopes down to Lake Jindabyne. In point of fact, the original town was under Lake Jindabyne. By which I mean that there was a valley, and a town of Jindabyne in it, and then they flooded it, and moved the town.
Not necessarily in that order.
Anyway, I drove through the town, acquainting myself with the lay of the land (that’s how I know it sloped down to the lake), and eventually found my way to Snowprint Bookshop ( http://www.snowprint.com.au/ ), which was one of the sponsors of the Festival. In addition, the bookshop is owned by Shaaron Ellis, who was one of the creators of the Festival, and with whom I had enjoyed several conversations on the phone – the sort of conversations where you begin by talking about business and arrangements for an upcoming literary festival, and then start chatting, and then abruptly you realise that your entire lunch hour has evaporated. So, it was great to finally meet her in person.
The next day was the opening day of the festival, with a very nice Welcome to Country (a custom in which representatives of the local Aboriginal people open an event with a speech and/or presentation, in their role as traditional custodians of the land), and a recitation of The Man from Snowy River (which is a classic Australian poem by Banjo Paterson – some (including me) say that it is the classic Australian poem. It is printed in microtext on the Australian $10 note as a security feature. It’s also been made into a rather good movie, with some outstanding riding scenes, and, bewilderingly, Kirk Douglas. You should read the poem.)
And then it was my first appearance! I was on a panel of Canberra Writers, with Marion Halligan, Peter Rees, and Karen Viggers – all of whom I read, but none of whom I had actually met before. And it was chaired by George Negus, who is a well-known journalist. And really, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to having people look at you while you try to sound interesting about writing. The audience was terrific, and the other panelists were great, and I think we brought a good spread of perspectives to it.
Also, as evidence of the interconnectedness of all things Canberra, even though I had never met any of these people before, it turned out that Marion Halligan was very good friends with a lady who used to live around the corner from me, and one of my friends at work has Karen Viggers as her veterinarian. I’m sure that if Peter Rees and I had gotten the chance to talk some more, we would probably have turned out to be long-lost brothers or something.
That evening there was a literary dinner, and I was tremendously excited because speaking at it were Rosamund Burton (who wrote Castles, Follies and Four Leaf Clovers, which is a great travel story in Ireland) and Sandy Mackinnon. The O’Malley copy of Mackinnon’s book The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow has pretty much fallen apart from repeated re-readings. So, I took along a recently-acquired fresh copy, and awkwardly asked if he would inscribe it for my Mom. (I wasn’t really certain of the etiquette when it comes to asking other writers for autographs, especially when they’re having dinner at the other end of the table.) Mr Mackinnon very kindly obliged, and he and Rosamund Burton then proceeded to give the dining audience some terrific stories from their adventures.
And then it was Sunday, a key feature of which was a presentation by Daniel O’Malley entitled ‘Dr Who and Harry Potter Stand Aside.’ Now, I would like to make clear to you, O Reader of This Blog, just as I did to the audience that day, that I absolutely did NOT come up with the title. My mum called me from Canberra, asking me if I had written that title, and if I was insane. I thought it was going to be my ‘more popular than Jesus’ moment, with an outraged audience rising up and tearing me to tiny pieces, but they accepted the grandiose title as the product of someone else, and thus I commenced my first-ever solo author appearance in front of an audience who weren’t mainly friends and family.
I was only marginally petrified.
I told them a bit about who I am (had to explain the American accent, despite being born and bred in Canberra, Australia) and then I talked about the book (astoundingly), and how I’d come to write it, and the process by which it had gotten published, and I finished my speech, and then realised that I still had about half an hour to go. So, I asked for questions.
As an aside, if you ever go to an event where someone is speaking, come with a question. Or formulate a question while you’re there. It is greatest service you can ever render to someone. You will build up great merit.
And rest assured, there was a substantial amount of merit laid up in Jindabyne that day, because the good attendees absolutely plied me with questions. And they were such good questions too, ones that allowed me to ramble on for another half an hour. All of those attendees have comfortable seats reserved for them in heaven. Or they’ll be reborn as wealthy aristocrats who are straight of limb and keen of eye, depending on their religious beliefs, and personal preferences.
After me was Sulari Gentill ( http://www.sularigentill.com/ ), who writes an absolute torrent of works, but the ones that interested me most were her Rowland Sinclair mysteries, which are set in 1930’s Australia. Her presentation was terrific (her adorable sons asked her questions, including the plaintive “When will you stop writing?”), and I was so taken by her talk that I ducked out immediately to get the first book in the series, so that I could get her to sign it. I cannot wait to dive into it.
And then it was suddenly today, and I was packing up and driving home (with all the other motorists once again taking their sweet time), and now I’m back, getting everything in order. I mowed the lawn, I updated twitter, and I found a very nice review by Coffee and a Book Chick, which you can read (and agree with) at http://www.coffeeandabookchick.com/2012/04/rook-by-daniel-omalley.html
In fact, there have been a few reviews released upon the world since the last time I updated this blog, and I shall provide links to them for your convenience, and viewing pleasure:
The lads from 5 x 2 provide two reviews of The Rook, which you can view and compare at :
Susan Tunis gives a review at her blog In one eye, out the other
And there’s a review of The Rook in French at Unwalkers, http://www.unwalkers.com/the-rook-de-daniel-omalley-rookie-of-the-year/) .
Now, some of you may recall that, in a previous blog posting, I described the mysterious teddy bears, which had been nailed to a succession of trees along the road from Canberra to the coast. Various theories as to the origins and reasons for these bears abound, but one of my readers (who shall remain nameless in case she didn’t want her name out in the internet) has informed me that the bears serve to mark the route to a nudist colony. I’m sure there’s a play on bare/bear, but given the deteriorating condition of the bears, it’s a disquieting idea, if it’s true. But thanks for the scoop.
Finally, my colleagues at work have not permitted me to forget the fact that, on the 18th of March, The Sunday Territorian (a newspaper based in Darwin) had an article on The Rook, entitled “Dan’s Fighting the Forces of Evil.” Duplicates of this article now adorn my deskspace. I’m secretly rather thrilled, and would kill for a copy of the actual newspaper.
Books Purchased at the Festival
1. The World from Islam by George Negus
2. The Unlikely Voyage of Jack de Crow by A.J. Mackinnon
3. A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill
4. The Beijing Conspiracy by Adrian d’Hage