Unlike years past, I only bought two tickets to the festival this year, and both of those last minute. I dragged my feet it’s true, but when I logged on to try and buy a ticket for the opening (after hearing it sold out very quickly) I got a ticket. Oh those marketing people, how they try to play us. And I got a ticket to Elizabeth Harrower this Sunday.

So there I was last week, at the opening, for the keynote by Maxine Beneba Clarke and then the announcement for the Miles Franklin Literary Awards.

It was meant to start at 6.30pm and was a few minutes late. I wanted to sit up the back. I like sitting up the back. There were a whole bunch of reserved signs though, on those seats. ‘Who would be sitting there?’ I thought (and later found out).

I went and positioned myself amid a bunch of older people, well-dressed, urbane men and women and sat in my new mohair coat feeling like I was wearing mink for some reason (it’s heavy, I think that’s why).

mazine beneba clarke

Maxine’s speech was extraordinary. I can’t hope to replicate any of the urgency, soulfulness or beauty of her words here. She started with a short spoken-word piece and it set the tone: we would be healing* about identity, race, the impact on children and how literature (children’s, YA and adult) needs to not be inclusive of diversity but by created by diverse writers. I found her speech moving, intelligent and very wise. She is amazing and afterwards I went and bought a copy of her book, introduced myself with the awkward ‘we’ve never met but we’re friends on facebook’ and thanked her for her words. She wrote in my copy ‘from my heart to yours’ which, let’s face it, if the book is anything like her keynote address, will be from the heart. (I don’t think Maxine does it any other way, to be honest.)

By now I’d picked out the backs of the shortlist of the Miles crew. There was Alec Patric with his flat-cap, there was Charlotte Wood greeting others and being the warm person  she is (she shared a bottle of Mumm with the shortlist beforehand, she is pure class). There was Myf Jones, a new friend, and one of the nicest, most genuine people I know. And there was Lucy Treloar, someone I’ve had coffee with and a lovely lovely person who is funny and smart. All of them brilliant writers. (I don’t know Peggy Frew but she was there too in a top or dress with a Very Stylish Back.)

After Maxine’s speech ended, Alec Patric was the first to his feet to give a standing ovation. More people stood, the rest of us a bit slow, thinking are we doing this? Oh yes, let’s get up. It was a great moment. And then it was time for the announcement.

Except not really. We had some speakers, and more speakers. I can’t even remember now whether we had dignitaries and pollies before or after Maxine, I think before? Then we had Miles Franklin people, on screen, in front of the microphone, and Kim Williams gave a looooong speech on: the history of the Miles? the significance of the award? Awards generally? I can’t remember now, partly because of what followed celebration wise, but partly because I was listening out for the next MF winning title embedded in his speech. Yes, he inserted titles such as All That I Am, Dead Man’s Dance and so on into his speech. Then we had the announcement and it was Alec, in some ways not unexpected to me, and I think deserving.

So afterwards I chatted to a few people, pressed a glass of bubbly into my publisher’s hand (she was up the back, THAT’S why all those reserved signs, it’s for the publishers and associates. See my instinct to be at the back makes sense. A quick getaway if necessary, and being able to see the backs of everyone, and pick people out…) I chatted to Barry and Tess, the exuberant publishers at Transit Lounge, also to a few other people, and then met up with the A&U group a bit later for drinks. The night progressed and saw us in one hip bar and then another when the first closed. It was fun, lots of chat, too much bubbly and then I taxied home Far Too Late, trying to talk to the cabbie about Pakistan writers, something I did very poorly.

I’m glad I’m moderate these days with my ‘raging’ cause it’s just too hard to do, and besides, not conducive to good work and health, but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s entirely necessary. This weekend I’m looking forward to Elizabeth Harrower and just quietly catching up with a couple of friends in at the festival.

What have other people seen? And is anyone going to Ubud? I wish I was…


* should read ‘hearing’ but have decided to leave it as is. It’s a slip that is meaningful.