Every year, since becoming a mum ten years ago, I've considered my two or three days at the Sydney Writers' Festival to be like an annual holiday. There are speakers I've heard that have been memorable, or inspiring, and it is comforting to be amongst people who have the same concerns or interests as me. And yes, it has been lovely to engage Linda Jarvin or Tee Tulloch in some incidental conversation. But increasingly I've grown disenchanted with the event.
Really, the event is a big marketplace, with all the writers promoting their wares.
A few years ago (and it was particularly fun when the Coalition was in government) the bigger issues of global concern, and issues of social justice were popular topics at the festival. And of course, global warming, now known as climate change or climate chaos. What I noticed was that those attending the event were pretty well off. Mostly retired folk, who own more than one property. Not many younger men are there; I suppose they're all at work, so I wouldn't advise it as a place for single women to pick up. There are some students, and some younger women. By and large, the demographic of patrons is wealthy, left-wing, with a concern for social issues, but I wonder about how much is lip-service, and whether those attending take any action themselves. Do they decide to not pay to hear a writer talk, or buy a book, but instead give that money to the cause where a difference can be made beyond consciousness raising? I wonder if the concern is for social issues, or to give the patrons something to talk about at dinner parties.
I notice a fashion trend at the festival - kind of a uniform for the women. Boots, and pashminas, either olive or burgundy. Of course, I was thinking that I dressed appropriately for the event (although I'd never wear an olive pashmina - not my colour), and was confused when I was talking with the homeless poets and a passer-by asked me if I was amongst that group. It made me think, considering I was the only person I saw sitting near them, that the patrons might like the idea of homeless poets having a forum at the festival, they don't actually want to talk to them.
This year there are more events in the program than ever. And many more that are ticketed. I decided a few years ago to no longer pay to see writers speak. I figure that the international guests will also appear on tv and in radio interviews, and that I'd rather spend my money on books than hear writers talk about their books, so that I feel I've read the book without actually reading it. I'm not interested in the navel gazing memoirs of the privileged, who can mend a broken heart by travelling the world, and writing about it. And I certainly don't need to hear about what writers do when they're not writing. I just don't care.
Increasingly, when I've heard writers talk about their process of writing I've become frustrated. I also attend author talks in my local community. The act of writing is often so privileged. Sometimes I want to shout out 'Who is looking after the children?' because there aren't many mothers who have the time to write (beyond blogging), and then promote their work. OK, I know that J K Rowling and Jodi Picolt and Stephanie Meyers are very successful, but for the next few tiers down, not many mothers are writing or getting their writing published. When you look at the make-up of the guests at the Sydney's Writers Festival year after year, (which belies the idea that it is hard to get your book published, because there are a hundred writers who are published and I've never heard of, and I'm not particularly interested in their work), most are single women, men, or women without children.
I would probably attend an event about classics or ancient classics (two events in ten years), and definitely attend an event about mothering in fiction or mothers writing (there was one event about ten years ago, and something last year at the Blue Mountains - that's all in ten years), but otherwise, no.
So, this year I'm reading at home on the weekend. If it is sunny I'll be reading in the backyard. I might do some writing. And I hope to catch up with some friends to hear their opinions on the issues that concern them.
Maybe I don't need the annual holiday anymore.