Carpe Librum: Writing and Words at MWF18

A reflection on the Festival that was by book blogger and MWF18 Digital Storyteller Tracey Allen, aka Carpe Librum.

Under the creative leadership of artistic director Marieke Hardy, this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival succeeded in reinventing writers festivals as we’ve come to know them. With an evocative theme of ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, the 2018 Festival expanded on the idea of writing and words beyond the pages of a book and delivered a diverse range of workshops, conversations and performances.

I attended several sessions across the Festival, but my favourite by far was the ‘Female Thrillers’ event hosted by Shelley Hadfield. Authors Candice Fox, Megan Goldin and Susi Fox freely talked about thrillers and shared their writing processes. It was hard not to be inspired by their dedication and determination to carve out every spare moment possible for writing. Hearing Candice talk about her ongoing collaboration with James Patterson was fascinating and she held the audience captive with her quirky sense of humour. I love the thriller genre, and hearing from such established and successful authors was a real – and rare – literary treat.

The most exciting event for me was easily the Miles Franklin Literary Award. After listening to readings from previous winners, the 2018 winner was announced and the crowd was quick to congratulate Michelle de Kretser on her winning novel The Life To Come.

The most moving session for me was ‘Life After Death’ with Australian psychic medium Mitchell Coombes. Mitchell was able to connect with departed loved ones for several audience members who were clearly astonished by how much he knew about them. I was moved by their stories of love, grief and loss and only wish the session had been longer.

Having recommended Majok Tulba’s new novel When Elephants Fight in the lead-up to the Festival, it was great to get along to his session. Majok fled his Sudanese village as a young boy and lived in a refugee camp in Uganda with his brother for ten years. He finally came to Australia in 2001 at the age of 16 and is now proud to call himself an Aussie. Hearing Majok speak about these experiences in person was an inspiration.

Festivalgoers adore their books, and I was delighted to see so many pop-up Readings bookshops dotted around the Festival with happy readers browsing and buying the books they were hearing about. I also loved the little reading nook at the entrance to Deakin Edge at Federation Square, and peering in to see people reading and dozing there each time I went past. The inclusion of literary tattoos at the Festival was a stroke of genius and while I did go to the Mission to Seafarers to check it out, I didn’t take the plunge this time.

Now that it’s all over for another year, I find myself feeling wistful and eager for the literary treats 2019 will bring. Luckily I have plenty of good books to read in the meantime.

Tracey Allen is a Melbourne-based book blogger, reviewing books and interviewing authors on her blog Carpe Librum since 2005. Like most bookworms, she reads across a variety of genres but particularly enjoys historical fiction.
Image: ‘Female Thrillers’ at MWF18, featuring Candice Fox, Susi Fox, Megan Goldin and Shelley Hadfield. Photo by Tracey Allen.