“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” ~ Anne Lamott
Byron Bay Writers Festival 2014 has been my first writers festival, and I am certain it shall not be my last.
All I had really planned was to go sit at the feet of some memoirists, in the hope that I might glean some tips for the agonies I am currently going through in writing my own.
But oh, I got so much more…
I have wept more than my fair share of tears as brave writers have bared their souls in conversation, as well as on the page. I have been inspired, uplifted, encouraged. I have laughed til more tears rolled down my face. I have been reminded of my humanity.
I have experienced breakthroughs in both the craft of writing, and in my personal journey. For isn’t every story a way for us to better understand ourselves and this thing we call ‘life’.
I have also met some wonderful people, and reconnected with friends I have not seen for an age.
Each time I have sat in a tent, or in the sunshine, or at a shady lunchtime table I have asked my fellow festival goers a simple question: Are you a writer, or an enthusiastic reader? The answers have been unexpected, endearing and enlightening.
I’ll share my favourite, from yesterday.
I met an elderly woman over lunch. She was grey-haired and rail thin, dressed in a warm grey coat, red shoes and a felt hat adorned with bright red flowers. I asked my question.
“Oh,” she said. “I’m a reader. Books are my life!”
I pressed her for more detail and found that she was a widow and librarian who looked after an ailing mother and a disabled adult daughter. All of her life this woman had read literature, until one day, quite by accident she was introduced to a crime novel. It was a humorous light read, and she found herself devouring it, and then skulking off to find more by the same author. Eventually crime became her favourite genre. She reads all kinds of crime now. Such is her addiction that she has an iPad with several e-readers on it so that she may read on the bus on the way to work, or over a sandwich in the park at lunch. And each night, she told me, she goes home to the detective waiting for her on her pillow. A hard-cover book is her reward at the end of a long day.
Why crime, I asked her.
For the feeling of control, she told me. For the sense of satisfaction that there can be justice in the world, and that ordinary people in the pursuit of that justice can be brave and clever and powerful. Detectives and pathologists were a lot like librarians, the old lady told me. They investigate, research, connect to others with knowledge and track down information and answers with great dedication.
She leaned closer and shared her last secret in my ear. “I’ll never travel, dear. Not with my situation. But when I read my books I am transported. I have walked the gritty streets of Chicago, travelled the romantic canals of Venice, suffered the heat of Africa, and travelled through time.” She winked at me. “I’ve even had love affairs…”