This week I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival. What an experience! Many a time I have treaded the wharfs around Walsh Bay – Sydney Theatre Company, Dance Company and Philharmonic choirs and surrounding restaurants and cafes. However, I was totally unprepared for my experience of the Writers’ Festival.
The atmosphere was electric. The crowds were totally absorbed in their conversations, getting to their sessions or just overdosing on the delicious culture of exploration through books, the perspectives and world of writers’ minds, coffee and mesmerizing scenery.
The slung beach chairs that lined the wharf at Walsh Bay reminded me of a visit to the famous Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester, UK, where weathered slung beach chairs dot the apple orchard year round. Time stands still in The Orchard Tea Garden. It is a gentle idyllic setting near Cambridge, where famous people including many writers have for over 100 years sipped tea and soaked up food for thought as a flourishing forest does to a good fertiliser. Rupert Brooke, Virginia Wolfe, economist John Maynard Keynes and Stephen Hawking and many other prominent souls have enjoyed this old apple orchard. Such an impression did this venue have on me, my romantic self relates slung beach chairs to writers and great works of written art.
Many an experienced or budding writer no doubt gathered much to add to their manuscripts at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. The quintessence of literary escapism surely was the sea of tranquillity on the harbour waters surrounding Wharf Bay on this day and the faces of those swallowed whole as they read, discussed or contemplated their latest piece of literature.
Connecting with the spirit of the Festival was no hardship. I sensed I was being carried along as if my life sense of purpose was to be resolved purely by my physical presence at this event. Four hundred writers took part in the many sessions over the week, letting the audience into their inner sanctum of writing ideas, processes and agendas – a personal world indeed.
Of course, I attended memoir sessions. I listened as accredited playwrights, corporate leaders, arts journalists and media personalities shared their personal stories, perspectives and hardships. I cringed as I heard views such as narcissism creeping into society through social media and I applauded the idea of friends being oil paintings to be treasured and preserved (through memoirs of course).
I listened closely to the discussion on ‘finding yourself interesting’. I have considered this concept in myself and talks with customers who may want their life stories written up. ‘I am not interesting’ they would say. What they should say is ‘I don’t feel interesting’. Looking at your life as a whole is quite daunting, I agree, after all, how many of us have climbed mountains, walked to the North Pole or made a discovery that will change the world.
‘Think about the moment’ I say to my customers. Moments hold far more secrets as to who you are than perhaps an autobiography or a self-narrative from your birth to your end.
This is what I love about memoirs or memories – personal stories. You have many moments in your life, how you arrive at that moment and interpret it is yours alone. How that moment is linked to other precious moments comes from your soul and there is no script for that.
What a wonderful business I have set up for myself – writing people’s memories and creating a legacy for them that will be appreciated forever more.
The Orchard Tea Garden, Grandchester. http://www.orchard-grantchester.com/history/
Sydney Writers’ Festival 2015. http://www.swf.org.au/