Arriving early on a humid Gold Coast morning at my first Somerset Celebration of Literature was a good idea. It gave me time to explore the site – locate different venues, find the cafe, peruse the book shop. Despite the intermittent grey skies, and occasional light shower, I felt invigorated and ready to immerse myself in a range of presentations. Sadly, the writing workshops are reserved solely for students, yet at the cost of $7 per session there could only be value.
Having printed my tickets rather early, and not bothering to check if there had been changes, I entered the Performing Arts Theatre for what I assumed was a musical performance and storytelling session with Maryen Cairns. Without accompanying students, I was directed to a front row seat and listened as the two students introduced Yassmin Abdel-Magied! Oops! Wrong place – wrong time. (I later caught up with Maryen and have found her Femina Australis CD singing tales of 12 women to be informative and inspirational).
Yassmin was dynamic and entertaining. She strutted the stage, full of humour and energy, speaking directly to her predominantly teenage audience. there were tales from her childhood, her school years, and praise for her parents and their loving guidance. Yassmin, as an engineer, told tales of her time on different oil rigs and mining sites, always living with men in close quarters. After frankly answering questions from the audience, Yassmin left us with this advice:
- never be limited by your own, or other’s, expectations
- never underestimate the impact you can have on the world around you.
Following each session, writers spent 30 minutes in the Tower Quad, seated at tables in front of the book shop, where we could meet and talk, take selfies and have books signed. Many students simply collected signatures on their programs. This well organised event has clearly developed different ways for people to engage with texts and writers.
Another entertaining session was with director Rachel Perkins and her discussion on adapting a written text for the screen. Beginning with an overview of Jasper Jones, Rachel discussed key differences between a novel and a screenplay before inviting questions from the audience. This brilliantly kept the crowd of young and teen students engaged. There were return questions too, such as asking us to consider a couple of ‘hypotheticals’ from the film (these had been taken out of the script, yet returned on Rachel’s insistence – ‘keep the things you love’ and ‘hold fast to the key idea of the book’ being important advice for screen adaptations):
- would you rather have a hat made of spiders or penis fingers?
Or this one:
- would you rather have a magnetic head or fart through your mouth?
IN fact, Craig Silvey, the author of Jasper Jones, invites people to post their own hypotheticals on his website.
Students could also become involved by interviewing writers for podcasts, or colour part of a wall size mural of based on Harry Potter books.
The public are welcome at adult only evening dinners and lunches, yet I found that being part of the buzz of the school and students made the event come alive. It is well worth planning to attend the Somerset Celebration of Literature that is held in March each year.