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Saturday, 6 October 2018

Words by the Riverside: Some thoughts on The Tamar Valley Writers Festival



Lyndon Riggall shares a smattering of some of the smorgasbord of delights at this year’s festival. I too was fortunate to be in the audience of these sessions and also witnessed the masterful leadership of the panel discussions that Lyndon chaired – he certainly made the panelists dig deep into their inspirational centres to share amazing personal stories, anecdotes and insights.


I can’t believe my luck. I am sitting here in a Swiss village that shares its name with the dark wizard from the Harry Potter series, talking to three of the country’s most exciting speculative fiction writers. The best part? I haven’t had to fly anywhere—all I had to do was follow the twisting waters of the kanamaluka in my car. Great writers have somehow washed up on the shore.

Born in Beaconsfield in 2012 as The Festival of Golden Words and now re-branded and residing at the Aspect Tamar Valley Resort in Grindelwald, the Tamar Valley Writers Festival is a biennial event; reminding us in the Spring thaw that a Summer of reading awaits. It is a delight for me to catch up with friends old and new and to be part of two panels with astonishingly lovely writers across several sessions: Steve Biddulph, George Ivanoff, Amie Kaufman, Jodi McAlister and Paul Collins. 



Aside from my own discussions, the festival features everything from Julian Burnside moderating an increasingly heated discussion of euthanasia, to workshops with the likes of Deltora Quest illustrator Marc McBride, and even a “life writing” class (think “life drawing” but with words).
The Tamar Valley has come alive with a celebration of the act of rearranging the alphabet into pleasing and surprising configurations, and my sincerest delight is that every writer that I speak to appears unquestionably generous, humble, and kind. Yes, there is talk that Grindelwald would be an inspiring setting for a Midsomer Murders episode (and that the evening’s “Shank Night” will surely see this macabre fantasy fulfilled), but in general I can’t believe that these writers could kill anyone other than our favourite characters. They are pleased to be here, and we are pleased to have them. My schedule gradually expands, as every session becomes unmissable, and in a few cases a flip of the coin becomes the only rational response to the fact that I can’t attend two sessions at once.
Amongst the celebration there is some solemnity. The festival features a phenomenon modelled after PEN International, known as “The Empty Chair.” This chair—sitting at each speaking venue—symbolises a writer who cannot be at the festival, either because they have been killed, imprisoned, or are missing. This year’s empty chair is dedicated to Behrouz Boochani, the Iranian journalist currently trapped on Manus Island, whose book No Friend But The Mountains was composed by text message. Boochani’s chair is a reminder of the great privilege of writing, reading, and sharing a love of words. A Festival such as this reminds us why these things matter—because they open us to new worlds and ideas. May we never take it for granted.

Lyndon Riggall is a teacher intern and writer who is currently working on a children’s novel set in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. You can find him on Twitter @lyndonriggall.

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