Over the September-October long weekend, I traveled to Newcastle, NSW (not the one in the UK. I’m not made of money) for the annual National Young Writers Festival. Now in it’s 19th year , it’s one of the largest gatherings of writerly and artistic young people in the country (Australia). It’s hard to describe exactly what happened at this festival, and everyone’s experiences are going to be different (because there’s just so much to do you really can’t possibly do it all), but here’s a basic summary if you’re thinking of checking it out next time.
NYWF is a component of Newcastles’ This is Not Art (or TiNA) festival, which I’m told is like their equivalent of the Fringe but more visual arts and less standup. NYWF itself is composed of dozens of panels, discussions, debates, performance events and even a themed ball (where all the cool kids dress up in costume). Attendance itself is free, the entire thing bankrolled through grants and TiNA funding. NYWF doesn’t ask anything of you, other than that you have fun.
This was my second year attending, after being sent in 2015 by Flinders through my Editor job at the magazine. This year I had to pay for my own flights and accommodation, which was disappointing but also I got to fly Virgin instead of Tiger. And my AirBnB was a step down from last year’s hotel, especially after I discovered that the big ball was being held in the pub of that hotel. I could have saved myself all that money I spent on Ubers getting back! This isn’t a problem if you go as an artist, as the festival then pays for your accommodation(!!) and manages to house you together with other festival peeps within walking distance of most of the venues.
Of the festival itself, it’s certainly one of the most positive, encouraging and just energising writers events I’ve experienced. Less formal than a conference, but more involved than Writers Week, it’s definitely worth traveling all that way for (although the commute is notably much shorter if you’re a Sydney-sider).
The queenerss is also a big part of what makes this festival great. Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but there was a huge difference in representation of LGBT+ stuff than other writers gatherings. The Romance Writers Conference, most notably, had just a single panel that looked at anything other than heteronormativity, and even then it was limited to gay men. NYWF on the other hand had a number of sessions covering a range of gender and sexuality topics. On top of that were the discussions of women (and writing while female), POC, and even an excellent panel on PC culture (and why being anti-PC basically makes you a douchebag). It’s no wonder that this sort of environment appeals to all manner of diverse attendees, allowing everyone to dress and act as they felt natural without judgement. It’s the kind of beautiful haven that makes you optimistic for the future – until someone suddenly shouts at you from a passing car and brings you back to reality.
Yeah, that’s apparently a Newcastle thing, the drive-by heckling. Nothing I heard was particularly mean spirited. It was mostly just bizarre.
This festival offers something truly unique to young writers. Everything was presented by and for young people. I saw friends cutting their teeth on panels and debates (and doing so excellently), and it’s encouraged me to consider applying as an artist next year – because that’s something you can do (provided you have enough expertise to talk about whatever it is). Unlike other festivals where guests are hand-picked and the whole process is very mysterious, the directors open their doors to people in the community to speak. They offer a platform to give you invaluable experience, and build your name, that will help your career in the industry.
But above all this, the NYWF will bring you friends. Everyone is so welcoming and friendly, you’re bound to find someone you click with. I went this year barely knowing anyone, and I left with a handful of names to watch out for (and a whole lot of new Twitter followers).
So if you can afford the travel and accommodation expenses (the YHA seems to be the place to be) next year, definitely make the journey. You’ll gain so much more than you can imagine.