This past weekend I travelled down the South Coast of NSW to the trio of towns hosting the first annual StoryFest literary festival: Milton, Mollymook and Ulladulla.
It was my first visit to this truly beautiful area of the state and even a drop in temperature couldn’t detract from the stunning scenery, the dolphins surfing the coastal waves next to clumsy human counterparts and the humpback whales migrating along the coast.
My husband and I made a weekend out of it, taking our doggies with us; their sheer joy at the discovery of beach sand added a warmth the weather couldn’t cool.
The organising team of StoryFest volunteers put together a fabulous program making the most of local landmarks. All the events I attended were sold out. The program was supported by local independent bookseller Harbour Bookshop in Ulladulla, local libraries and many local businesses.
The first event I attended was a fascinating conversation, Historical Inspirations, that took place at the Tallwood Eatery on Mollymook beach. The food was delicious: fish cakes, gnocchi with lamb ragu and a wickedly delicious chocolate dessert. However, it was the authors who really lit up the room.
The chat, facilitated by author Pamela Cook (The Crossroads), featured historical fiction authors Natasha Lester (The Paris Seamstress, The French Photographer) and Lauren Chater (The Lace Weaver).
The authors were generous with their advice, inside stories and insight into their writing processes. History has often written women off the page, and it is a pleasure to see these authors, and others, bring previously hidden stories to light and restoring balance to the bias inherent to history written primarily by only one gender.
The other wonderful event I attend was Unforgettable Settings. Inga Simpson led a discussion amongst Karen Viggers (The Orchardist’s Daughter), Robert Hollingworth (A Blank Canvas: Set in the Jungle of Contemporary Art) and Candice Fox (Hush, Hush) about the importance and impact of setting in fiction. My takeaway was that authenticity is found in the detail. At one stage, Inga observed that all three included birds in their books – eagles, mallards and geese respectively – to which Karen replied simply, “birds are part of the landscape.”
Festivals such as StoryFest bring readers and writers together and provide inspiration all round. My congratulations to the team of volunteers, led by author and journalist Meredith Jaffe, who took on the mammoth task of starting an event from scratch. Long may they prosper.