Sandy Curtis – Writers’ Festival Organiser Interview

    

You are the Director of WriteFest, a writers’ festival held annually in Bundaberg, Queensland. For those unfamiliar, what is WriteFest and who will be presenting at the festival (to be held on May 16-17) in 2015?

Unlike most writers’ festivals, which are aimed mainly at readers, WriteFest is for writers, with workshops and masterclasses covering all aspects of the writing and publishing industry. This year’s presenters are Graeme Simsion, Professor Anne Buist, Dr Lindsay Simpson, Shannon Curtis, Kat Apel, Cathleen Ross, Kandy Shepherd, Jason Nahrung and Peter Ball. All are multi-published authors, in a wide spectrum of genres. Editor Liz Filleul is conducting a masterclass for advanced writers on both days, and these have a limit of 10 participants.

Each year we also have an agent, editor or publisher who interviews writers based on the quality of their submissions. In seven years this has resulted in eight writers being published.

This year, for the first time, we will have a literary lunch on the Sunday, as we know readers would like the opportunity to chat with the authors who come to WriteFest and listen to them speak. One of our Bundaberg Writers’ Club members came up with the name Writefeast and it seemed appropriate.

What kinds of sessions can people look forward to at this year’s WriteFest?

Workshops include:

Plotting using six stage structure
Character relationships that work
Pacing and tension
Writing your own life: Memoir and how to tell a good story
When words aren’t enough: Picture books for all ages
Putting the thrill in Thriller
Introduction to screen writing
Research: Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story
Writing verse novels that engage and empower children
What novelists can learn from screen writers
An open door to Horror
How to self-publish
Formatting for Smashwords, or Draft to digital
The masterclass is Essential self-editing

There will also be two short Q&A sessions, with the presenters available to answer attendees’ questions.

What prompted the Bundaberg Writers’ Club to start an annual writers’ festival in Bundaberg, and could you discuss a little about how the club managed to get the first WriteFest up and running?

Eleven years ago I suggested to the club that it would be good to bring industry professionals to Bundaberg so regional writers could learn from them. I’d done the hard yards of travelling to capital cities for workshops and conferences and I knew how difficult it had been to find the time and the money to do so. I figured it would be easier, and less expensive, to bring workshop presenters to Bundaberg than to take many writers to Brisbane or other cities. Well, you know what happens when you make a suggestion at a meeting – you end up with the job. I was on the Queensland Writers Centre Management Committee at the time, and was impressed with the CEO’s (Hilary Beaton) assertion that writers should value their time and expertise and be paid accordingly, so insisted that the presenters be paid ASA rates as well as accommodation and travel. Luckily we received a Regional Arts Development Fund grant that enabled us to bring three presenters up for the day. We also used the talents of some local writers to conduct genre-specific sessions at which attendees could share their knowledge, concerns, and queries. Queensland Writers Centre sent a representative to answer attendees’ queries about their organisation and its benefits. Over 100 writers from this and other regions came, and it was obvious there was a need for this type of festival.

What have been some of the joys and challenges of running WriteFest over the years?

Definitely the joys have been seeing the enthusiasm of the attendees and knowing that some of them have found critique partners they’ve kept in touch with ever since. Seeing the growth of writers who have come back each year, and especially the result of eight writers having their work published due to the agent/editor/publisher writer interviews we introduced into the program seven years ago.

Challenges? The biggest is finding funding. We are lucky to have received several RADF grants, a Copyright Agency Limited Cultural Fund and three years of corporate sponsorship. Unfortunately, with the natural disasters that have affected the area it’s difficult to find sponsors who can see the value in giving money to an event that has no spectators (like sport does) and only 80-100 participants. We are grateful for the support of the Queensland Writers Centre and the Bundaberg Regional Library. WriteFest now attracts writers from all over Queensland and northern New South Wales, as well as several from Victoria and South Australia, so I hope we can again find a sponsor who shares our vision.

Who are some of the published fiction writers among the Bundaberg Writers’ Club members and what kinds of fiction do they write?

Kat Apel – children’s fiction
Sue-Ellen Pashley – YA paranormal
Cheryse Durrant – YA Fantasy
Dean J Anderson – dark urban fantasy
Jen Addicoat – romance
John Regan – historic adventure
Sharon Rushton – children’s and YA
Diane Esmond – short genre fiction
Laree Chapman – short fiction and poetry

We also have several self-published authors in the club:

Kim Faulks – horror/paranormal
Val Lewis – fantasy
Andrew Monk – fantasy adventure
Jacqui Read – short women’s fiction.

For those unfamiliar with your own books, how would you describe your fiction?

Australian-set romantic thrillers (sometimes called romantic suspense). Perhaps this review from the Australian Crime Fiction Database at www.crimedownunder.com describes them best: “Sandy Curtis writes with a lot of flair, seamlessly combining a furious well-constructed thriller with an emotion charged love affair.”

Or these might also:

“Dangerous Deception is a page-turner with all the elements of the classic airport novel: action, mystery, intrigue, double crosses, relentless pursuits, sexual tension and a nail-biting climax. Sandy Curtis has written an ideal travelling companion for a long journey or a day at the beach. This book is instantly addictive and pure escapism.” Lachlan Jobbins (freelance reviewer), Australian Bookseller & Publisher

“All I can say is I loved this! Very well written, fast paced with some very interesting sex scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed it!” Kelly McLean, posted on Aussie Book Reviews

“Between the homicidal maniac… the international terrorist… the P-plate hit man… and five school friends covering up a decades-old crime, this thriller wouldn’t have had a more comprehensive cast of killers if it was set in the middle of Long Bay jail. Crime lovers will be more than satisfied. VERDICT: Watch your back.” Michelle Cazzulino, The Daily Telegraph

Who are some Australian novelists from outside the Bundaberg region whose books you enjoy reading and why?

Kaye Dobbie writes wonderful Australian-set fiction with characters whose lives intertwine with people of a long-ago era. Her characters come alive on the page and I love the plots that keep me turning the pages, desperate to know what’s coming next.

Anne Gracie writes fabulous historical romance books. She has a warm and witty turn of phrase, her characters are endearing and there is always a suspense element in the stories.

What advice do you have for others considering starting an annual writers’ festival in their local area?

If you are considering a festival like WriteFest, which is for writers rather than readers, make sure you have the following in your team:

Someone with great organising skills

Someone with good financial ability

Someone with expertise in writing grant applications

Members willing to take on the various small but essential roles

Speak with your local council to see if they are willing to get behind the festival in a financial and promotional way.

Liaise with the writers centre in your state to see what help they might be able to give.

Ensure you are able to provide workshop presenters who can share their knowledge and skills, not just talk about their own books.

Be prepared to devote months of your life to the festival each year.

***

Bundaberg Writers’ Club’s website: www.bundywriters.com
Bundaberg Writers’ Club on Facebook

Sandy Curtis’s author website: www.sandycurtis.com
Sandy Curtis on Facebook

    

The Australian Literature Review
www.auslit.net

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