It’s been a lifelong dream to finally make our way to the wonderful town of Clunes. Clunes history is engrained with the complete and utter love for books, so much in fact that it’s nicknames Clunes Booktown.
Every year they host a two day event expressing their love for reading, writing and all things bookish – and we finally got an invite! So off we went on Friday night, to make our way to our dream town. Despite our haunted AirBnB, we arrived safe and sound and prepared ourselves for our panel filled weekend.
Clunes is absolutely stunning, as you can tell from the photos – and we loved every single moment there. Once we arrived we headed straight to the Clunes Town Hall to see Zana Frallion, Jaclyn Moriarty and Ellie Marney for their open discussion Exploring the Teen Reading Culture. Through out the panel they all spoke about the people who encouraged their love for reading.
“I never remember my parents saying that we must read.” – Jaclyn Moriarty
They also spoke about the importance of having engaging reading texts for teenagers to study in high school, and about the difficulties they’ve faced when trying to recommend books for a high school booklist, even though they have relevant and important themes worth studying, and having writing that keeps a reader intrigued and engaged.
“There’s been such a huge explosion of YA culture in recent years, and I think makes a really big difference. But it’s not something we’re utilising as much at the moment.” – Zana Frallion
After having a quick chat with Zana, Jaclyn and Ellie while they signed our books, we decided to have a look around at all the amazing little bookshops and even grabbed a couple hot chocolates. It wasn’t long before we had to walk back to our car to put away some of our book purchases. At 1pm we made our way to the Clunes Town Hall for a panel on Biography, Memoir and Queer Experience with Nevo Zisin and Maria Katsonis, with the amazing Eddie Ayres directing the conversation.
It was so intriguing to hear about the difficulties of publishing a memoir, as well as of the hardships that followed. They both touched on how liberating it was to confront their past, and then still publish it. It didn’t take long for Eddie to ask why they decide to share their stories.
“It was kinda of a freak incident. I was really lucky that I received book deal before I wrote the book. I was doing public speaking with my mum and we would banter. I always imagined that I would write a memoir but maybe when I was like forty? Or you, know the appropriate age you have to be to write a memoir I was approached by a publisher and I started writing a book. I came out in 2013. Just thinking about how pop culture has changed over the years, I didn’t see representation of myself anywhere. I needed to write myself into existence.” – Nevo Zisin
Both Maria and Nevo had such powerful reasoning behind deciding to write their story, it’s no wonder that they are both major advocates for topics important to them.
“I thought I had a story to tell. It burnt inside of me […] I moved out of home at nineteen, which good Greek girls didn’t do. I was hospitalised for severe bout of depression and it broke my identity. I decided I wasn’t going to be silent about mental illness.” – Maria Katsonis
All three panelists really added such depth to the conversations, and they were extremely open about the difficulties they’ve faced, as well as how they over came them, or found ways/methods to deal with them.
“Was it worth being so honest?” asked Eddie Ayres
“I would do it all over again if I had to.” – Maria Katsonis
Next up we had two panels, one on Crime in the Country – which covers the crime culture in small country towns, and how that affected their writing style and upbringing – with Anna Snoekstra, Ellie Marney, Emma Viskic and Mark Brandi. Anna in particular discussed why she decided to see her new novel, Little Secrets, in a fictional town instead of the town she grew up it.
“I think my town would be really angry if I set my book there. […] It’s pretty violent.” – Anna Snoekstra
Last but not least, Eddie Ayres was on a panel to discuss his latest novel Danger Music. He spoke about his experience as a music teacher for the cello in Kabul, Afghanistan, along with the dangers that came with it. One audience asked Eddie about what it was like hearing a bomb. The only way Eddie could describe it was this.
“It’s quite bizarre, […] in a sense, a bomb is really the most perfect sound. It creates this vacuum and pulls all the noise in.” – Eddie Ayres
He also was open when it came to sharing details of his past and his identity. It’s truly powerful to see how open and willing he was to let the audience know about his thought process, and the things he did to help himself find a sense of identity.
Day two at Clunes Booktown Festival was just as incredible as the first! After emerging from the fog on the misty morning, we found ourselves back in Clunes for another day full of panels, signings, and soaking up all the bookish goodness. Before heading off to our first panel, we had more of a wander around the town and again, bought far too many books. But what did you expect? Our TBRs will understand.
Our first panel of the day was Using Creative Writing to Fight Youth Depression, Bullying and Suicide with Craig Dent and Nicolla Christie. It was really interesting to hear the ways in which they used writing as a form of therapy and how they also use writing to connect with readers and allow people to recognise that they aren’t alone in how they’re feeling. It was such a powerful, moving conversation.
“Use the creative writing as an outlet.” — Craig Dent
And then we went to our second panel with Jaclyn Moriarty, who spoke about her latest novel, The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone. Although we haven’t read that much of Jaclyn’s work, we’ll definitely be picking up more soon. She’s such a lovely, passionate person with an infectious love for middle grade and YA — and it was so great to see so many kids at her session.
“I wanted to believe in the possibility of going to another world.” — Jaclyn Moriarty
Our first ever time at the Clunes Booktown Festival was a massive success. We adored every moment, and our highlights definitely included meeting authors such as Nevo Zisin, Zana Fraillion, Eddie Ayers and Anna Snoekstra. There were so many amazing bookish stalls there as well, so it was lovely to explore every corner of this gorgeous town. We’re already looking forward to coming back again next year!
Thanks for having us, Clunes! It was unforgettable.