The last writers' festival I attended was in Adelaide at the start of the pandemic. Like, the very beginning. I think I’d just returned from overseas, where Jane and I had stayed one step ahead of Miss Rona for the better part of a month. We got off the plane just before they shut the international borders, and Jane came down with a cold. Thomas had one, too. So, they got to have some of the earliest PCR tests in Brisbane. It was quite a shit show, as I recall. The hospital staff had no idea what they were doing.
Anyway, they had pretty lousy rhinovirus infections but no trace of Covid. I remember waiting by the phone to find out whether I would be allowed to fly to Adelaide or whether we were about to cosplay an early chapter of The Stand.
I got the all-clear about half an hour before time ran out for me to make the flight.
I don't recall much of the festival, other than everyone not being sure whether they should shake hands or just stay the hell away from each other.
I’ll confess to being slightly anxious about flying to Canberra for four or five days at Conflux. And who knows? I could be brewing up a whole new variant of everybody's favourite buzzkill right now. But for the moment, I seem to have dodged that bullet.
The con was held at Rydges near Parliament House, and I quickly learned how out of practice at travel I am when I demagnetised my hotel room key three times on the first day. Helpful hint, kids. Don't put those keys in the same pocket as your AirPods case.
Conflux is a very writerly con, probably the closest thing I know of to a conventional writers' festival in genre world. I knew a couple of the other writers, primarily by reputation, so it wasn't like a typical festival for me where I'd be catching up with friends I might not have seen for a year or two. Indeed, I ran into more blog peeps than book peeps. (Tip o’ the propellor beanie to Oldy and Rik). I went to drinks on the first night, thinking I might get a couple of champagnes, perhaps just one martini, and sneak back to my hotel room. But they were a friendly bunch, and I was recognised, so that plan went awry.
It set the pattern for the rest of the weekend. I had plans to edit a whole manuscript while I was down there. It's a valuable thing to have a hotel room to yourself for the better part of a week. I really thought I could do something with that. But no, what I mostly did was catch up on my sleep because I didn't have to share the bed with a couple of rowdy Labradors. I also got some solid time in at the hotel gym and took some long walks around Kingston, Manuka and the lake.
I used to live in that part of town when I worked for defence (share-housing with the current departmental secretary, in fact). So, I knew it pretty well, although it has seen a lot of development since I knocked back pints of Guinness at the Boot and Flogger. There’s a new suburb down on the lakefront and heaps of luxury apartment blocks where there used to be some pretty grim old cottages.
The hotel was fine for my purposes, although you could tell they were suffering from staff shortages. The kitchen closed at 10:30 every morning, and you couldn’t get a cup of coffee for love, money or threats of violence until late in the afternoon. Again, didn't bother me. I was happy to walk down to Kingston and visit some of my old haunts or check out some of the new ones.
The gym was hilarious. It looked like it had been kitted out sometime in the mid-1970s.
Check out this museum piece. I think it is supposed to jiggle a fat off you.
I skipped the in-house buffet breakfast and took most of my morning protein at Maple and Clove, a really lovely cafe about five minutes away in Barton. Jane recommended it, which was lucky. I would never have found the place. Most mornings, I had the spelt and sweet corn waffles with smoked salmon and poached eggs, although, on the last day, I relented and tried her recommendation of the famous Maple porridge.
It was alright, I guess.
I did four or five panels for the con, a book launch…
…and two in-person events, one of them a talk and the other a more informal chat over beers with about a dozen people. To be honest, I got the two confused. I turned up for my talk thinking all I had to do was sit around with half a dozen superfans and have a chat over froths. Instead, I found about a hundred people crammed into a meeting room, expecting to be entertained for an hour.
I'm standing there, like, "I thought there was beer."
Eventually, I realised there would be no beer, so I just started talking. I do like the sound of my own voice, so I kept plugging on for about an hour and a half. It seemed to go OK.
The other panels were cool. We talked about alternate history, publishing overseas, our biggest publishing fuckups, and had one particularly gnarly discussion on writing and mental health.
Unsurprisingly, it was a bit more relaxed and informal than one of the big literary festivals like Sydney, Melbourne, or Adelaide. I guess I'll have to wait and see whether I picked up any bugs going to and from Canberra. Almost nobody in the airport or on the plane was masked up, and I could hear plenty of coughing and hacking all around me.
For now, however, I'm feeling pretty good about my trip away. Although I am aware that I skipped town owing Oldy a martini.
Good to see you continuing to champion and/or normalise the pandemic inspired commitment to trackies as workwear. You are an inspiration to us all.
Loved the unknown “ fitness “ device . Looks like they drug it out of a fitness museum and tried to spruce it up a bit. I’m pretty sure my granny had one similar to it on the porch where it spent it’s life as a place to hang laundry to dry
Yeah, I second the Maple and Clove,
Had poached eggs on toasted rye, with tea. (I don't do coffee) a month back.
They were flat out, but served me pretty quick. Cheaper than west coast too.
Your lovely grey sweater got a workout. Well done. Travelling light is the way to go.