This month’s 3, 3 and 3 guest is one of the busiest people in Perth right now.
Photograph © Scott Weir
Emily Mann is program manager of the Perth Writers Festival, which will be launched on 20 February, followed by a packed three-day program running through to 23 February. She has been hard at work since early 2013, developing a vibrant, exciting, thought-provoking program of writers with stories to tell and ideas to share. More than 100 local writers will be joined by some of the finest from elsewhere in Australia, among them Richard Flanagan, Anne Summers, Chris Womersley, Alexis Wright, Hannah Kent and Thomas Keneally. Overseas guests include Lionel Shriver, Margaret Drabble, Martin Amis and this year’s Man Booker Prize winner, Eleanor Catton.
Emily worked at Sydney Writers’ Festival from 2008 to 2012, and she holds an MA Writing (Research) from the University of Technology, Sydney.
I’m thrilled that Emily was able to find time in her schedule to tell us about some of the things she loves.
3 things I love about what I do
1. The exposure to new books and authors
It goes without saying that I have a fantastic job for a booklover. It is a pleasure to read new works and to read beyond my usual tastes to find new and interesting authors and books. It is an even greater pleasure to be able to share new finds with others.
2. The audience
I enjoy watching people engage with writers’ festivals. I love to see friends sit down together and pore over a program, circling events and comparing their schedules. It is heartening to sit in audiences and see people deep in concentration or writing furiously in notebooks. There is nothing like the excited chatter of an audience coming out from a dark auditorium into the daylight after a major session. The audience lies at the heart of what we do.
3. The intensity of festival life
Working on literary festivals is quite unlike any other work cycle. Every month of the programming and planning process is another season, with the pressure building until the event. When the actual festival occurs it often feels like the eye of a hurricane passing over you. Then, once it has ended, the clean-up efforts begin and eventually you are back at square one, wondering if you could ever find the stamina to repeat the cycle. You always do.
3 places I’d like to visit or revisit
I once spent a hardscrabble year living in Paris about ten years ago. It was a brilliant, enervating and dramatic existence. I haven’t returned to Paris since, and I would like to return again soon—this time with money.
2. New Zealand
I am currently planning a trip to New Zealand following this festival. I would like to lose myself somewhere cool, green and damp for a while. I’ll be taking Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family and A Man in Love, both of which I have been holding off reading until I have an uninterrupted stretch of time available.
I love seagoing narratives, both fictional and factual. I am equally enamoured by Melville’s Moby Dick as I am by Junger’s The Perfect Storm, Shackleton’s South and Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki. I have often wondered what kind of hold these tales of man versus sea have over me. Perhaps it’s the overcoming of adversity, the testing of the self against the elements. I do wonder if I am an armchair adventurer: I guess I should take myself to sea to find out.
3 favourite festival experiences
1. My first writers’ festival event
My first experience of a writers’ festival remains one of my strongest memories. I snuck out of work one day and went down to Walsh Bay in Sydney to see a session in a very early Sydney Writers’ Festival. Michelle de Kretser was speaking on The Rose Grower. I took a seat in a crowded room and listened to a novelist talk at length about her work. She was not talking through a journalist or writing about her own work in a stylised and edited article. She was revealing her thoughts and experiences of writing a novel, live and unadulterated on a stage. It was exhilarating and I was hooked.
2. Shaking James Wood’s hand
I rarely ask for an autograph from authors; however, this year at a festival I had the opportunity to meet a man who is like a god to me: the critic James Wood. Not only did he sign my battered and dog-eared copy of How Fiction Works, he also shook my hand. I confess to being completely star-struck by authors whose work I have held on to closely over the years.
3. Freedom of speech
For me, a personal favourite festival experience is people exercising their right to freedom of speech. It could be an audience member querying a panellist, or two artists challenging one another in conversation. Opinions obviously differ and writers’ festivals are a democratic space where people can voice their opinions constructively, hopefully without lapsing into offence. I relish these moments because they actively demonstrate the importance and the need for writers’ festivals today, and show how keen people are to engage with the larger conversations about our lives.
Browse or download the Perth Writers Festival program and the list of authors here.
The festival program runs 20–23 February 2014,
on the grounds of UWA.