Every writers’ festival should have a jail.
Especially for a panel on horror.
The inaugural Newcastle Writers Festival was a hoot, and pretty darn smooth, too, despite being held over a number of venues and being run by staff who hadn’t really done much like this before.
They had 60 writers and a whole lot of sell-out panels, with a grand get-together at the art gallery and an opening night speech par excellence from Miriam Margolyes in a gorgeous theatre, panels in council chambers and the wonderfully scenic Noah’s hotel and a pub and — awesomeness of awesomeness — an old jail!
Kirstyn and I had a grand ol’ chat with Jenny Blackford about writing and horror and Kirstyn’s necklace and the barbarous destruction of some very old fig trees in a city park, all in the surrounds of a barred courtyard with an old loo in the far corner. Newcastle is Kirstyn’s old stomping ground, and it was interesting to see the evolution of the city through her remembrances.
Also flying the flag for spec fic was Margo Lanagan — we caught her YA panel. Jack Dann and Janeen Webb and Russell Blackford were also guests, but family commitments meant we got only to see Jack read an amazing homage to Gene Wolfe in a packed pub outing dedicated to Sin. Amidst gay-hating religion and people smuggling and ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ — the poem, not Iron Maiden — Jack and wonderfully, pointedly funny Anita Heiss brought the prose on home.
Miriam Margolyes’ opening night talk — highly recommended
Anyway, we loved the atmosphere at the festival — they drove those of us at Noah’s in an adapted tram to the Friday night soiree! — and Newcastle itself is a pretty amazing place, so much going on in not a lot of square mileage given the coal and the coast and river and history and attempts to breathe life into the inner city. Some wonderful artwork on display, for instance, at the Emporium, and some serious cafe action. There’s even a writers’ walk, which we didn’t get to do, but the fact they have one is pretty cool. I felt there was a real hunger there for some spec fic action, too. If even felt like a spec fic convention in one way: the hotel’s bar shut far too early!
The festival was such a blast the organisers have already announced dates for next year — April 4–6 — and we’re putting it on the calendar now. Even if the festival isn’t using the jail as a venue next year, there are tours. Ex-cell-ent!