Last weekend I attended the New Norcia Writers’ Festival, which was the best writers’ festival I’ve ever been to. Well, ok, it’s the only writers’ festival I’ve been to – but it has now set the bar very high for all the other ones I want to attend!
Setting it apart from other festivals is its location, out in the Australian bush, amongst the historic buildings of the Benedictine monastery town of New Norcia. New Norcia is Australia’s only monastic town, so if you are ever visiting Perth, Western Australia (WA), I recommend you pay New Norcia a visit for an experience you won’t get anywhere else.
The crowd was big enough but small enough to feel intimate and welcoming, and there was a variety of talent to celebrate, from authors and poets to singers and painters. This was the fourth year of the festival, and for the first time, two concurrent sessions were offered in each time slot to allow guests to choose their preferred artist.
Being my first festival, I stuck to the novelists, listening to discussions with Laurie Steed, Michelle Johnston, David Whish-Wilson and Anthea Hodgson. I found each 45-minute session fascinating and informative, with Michelle’s debut novel, Dustfall at the top of my reading list.
Michelle Johnston is so inspiring – she is an Emergency Physician who spent six years writing her first novel in her spare time (snort!). Her novel is set in the WA Pilbara town of Wittenoom, the real location of controversial blue asbestos mining in the 1950s and 1960s and now an abandoned, contaminated town. Michelle’s website says, ‘Dustfall is a work of fiction, but it explores the crashing consequences of a doctor’s single mistake, as well as shining a light on a heinous chapter in Western Australia’s mining history.’ Her session was so interesting that I bought a copy of Dustfall, and I’ve been brushing my hand over the new, crisp cover ever since, longingly wishing for a chance to start reading it! I’m pleased to say that I finally started reading Dustfall last night and it does not disappoint.
I will be back next year at the New Norcia Writers’ Festival, enjoying a whole new selection of talent in the beautiful surrounds, and again meeting lots of like-minded, lovely people. Even if you’re not into writing, head to this delightful place for a delicious meal at the New Norcia Hotel and grab a loaf of handmade bread by the New Norcia Bakeries when you leave.