Sunday, 9 July 2017

People get ready, there's a festival coming. By Shaun Mather

To become a better writer, one must not only practice but also learn. And what better way to learn than to attend a writers’ festival, offering a celebration of the art of writing, as well as advice in how to hone one’s own skills. You can set aside one weekend of diligently writing and studying to see how other writers have become what they are today.

But sometimes you have to travel far, and go beyond your comfort zone, to take up such an opportunity. This week I will be heading to a whole new world (for me) to learn from the best. I'm off to Mildura. A country town. Just on the border in the north-west of Victoria. For the Mildura Writers Festival.

Vital question: how will the coffee experience compare?
As a Melbourne based city-boy, who is also a barista, the one thing I am worried about is am I going to be able to find a good coffee? How much is it going to cost me? What brand of coffee do they use? Are those brands any good? What milk do they use? Are the baristas any good at their job? Can I just use the machine myself? Coffee elitism aside, the distant location got me thinking about what else I need to be ready for? Where am I going to stay? Am I going with anyone, and if so how are we going to get there?
What am I going to eat? What should I even bring?

These questions have been flying through my mind as I've tried to figure out the best plan of attack. Luckily, I am going with someone. Two good friends of mine. But, being the age we are (young), laziness and procrastination meant that it was only a few weeks ago when we finally decided on a place to stay.

Some things to consider when finding a place to stay are: How much is it going to cost? Does it have WiFi (essential)? How far is it from the actual event? If it is far, how will we get to the event? Are there buses?

Not the exact train we are taking, but still - very exciting!
To answer these questions, we had to jump onto the internet. We found that some more notable websites actually left out cheaper options. We found that using sites like actually helped a lot more, seeing as they offer up deals to compete against other booking sites. Most of these options are hotels or motels, but more often than not they do have WiFi, and some basic appliances for you to use. Sure, renting out a whole house for a week seems like a fun idea, but most of the cheaper options do not have WiFi, and the ones that do are incredibly expensive, especially for a poor university student like myself. Like I said, I am a barista, I don’t make much.

When it comes to travel, it is all up to personal preference. Do you have the money to fork out for a plane? It is the quickest option if you're short on time. Do you own a car? If so, are you fine with having to drive for roughly six hours from Melbourne? Also, are you taking people with you, and are they chipping in for petrol? Or, if you don’t mind the time it would take, you could either take the train and coach combo. Which is roughly seven hours worth of travel. If traveling with friends, at least you can keep each other entertained with some form of banter. Or, there is always the night coach option. Get on at 7:30pm and sleep the travel away, arriving at 6:30am the next day. After a long discussion and weighing up options, my friends and I have decided to take the train and coach. It seems like a good option for us. No one has to drive, and we can sleep if we want to!

I would like my rice express please.
No extra on shipping,
Now, with getting ready for food, that is really up to you. If you are a mister-rich-pants, you can eat out each night, trying the different local food and wine, really living the rich life fantasy. Or, if you are like myself, you can be a bit of a cheapskate. Locate where the nearest grocery store is, buy the cheapest food possible, and live off that for the five days or so you are there. Of course, we are going to fancy it up a little by bringing a rice-cooker with us, so we have more options. Because there is a lot you can do with a rice-cooker. Or, just eat rice. It is high in carbs and will keep you energised for the day. But be sure to take into consideration what facilities the place you are staying at has. For example, we have access to a public BBQ, so we may have a BBQ one night - which would be fun.

So hard to choose which to use -
my Mac, or my notebook?
So what else to bring? The basics of course, like toiletries and clothing (no one wants to smell for a week). However, because it is a writing festival, you should bring writing materials! Do you take notes? If so, do you write them down digitally or manually? If digitally, a laptop would be useful, but hard to carry around and not easy to take out. So if you have an iPad or a tablet that works perfectly fine too. Or you can use your phone. If manual note taking, a good old fashioned notebook and pen (or pencil) works just as well. Just make sure you have some form of eraser to clean up mistakes, and a sharpener. Also, be sure you can actually read your handwriting. I know I have issues reading my own English handwriting (my Japanese writing is much cleaner, and easier to read, but only if you know Japanese).

It may also be worth checking what the weather will be like. Is it  placethat is warm during the day and cold during the night? Is rain approaching? Best pack that umbrella. How are you going to carry everything with you during the festival? Do you want to use a backpack or a messenger bag? Which is more comfortable and less of a hindrance? These all depend on what you own, or what you are willing to spend to make your life easier when walking around from place to place. I find a nice messenger bag or drawstring nylon backpack work best. Both take up little space, and you can fit most required items easily. No one wants to be knocked out by your bag because you decided to turn too quickly with that bulky bag on your back.

Do you like my Vault-Tec messenger bag?
I do.
But if you are a student coming to this event, like myself, there are some other things that you need to do. These include doing the readings so you have some frame of reference regarding the writers that will be present; and making sure you understand what is required of you, such as your assignments. Try to read through the documents and have some basic idea of what you are planning to do, and have questions ready for the speakers, writers and teachers. It gets pretty awkward when the speaker opens for questions and all they get is…silence. Makes them feel bad, makes you feel bad, and makes the air around everything tight and suffocating. No one likes to be suffocated. Unless that is your thing…then you do you buddy.

Don’t forget shampoo,
So to recap:

1. Be sure to have a place booked and that it fits the needs you require
2. Make sure transport has been sorted out, and you arrive at the destination at a reasonable hour.
3. Have an idea of what food you would like to eat, and how much it would cost you. Don’t have the money to go out overnight? Then don’t do it - bring a rice cooker instead.
4. Bring the right materials that best fit your needs. Nothing worse than getting to your destination and realising you left behind your phone charger or a change of underwear! And lastly ...
5. Have an idea of what to ask writers, and what you want to do for assignments. A prepared student is a good student.

And lastly, this is really the most important point - just have fun! Writing is an enjoyable hobby and experience. Being surrounded by other writers tends to fill you with determination and inspiration to get your own writing done and done well.

So enjoy your time at the Mildura Writing Festival. I know I will.

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