This time last week I was coming down from the high that is the Somerset Celebration of Literature. It’s the first festival for children’s books I ever went to as an invited guest in 2004 and I have to say after my recent fourth return, it still blows me away.
It’s always a highlight meeting other authors and illustrators – some of whom I know and many, who I know of, but have never met in person. This year’s group was ultra fabulous! So many incredibly talented people who only add to my ‘fraud syndrome’ issues. Case in point – open one of Vikki Wakefield’s stunning books. I had to re-read the first page of All I Ever Wanted three times because it is soooo beautifully written. On top of being an amazing writer, Vikki is a genuinely gorgeous person too.
It was especially lovely to catch up with Rebecca Sparrow, who I haven’t seen since Somerset 2008 when she gave me some very helpful advice. So much has happened since then. I’ve followed Rebecca’s incredible journey into motherhood – with her three beautiful children and the incomprehensible loss of her gorgeous Georgie. Although we hadn’t spoken for so long – other than on the Internet, she is one of those people who you are drawn to and feel like you know. Generous, warmhearted and kind – the sort of woman you just want to be friends with.
The festival opening night on Wednesday was a blast – quite literally, as the fireworks lit up the clear night sky. Somerset turned 21 and the cake was amazing. I was so chuffed that one of the cake books was Alice-Miranda Shines Bright and fellow Random House author, Tristan Bancks’ new book Two Wolves took centre plate. As you can see from the photo, we were both pretty thrilled to be included.
There were four of us from Random House at the festival. In addition to Tristan and me, we had the irrepressible Nick Falk and illustrator extraordinaire Tony Flowers who have just released a new series called Billy is a Dragon as a follow up to their fabulous Saurus Street. Gorgeous Zoe, one of the RHA publicists who I’d spent the past week and a half with stayed with us on the first day but tag teamed with Sarana – who never seems to have anything but a huge smile on her face. We had a lot of fun setting up camp in the lawn marquee, meeting children and watching the fantastic flash mobs at lunchtime. The ladies in the book shop seemed very pleased that we were there – and frequently came over with more books to sign and directed children our way too. I loved watching the students from different schools interacting and there really was a fantastic buzz.
One of the most impressive things about the festival is the volunteers. School parents who give up hours and hours over many weeks and months to ensure that it really is the best experience for all. The student volunteers are terrific too and as presenters we are given minders who make sure we get to our events on time and help with the set up. My two girls, Chanel and Chantelle were lovely – balancing hectic study schedules with their author responsibilities.
It was hot and humid as it seems to be on the Gold Coast in March but the following week they had torrential rain so we were very fortunate, particularly as three of the venues are in huge marquees on the oval.
I really enjoyed catching up with people; Gabrielle Wang, Roseanne Hawke, Mandy Foot, Mark Greenwood, Tiffiny Hall, Will Kostakis and Fiona Wood as well as meeting many people for the first time – Danny Katz, Andrew Weldon, Wai Chim, AJ Betts, Eleanor Coombe, Shamini Flint, Kim Kane, David Lowe, Juliet Marillier, Debbie Miller, Mark Pardoe, Jessica Shirvington, Vikki Wakefield and Claire Zorn – and apologies if I have missed anyone. It’s always a pleasure to spend time with the Random boys too!
Congratulations to Andrea Lewis and her team for putting on another spectacular Somerset and to Karen Mackie for her great support and inviting me to be part of the program again. Fingers crossed there are many more Somersets to come!