Rose Scott 1883
Source: Wiki Commons; Photographer, August Ludwig, State Library of NSW
Imagine a writers’ festival so friendly and intimate that you could chat with your favourite author over coffee and have a book signed without standing wearily in a long queue. Picture a setting so comfortable and elegant you would instantly feel at home. Imagine a series of lively sessions showcasing novels written by Australian women, encompassing art, mystery and historical fiction set in periods as diverse as medieval times and nineteenth and twentieth century Australia. Plus a warm and enthusiastic audience of book lovers with insightful questions and comments to offer . . . That sums up the second annual Rose Scott Women Writers’ Festival, which was held on August 15 and 16 at the Women’s Club, overlooking Sydney’s leafy Hyde Park
With Blanche d'Alpuget and Festival Producer, Margaret McKay. Pic courtesy of Greg McKay
I was privileged to be part of this year’s Festival, named in honour of social reformer and suffragist, Rose Scott, co-founder of the Women’s Club and a key figure in the women’s suffrage movement. Coincidentally, Rose makes a cameo appearance in my novel, ‘The Jade Widow’ as a mentor to my aspiring doctor, Eliza Miller.
With Jenny Strachan in our suffragette colours. Pic courtesy of Greg McKay
The Festival took place over two days, beginning on Friday with a literary lunch featuring Annabel Morley, daughter of renowned actor and raconteur, Robert Morley, and grand daughter of actress, Dame Gladys Cooper. Annabel is the author of a delightful memoir entitled ‘The Icing on the Cake' about growing up in a theatrical family.
Saturday’s program commenced with a musical introduction from the talented Lindsay Drummond who composed and sang a moving tribute to Rose Scott. Then it was time for my conversation with author and presenter, Jenny Strachan (both of us wearing suffragette colours of violet, white and green). We discussed the historical figures who appear in ‘The Jade Widow’: Rose Scott, naturally, plus Dagmar Berne (Australia’s first female medical student), Quong Tart (merchant, philanthropist, community leader) and politician, Sir Henry Parkes.
Following a coffee break, Lisa Forrest introduced Blanche d’Alpuget, whose latest book, ‘The Young Lion’, is the first novel in a series about the House of Plantagenet. I was particularly interested to hear Blanche’s approach to researching and writing historical fiction and found myself so excited by what she had to say about her story and its characters (Eleanor of Aquitaine, Geoffrey, Duke of Normandy, and his son, Henry, among others) that I just had to buy her book at the end of the session.
After the lunch break we returned to hear Michaela Bolzan in conversation with one of Australia’s most beloved novelists, Judy Nunn, who spoke about creating a sense of place in her novels and also shared some funny and fascinating anecdotes about her writing life. I especially enjoyed her insights into how being an actor enhances her work as a writer.
Last but not least, we heard from art historian and author, Susan Steggall about her art-mystery novel called ‘It Happened Tomorrow’ which sounds so intriguing that I can’t wait to read it. Sue also spoke about her experience of living in France and how this has found its way into her writing.
Huge congratulations to creative director, Michaela Bolzan and producer, Margaret McKay, together with Jennifer Scott, Jenny Strachan and all the team at the Women’s Club for organising such a friendly and stimulating event. May there be many more!
August 17, 2014