Sassy at seventy: The quirks and perks of being a writer

Feb 28, 2023
Source: Getty

When an invitation says “Fancy dress” my mind usually starts turning over all the weird things in my wardrobe that can be converted into something relevant, but when the Launch Night invitation for GenreCon 2023 said, “Come dressed as your favourite character,” I groaned. 

I don’t have a favourite character. I have lots of favourite characters. And because most of the books I read are contemporary, dressing as one of those characters wouldn’t have meant anything to onlookers.

When scrounging through my wardrobe for anything that might jog a creative thought, I spotted a dark blue trenchcoat. I won’t tell you how old it is, but the size was XXSS. Aha, I thought, perhaps if I pretended to be colourblind, I could go as Vera Stanhope, the trench coat and bucket-hat-wearing police officer in Ann Cleeves’ novels and television series. I had a hat (peach wasn’t the right colour, but again I went with the colourblind theory), and a scarf that was actually colour-correct.

I shouldn’t have bothered. My train to Brisbane was an hour late, the Airbnb a problem to access, and by the time I arrived at the Queensland State Library on the humid Friday evening, I was sweltering. The event was being held on The Terrace, and not a breath of breeze fluttered through the trees.

The first greeting I received was, “Ah, you’ve come as Paddington.” I should have agreed, but I didn’t have a marmalade sandwich in my bag, which I’m sure everyone would have asked for. By this time I was a rivulet of perspiration, so took off my hat, scarf and coat, stuffed them in my bag, and joined the Bride of Frankenstein, Maximus, The Saint, Hogwarts’ Dolores Umbridge, and many others I could only guess at, and drowned my regrets at the bar.

GenreCon is the largest conference in the southern hemisphere dedicated to genre writers and is run by the Queensland Writers Centre over two days, with the Friday tagged on for workshops. Saturday and Sunday offer panels such as Make a statement with crime, Writing high concept romance, Putting the sci in sci-fi, Historical fiction or fictionalised history, The stages of editing, and many, many more.

Special guest speakers were Natasha Lester, Garth Nix, and Nalini Singh, who shared their writing journeys with the eager-to-learn attendees. There’s something almost electrifying when writers get together at an event like this. Aspiring authors get a chance to chat with published authors during the breaks, while question time at the end of each panel session allows knowledge to be shared and advice offered. Writing is such an isolating occupation that the chance to get together with others who are infected by the power of stories brings even the shyest of writers out of their shells.

A new option was offered this year – The Shreader – in which brave writers submitted a part of their manuscript to be read out and judged by Garth Nix and Amo Jones. To preserve their privacy, and their sanity, and also guarantee at least a few people would submit, the writers remained anonymous. Four submissions were selected and read aloud by a professional actor.

Two met their demise by (toy) chainsaw, one was declared “I’d like to read more of this” by the judges and audience, and the fourth received a thumbs up from the judges and a round of applause from the audience. So two out of four writers went home smiling, while two went back to the keyboard to revise. Or maybe hit the delete key. It’s tough, this writing gig.

Writers’ conferences are always interesting in that they attract so much diversity in attendees. From the tattooed teenager to the old guy who fell asleep and snored in an afternoon session. He wasn’t bored, just in need of a nap. I can relate to that post-lunch slump. I went to a workshop once where the presenter made everyone do the Conga around the room after lunch. A little exercise, a lot of laughter. Sure kept us all awake.

I think writers are like sponges. We read newspaper and magazine articles and watch documentaries and movies, and ideas pop into our heads to be stored away for a story we are yet to write. We look at the world around us and see locations and plot possibilities and people who might become characters. We seek to learn more about our craft, to better our skills, to meet like-minded writers–and so we come to events like GenreCon– and find our “tribe”.

It doesn’t matter if you write crime, romance, historical, sci-fi, horror or non-fiction, whether you are multi-published or just starting your writing journey, you will be welcomed and accepted at GenreCon

Even if your character costume for the launch party is as woeful as mine.


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