2013 / Event / Interview / Southern Highlands Writers Festival

Festival Season: what you didn’t know about the Southern Highlands

It’s that time of year when Writing Festivals begin to appear: The Emerging Writers Festival and Sydney Writers Festival have recently flown by, and Queensland, Byron Bay and Melbourne will soon follow their seasonal path. But before any of these is the arrival of the Southern Highlands Writers Festival, which begins in July. Having looked over the programme, there are events for everyone – and I’m including kids – and the lineup is truly something else.

– by ACT Writers Centre Intern, Laura Bartlett

Now, most of the ‘big’ literary festivals are held around a city. Growing up in a rural area, I always wished that there were writing festivals out near me; writing has always been a great passion. Enter the Southern Highlands Writers Festival, located in Bowral, regional NSW. And while the relatively young festival’s unique setting would have been a draw factor for me as a regional writer, I couldn’t help but wonder how the festival works: wouldn’t it be easier to hold it in a more densely populated area? Michaela Bolzan, Creative Director of the Festival, explained.

‘There are so many great reasons for having festivals (whether that be a literary festival, arts festival, food and wine festival) in regional communities, the main one being that it brings the community together in celebration. While the majority of the authors speaking at the festival are from outside the region, we do have many local authors and moderators participating, giving them a voice and an opportunity to connect to other like-minded people. Regional festivals are obviously smaller than larger festival in the major cities, which makes them more personal and intimate. We find here in the Highlands, there are opportunities for networking: many great friendships and business partnerships have formed all because of the festival. A festival such as ours brings tourists to our beautiful region, resulting in economic development for many local businesses, from the hotels and B&B, to the restaurants and wineries.’ said Bolzan.

The Southern Highlands Writers Festival was first held in 2012. It’s currently gearing up for its second year in July. ‘Last year we had several hundred people attend and this year we are looking at doubling those numbers. I am conscious that we do need to grow the festival, to make it more financially sustainable, however, I don’t want it to grow too large and loose that great sense of intimacy.’

This year, the festival is also featuring a free Kids Day program, so if you have young readers, bring them along! As for myself, my festival picks include the ‘Getting Published’ seminar, as I’m currently working on my own novel which I would love to have published one day. I’ve always wanted to be a writer – whether it be novel writing or business writing – which is why I’m also giving the Business of Writing a big tick. To round up my top three picks for the festival, I would love to see The Fest Factor, where Comedian Anthony Ackroyd is emceeing the Southern Highlands’ first ever talent quest for poets, singer-song writers, comedians and writers.

Finding a place for a festival is always a tricky part when it comes to settling on a place. I asked Michaela what is was like working with a regional council and getting regional funding for the event.
‘As yet, I have purposely not applied for any regional or arts funding for my first two festivals. I have though met with the local tourism body and shire council several times and kept them up to date on our developments. My reason for this approach is because I believe it will take 2-3 festivals for us to fine-tune our offerings and really hit our strides. By next year, when I do apply for assistance, we should be in a better position to provide them with festival growth patterns, statistics on economic benefits to the community and concrete data that they will want to see. We are serious about creating a world-class event here. Whilst it has been a huge financial burden for me until now, there is a method to my madness! The Southern Highlands in July, in the middle of winter, is a truly special place. If you are interested in hearing amazing people talk about their creative processes, if you enjoy eating sensational local produce and tasting local wines, then I urge you to come and join us! For more information, check out our website – www.shwf.com.au

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