Yesterday I participated in the Williamstown Literary Festival. On stage. As a competitor.
I didn't mean to: I thought I had volunteered to read out some other person's work, but apparently I had put my name forward to read my own piece. Later it was further clarified that I would be reading out my offering as part of the People's Choice Awards, to be voted on by the audience on the day.
I spent the day at the festival, sitting in on lectures and workshops. The "Writing Food" talk by a local celebrity chef got the gourmet juices flowing, and now three of his books are on my must-have list. I was ravenous afterwards.
The "Sassy In The City: Writing The Modern Woman" lecture was given by a beautiful young romance writer with glossy curls, a great handbag and a handsome man waiting in the wings for her. Even though she was talking romantic fiction I got quite a few tips from her experiences. A couple of very elderly ladies in tweed and tight curls sat in the front row and muttered quietly to each other, shaking their heads and wondering aloud who this Bridget Jones was that the writer kept referring to.
Back in the Meeting Room of the Mechanics Institute, the wooden plaques around the room lauded past presidents of the Ancient Order of Druids and past Grands of the institute itself. A small group collected for the People's Choice Awards and eleven local writers, myself included, stood and read out their personal pieces. I was the youngest entrant by far, except perhaps for the fresh-faced writer of teenage books whose perfect skin and long glossy auburn hair would have made me envious were he not a bloke.
One of the front-row ladies from the Sassy lecture, a sprightly 80-year-old local woman, stood and read a beautiful and poignant recollection of a Scottish friend, written for his funeral. A younger woman in grey snakeskin drainpipes gave a spirited rendition of her perfectly phrased and rhymed epic poem about the Aussies' favourite horse, Phar Lap. A fashionably-dressed silver-haired woman from the University of the Third Age read out a lovely and amusing piece written from the point of view of a bonsai with a high opinion of itself.
My turn came. I stood at the top of the class, it seemed, and read out a version of my Chengde story from China. I was nervous and I know my voice shook a little at times. It is so different when you are seeking validation of your own words: I might as well have been standing there pleading for them all to like me.
I didn't win of course: the bonsai lady deservedly picked up the first prize. Early this morning when I awoke I realised I'd had no chance - I didn't even give myself top marks in the vote. I had misread the instructions and on my own ballot paper I had placed myself third, beneath the bonsai woman and a fellow writers' group entrant.
Maybe next year.