What I learned about writers at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014…

DSC_0441What a week! The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014 was a whirlwind and I’m exhausted, but I had to blog some photos and shout out to some of the amazing people I met while it’s all fresh and exciting in our fuzzy Bintang-sizzled brains.

I got to speak on two panels this year, one with the amazing Sarah Alderson and Sarah Darmody on self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I’ve never spoken on a panel at the festival before, only volunteered (back when I was writing Balilicious – The Bali Diaries) but this year I was able to talk about the self-publishing world and share and discuss everything I’ve learned so far on my journey. So much fun!

Obviously I’ve been blogging it all since the moment Before He Was Famous was launched but it was a whole other experience being up there with a mic, answering people’s questions. Who’d have thought – the cyberworld is the REAL world?! Twitter followers are humans. We are all skin and bone and brain and heart and it all makes sense, finally… all the hours I’ve spent at the laptop. I loved every second of sharing in PERSON. And I want to do it even more (are you listening, festival organisers of the world?) 😉


I learned a lot about other writers this week, too.

Writers are both recluses and gregarious loudmouths. And it’s OK to be both. We’re a mixture of the characters we create; the ones who laugh in the limelight, who curl up in the corners and feel and bleed and break. Writers, all together in the same room, are an emotional roller coaster in motion. We both support and envy our peers on the ride (we admit this!) and when we’re standing alone, we’re processing what the last group conversation taught us and how it might one day fit into a story. Everything is a story. This whole week has been a story filled with stories.


Writers will tantalise you with snippets from behind the scenes of their lives, wax lyrical on contacts they’d love for you to meet; tell you who they’ve danced with, dined with and dated. They will leave you slack jawed and sucker punched and wishing you’d met before. I had some wonderful and wine-fuelled conversations with the beautiful Jill Dawson (best-selling author of eight novels, including Fred & Edie (short-listed for The Whitbread and Orange Prize) and Watch Me Disappear (long-listed for the Orange Prize) as we stood, cheap Chardonnay in hand in some of Ubud’s most glamorous locations. What a woman!

I also had some great chats with the enchanting Eleanor Limprecht – (author of What Was Left – shortlisted for the 2014 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal) and the smiley, super-fun and multi-talented, award-winning A.J Betts (who NOT ONLY happens to look rad in a purple dress here, but who also wrote Zac & Mia, which is the winner of the 2014 Ethel Turner Prize at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and the SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for Australia/NZ). What talented ladies!


Writers love to share. They also love to over-share. Get enough wine in them and they will astound you with stories they wouldn’t even put in their books. But to some, the thought of engaging on Twitter or Facebook is terrifying. Hopefully Sarah and I eased a few minds and helped writers already (and not-yet) published realise the importance and JOY in social media! That was our gift to the festival, we hope. And of course we were given so much in return… including lovely laminated passes and free cocktails and yummy Indonesian dinners. Mmmm. Probably gained a few kilos as well as insider publishing knowledge this week, to be honest. Oh well.


The second panel I was on was chaired by the lovely Chloe, a student from Jakarta’s International school. At 14 she was super brave and brilliant in front of the mic. She asked Sarah and I a lot about the young adult genre and basically let Sarah and I take questions from aspiring writers and fans of YA/NA books. Super fun… and her lovely mum and sister were there to take photos and be supportive. We love meeting readers. One of my favourite panels was one that Jared Thomas (author of Calypso Summer) spoke at with A.J Betts and Sarah Alderson, again on YA/NA. I remember him saying “I don’t tell my niece she looks pretty or cute. I ask her what book she’s reading.” That really stuck with me. Reading is so important, no matter how old we are quite frankly.

Wow… there were just too many highlights to mention. Hearing Kate Holden, Rayya Elias and Liam Pieper open up candidly about their addictions (and resulting bestselling books) saw tears rolling down my face at one point. I met so many interesting people this week, from all walks of life, and this festival has rejuvenated me in some way, I think. I’ve always been in love with Bali but there was definitely magic at work here! I can’t wait for more festivals – only can we make them longer than a week next time, please?

***Sarah and I have set up a website called The Honest Author if you’re interested in more tips and tricks in the publishing/self publishing world!

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