15 May 2024

South Coast authors take centre stage for Sydney Writers' Festival panel event in Shellharbour

| Kellie O'Brien
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woman standing outside

Hayley Scrivenor is one of four authors who will be part of a Sydney Writers’ Festival event at the Shellharbour City Library. Photo: Supplied.

The South Coast’s literary talent will be showcased as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival author panel event in Shellharbour in May as four celebrated authors share the real story behind their books.

Australian bestselling author Hayley Scrivenor, from North Wollongong, will be joined by four-time author Meredith Jaffe, historical fantasy writer Kell Woods and debut author Emma Darragh for the panel event on 24 May at Shellharbour City Library.

Coinciding with the Sydney Writers’ Festival program, Hayley said she would be talking about her debut book Dirt Town, which was out just one week when she took part in her first Sydney Writers’ Festival event two years ago.

“I love doing local events, because I think the Illawarra is untapped but there’s so much great literary creative talent here,” she said.

With the Illawarra home to a large number of budding and professional authors, Hayley said there were many reasons why the area had become a haven for writers.

She said big drivers were writers’ festivals, such as the now-defunct Wollongong Writers Festival she was involved with, and the University of Wollongong, where she graduated with a PhD in creative writing and previously taught.

“Emma Darragh, who’s also in this event, was a student of mine briefly,” she said.

“She is really a special writer who’s come out of the University of Wollongong. We have a fantastic creative-writing school there.

“I think also it’s cheaper than Sydney still. We have this incredible natural environment and it makes sense people would want to live around these parts.”

Hayley said events such as the author panel discussions were a valuable opportunity to get out from behind the laptop.

“I spend a lot of time alone in a room in my trackpants,” she said.

“There is something really special about having the chance to get out and meet not just fellow writers, but also readers and chat to people about your imaginary friends.

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“Not everybody loves events, but from having met all of these writers, we all relish that opportunity to get out, talk about these stories and connect with readers and each other.”

She said while she tailored her stories to writers and fans at the events, she loved seeing the contingent of emerging writers who showed up.

“I particularly love when I get to speak with emerging writers or people that are on that path, because I’m really passionate about teaching and I love talking about the process,” she said.

“It can seem very unachievable and I really love getting out there and saying how writing is actually one of the more forgiving forms.

“All you need is a laptop or a notebook and some skerrick of self-belief, and you can start.”

That was the case for Hayley, who saw Dirt Town published internationally in 2022, and become a USA Today bestseller, a No. 1 Australian bestseller and shortlisted for multiple national and international awards.

She said there was no way she could have predicted how successful it would be.

“For it to not only sell overseas, but win awards overseas and then do so well here, is amazing,” she said.

“Even locally, it was the most borrowed book from Wollongong [City] Libraries last year and that is special.”

The outback noir-style mystery was based on growing up in a small country town in the Riverina.

“I actually went to Wagga last weekend for a wonderful festival called Writers at the Woolshed and it was weird to be back there because I’d fictionalised it,” she said.

“That’s one of the reasons I like not having a real place because I like to move things around.

“Gary Fisher always jokes, you never know when you’re going to need an international airport.”

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Hayley was taking the same approach with her next book, Girl Falling, due out at the end of July.

In the Blue Mountains to do a final read-through of the book before sending it off to her publisher, she said it was set in a fictional version of Katoomba and was a look at three friends who go rock climbing but only two of them return.

She said it was fun to enter a different world after Dirt Town.

“That first book exceeded my expectations, and certainly other people’s expectations, so that does create some pressure,” she said.

“So it’s a relief when you go, ‘Oh, OK, I’ve got something now that is different’, but also if you liked Dirt Town, you’ll like it.”

Hayley said the success of Dirt Town had given her more confidence going into this next book.

“I think there is something about knowing that it can work out and you can finish a story and it can connect with readers that I didn’t have when I was writing Dirt Town,” she said.

“I had no indication whatsoever that what I was doing was going to pay off in any way.

“That’s what all beginner writers share, engaging in this act of blind faith.

“That’s another reason why I think events are so important, because they’re moments in time where we come together and almost celebrate that it is possible.”

You can book for the event on the Shellharbour City Library website and learn about other festival events.

Emma Darragh will also be part of a literary lunch through the Friends of Wollongong City Library on 16 May.

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