The essence of a successful arts festival, says David Twomey, is learning how not to take on too much.
To that end, the chair of the inaugural Ballarat Writers Festival has deliberately kept the list of guests at a manageable number – although he still says he has thrown himself ‘under the bus’.
And it’s certainly not to say the organisers haven’t come up with a full program.
Prize-winning novelists Carmel Bird and Sofie Laguna will join a distinguished line up of authors, poets, politicians and commentators in the festival, the theme of which is ‘democracy’.
Other guests include playwright, novelist and commentator Van Badham hosting a panel on ‘Fixing Democracy’ with MP Sam Dastyari, lecturer Dennis Altman, writers Judy Brett, Jenny Hocking and Nayuka Gorrie.
Euthanasia advocate Rodney Syme will discuss Dying with Dignity, among a series of discussions and workshops that range from “Regional Noir” to writing a memoir.
Unlike Bendigo’s festival, which has paid staff and is run by a council-owned corporation, Ballarat’s festival will rely on the efforts of volunteers.
Mr Twomey says the idea of the festival was spawned at a Ballarat Writers meeting about a year ago.
“I was talking to a couple of people who had just been to the Bendigo Writers Festival,” he says.
“They were raving about it – ‘it’s fantastic, it’s great and the rest of it’ – and in the conversation I said ‘why doesn’t Ballarat have a writers festival?’.
“And after some discussion they said, ‘maybe you could organise one?’
“And it was after I agreed I went out to find the bus to throw myself under.”
All jokes aside though, Mr Twomey is excited by the idea of writers coming to Ballarat to discuss their work and offer people in the city the chance to explore their own creativity through workshops and discussions.
The theme of the first festival is democracy. Mr Twomey said the idea of having one word as a theme was a early idea that has borne fruit.
“Democracy relates well to Ballarat, to Eureka, to the whole background of Ballarat,” says Mr Twomey.
“Alfred Deakin (Australia’s second prime minister, serving three terms) was involved here. We interpret democracy in the broad sense though, not just politics. We’re going back to the Greek meaning, demos, the freedom to do what you want to do.”
To that end, the centrepiece of the Festival will be the panel discussion.
“We are hoping that discussion will look forward,” says Mr Twomey.
“Where might go with democracy and how we can make it better, both politically and in lots of other fields. As we've said, it relates to people being able to do the things they want to do – so if they want to write about something, if they want to take certain sorts of photos, if they want to make certain types of art – it's all about being democratically free to do those things.”