Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Diary of a Festival Volunteer: the story of how Liz scored a new red beret

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A few months ago, I put my name down to help at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. I can only say that on the day I sent that fateful email I must have been feeling uncharacteristically energetic. For as my son Seth said when I outlined the scheme to him.

‘But Mum, you find a normal week pretty hard going. Whatever were you thinking?’

My desire to be part of Melbourne’s premier literary event was not, however, as unrealistic as it first appears. There would be no TAFE that week. I had planned to take annual leave for my library work and to give myself over to the festival completely. That was before I found out I was unable to take annual leave.

The problem with my leave was two-fold. Firstly, another of my colleagues had requested leave for that week. Secondly, the remainder of my colleagues were going to the festival as part of their professional development, you know … getting paid for it.

Then I found out that the festival coincides with the greatly anticipated visit of my brother and his family. Okay, so now I was going to be working and volunteering as well as picking my brother and his family up from the airport at 12:40 am Thursday morning.

I should have probably quit at that stage and, after weeping into my pillow, sent an, I regret to inform you, letter to the festival organisers.

Instead I became stubborn and unrealistic.

‘Look, it is going to be a busy week,’ I said to my family. ‘But I really want to do this.’ All the time I was thinking: I must be a complete and utter muggins.

My husband Andrew compounded my inner sense of inner idiocy by saying: ‘I doubt anyone ever goes from being a volunteer to being an author.’

Of course, I wasn’t doing it for that reason (well, not only that reason).

‘Why was I doing it?’ That was the question I asked myself as my alarm shrilled early Saturday morning. Of course, once I saw the Red Beret I would be wearing, I added and ‘F word’ to my original sentence.

Today is Tuesday and, yes, it has been tiring for a middle aged, health challenged, Vermont girl like me. But I am telling you, now. I will volunteer again next year and count it a privilege.

I have been assigned to BMW Edge a glorious venue in Federation square. After collecting tickets, volunteers are free to attend each session until it finishes. I have spent most of my time perched on the back bench of the BMW Edge looking out over the Yarra and listening. I have also carried the roving microphone around to various students during question time.

On Saturday I went to a reading by Age Book of the Year winners. A highlight was hearing Tim Winton read from his most recent novel, Breath. He read beautifully. Don Watson and Jan Harry were also fantastic. Monday evening, I sat in on a VCE session focussing on the film, Look Both Ways. I had not seen the movie but my son Seth is studying it for VCE. Last night Andrew and I perused his copy. It was inspiring, especially as I had just heard the writer and actor speak.

This morning I heard Robert Muchamore and Emily Rodda speak. At the end of Robert Muchamore’s session a teacher came up to me with a lone student. He had an email from one of the festival organisers indicating the student would be able to meet Roberts Muchamore. As the festival organizer in question was nowhere to be seen, I took the lad over to where the author was signing. Muchamore’s assistant was happy to arrange a meeting.

As I turned to leave, a petite woman in a pink poncho approached me. She had copy of The Shadow Thief by Alexandra Ardonetto in her hand. She said she could not wait in line because she had to go to the Green Room (the author’s waiting room). She asked could I please get it signed for her. I explained that I was not actually supposed to be standing in the author’s signing queue but promised to see what I could do. ‘Ah, before you go,’ I called out, as she hurried off. ‘Who would you like her to sign it to?’

‘My name is Melina,’ she said. ‘Melina Marchetta.’

My eyes flew open. I know that is a cliché line but I felt it happening. Standing there with my eyes like saucers I whispered: ‘I love your books.’

Thankfully at this stage my Liz-you-are-being-a-loser radar started beeping. I shut up and went in search of Alexandra Ardonetto.

Just in case you have never heard of Alexandra Ardonetto she is a Melbourne girl who signed a three-book-deal when she was only fourteen years of age. Can you imagine how I felt approaching her in my red beret and Crew T Shirt. Asking her to sign a book for Melina Marchetta and hoping she would do it quickly so that I wouldn’t get in trouble for being there, in line, instead of collecting tickets, or picking up rubbish, or directing people to the box office or the toilets.

I felt like an earwig.

Alexandra was sitting next to Alice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem. When I told Alexandra, Melina Marchetta wanted her autograph there was an audible gasp from both girls. Alice turned to Alexandra and said: ‘Oh, Alex, that’s fantastic.’

And it was.

When I took the book to Melina Marchetta in the Green Room, I felt like a fairy Godmother. Even now, as I sit here writing this blog, I find myself grinning stupidly.

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1 Comment

  1. Carine

    Where’s the photo of you with your red beret?? Would love to see it… Glad you’re enjoying your volunteership 🙂 And who knows… maybe in the future people will be lining up for your autograph at the festival!!
    xx

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