Celebrating children’s literature at Somerset

The Somerset Celebration of Literature held its annual school literature festival from 15 to 19 March 2010 at Somerset College in Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast, Queensland. Over 16,000 tickets were sold, with over 30 writers speaking and 70 schools in attendance from all over South East Queensland and Northern NSW. Meredene Hill, marketing manager at the University of Queensland Press, was in attendance and told us a bit about the festival:

Attending Somerset Festival of Children’s Literature is always a calendar highlight. The festival staff and volunteers go to so much trouble to ensure a memorable experience for everyone, particularly for the thousands of school students who attend the festival to hear their favourite authors speak.

There is always a high energy level at Somerset, even with the intermittent downpours of rain this year, as students move from one author session to the next, and catch-up on what they’ve just seen or have been reading. Regular laughter and cheering burst from the three marquees and the other school venues as authors such as Leigh Hobbs, Cuzco and Jackie French entertained the students. And dare I say, even teenagers and the ‘grown-ups’ amongst us, yes me, were caught laughing when we listened to James Roy talk about his book about boys, puberty and sex, The ‘S’ Word (UQP, July), while the book’s talented illustrator Gus Gordon drew entertaining cartoons to match.

Popular authors at the signing tent included Patrick Ness, Markus Zusak, Derek Landy and Melina Marchetta. The festival is also a popular platform for launching new books—Anthony Eaton and James Roy launched their new novels in front of an enthusiastic crowd of students.

Another highlight of Somerset is the chance to see emerging authors talk about their work. This year, some of those exciting new talents were Belinda Jeffrey, Penny Tangey, Amy Barker and Tewodros (Teddy) Fekadu. A personal highlight was listening to John Danalis share his story about being an author and illustrator.  Danalis spoke about hearing from Markus Zusak:

‘He took us on his writers journey, from an early library appearance where not one member of the public showed up to listen (but the sole librarian insisted he read anyway, to her!) through to his appearances on US primetime morning television. He touched on his struggles with writers block since the success of The Book Thief (Picador), and most touchingly explained that his success was really our success. Amazingly, at the end of his speech, a couple of us—after wiping away the tears—remarked that the speech lit a flame in our bellies, and made us believe that we too were capable of touching great heights with our stories.’

As Karen Mackie and the Somerset team wind down from another successful festival, all of its fans will be eagerly counting down to next year’s festival in March.

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