This is a reflection on National Young Writers Festival by Chloe Escott
I’m a writer of both music and words. I’m also a trans woman who only came out a few months ago and still lives in a place where everyone is supportive and encouraging but I can always see the gears turning in their heads as they try their very best to disregard the names and categories they've had for me for five or ten or 20 or 30 years. Speaking as a writer, the National Young Writers Festival (NYWF) in Newcastle was a nice way to connect with other writers from a variety of backgrounds and perhaps even learn some practical skills for writing and publishing. Speaking as a trans woman, the festival was a joyous, unprecedented and thoroughly uplifting experience that gave me a several day-long glimpse of what it's like to be seen, immediately and without question, exactly as I see myself.
I was invited, at what turned out to be the tail-end of my Dude Years, to speak about my experience as a songwriter, but when I came out as trans, the organisers saw fit to invite me to appear on a panel of trans writers, alongside author Vincent Silk and poet Jesse Garlick.
At first this felt like being invited to give the keynote speech at the World Plumbing Conference after picking up a pipe wrench for the first time, but in the spirit of ignoring the voice in my head that yells "You're an unqualified fraud!" on an unending loop, I said yes and I'm glad I did.
We talked about our own work and what we try to express through it, and how reading the work of trans authors had affected our own lives. We took questions from a much larger than expected audience, and we were visible and complex and funny and surprising at a cultural moment when a lot of people are just starting to wake up to our existence.
This was one of the first events of the festival and it set me up with a kind of temporary local celebrity status. This would be pleasant enough for most writers, but to be able to walk anywhere in the festival precinct and have people say "Hi Chloe!" as I passed by is exactly the kind of thing that has made all of this personal upheaval worthwhile. Late one afternoon I was delirious from hunger, having forgotten to include any kind of lunch in my schedule, and a girl I'd met for the first time that morning asked if I wanted to share a pretzel before I could even say “Hello”.
The National Young Writers Festival is ostensibly a few days of workshops and panels and talks that educate and inspire you and help you to become a better writer. But it's all a cheeky, elaborate excuse to go to a neat little beachside city and chill with old friends and a whole heap of new people, an activity which, whoa, you won't believe this, will educate and inspire you and help you to become a better writer.
And if you are looking to learn more directly, events are not only free but generally very open to stickybeaks; if you step inside a venue just to get out of the heat and you catch a few minutes of something with no personal relevance to you whatsoever, you still walk out knowing more than you did before.
Sometimes there's no clear line between speaker and audience; one highlight for me was Queercaucus, a very informal event where I sat with about 15 other writers and shared our names and preferred pronouns. We each said as much or as little as we liked in a freewheeling discussion that covered queer-coded villains, monster theory, writing outside of your own firsthand experience, accusations of tokenism, and critical analysis of everything from the Stonewall film to the Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe. We were there for an hour but whenever any of us found each other elsewhere we'd pick up roughly where we left off. It represented everything great about the festival: at once brilliantly organised and brilliantly open to happy accidents.
This is a FOMO post, part of a series where writers reflect on their experience of literary festivals around the world. To read more like this, click here.
Bio: Chloe Escott sings and operates small machinery in the Native Cats, performs experimental stand-up comedy, and is writing a book chronicling the 40-year history of a fictitious video game developer. You can follow her on Twitter at @vesselskirt.