Recently, I volunteered at the 2017 VOICES on the COAST Youth Literature Festival presented by Immanuel Lutheran College. This is a Sunshine Coast Literary event. What a great time I had!

Seeing it was my first ever visit to the festival, I thought it would be the perfect time to volunteer. Volunteering is like seeing everything from the engine room, first. You actually get to see just how much effort, time and people power goes into putting on such a diverse and enriching literary festival for our youth. I found the whole experience truly worthwhile and I gained a lot of experience. I’m really glad I decided to volunteer this year as I got to observe eight wonderful and talented writers and artists up close.

For the students, what a blast they had! Every workshop, performance and talk I attended, students seemed engaged and ready to soak up the atmosphere of this fabulous event. They were remarkably interested and hats off to each and every presenter. A lot of thought, energy and resources goes into creating a stimulating workshop or talk that pays off for the fans who show up. It’s a win/win situation.

Of course these events don’t just happen. A LOT of work goes into coordinating. So MUCH coordinating, and Kelly Dunham is the Queen of the Festival’s coordinating team. She, along with her merry band of helpers were kept on their toes making sure everything went like clockwork. If something was amiss, only those who it involved knew, is my bet.

For two days of this festival, I felt privileged to count myself amongst this hardworking team of volunteers from all different backgrounds. Some of these people have been coming for years! Volunteers are a blessing to events like the Voices on the Coast and without them, would not be the success that they are. Without the talented presenters, there would not be the success. Without a fabulous campus like the University of Sunshine Coast’s, it would not be the successful event that it is. And, I just have to mention that the food provided by the festival for the presenters and the volunteers was extremely generous and very delicious. What a spread!

The volunteers were all kept extremely busy, but it was worth it and I think it goes without saying, we had a fun and enjoyable time, especially seeing the students so happy and engaged. As a teacher and aspiring writer, it gave me a giant buzz.

A little note about photos: I decided to fully immerse myself in my adventure and actually ‘forgot’ to take any personal photos. I lived in the moment. However, on the upside of that, at least I don’t have the worry about photography protocol. Instead, I’ve opted to use photos I’ve taken from the free festival booklet to help me tell my story. So full credit to the producers of the 2017 Voices on the Coast.

Everyone who attended the festival received a festival booklet, pictured above. I read this booklet from cover to cover when I received my copy. It gave me an overview of who was presenting and a little of their background. I knew a number of the presenters, and surprisingly for me, there were many I didn’t know. Kelly offered all volunteers the opportunity to nominate the artists we’d like to work with during our time on each session. However, I decided not to nominate anyone. I felt confident that I would enjoy any workshops or talks I worked on and throughout both days, I felt constantly delighted with each session. I’m glad I left my session selection to Kelly. I made it a point to myself to attend, help in any way I could, observe and learn. It was a fun way to have an adventure. Kelly’s Introduction and Welcome page of the booklet made some big promises and after completing my gig at the festival and preparing to write this blog, I reread her words, and they certainly rang true.

Kelly and her gang went over and above to deliver a quality and engaging festival to the youth of the Sunshine Coast.

Congratulations, Kelly and her lovely volunteers, Immanuel Lutheran College, the University of the Sunshine Coast, the sponsors of the event, and especially the authors, illustrators and performers who put on a great show.

DAY 1 Session 1 EVERYONE HAS A STORY with presenter:  

~  Tim Baker  ~

The first session I help on turned out to be a writing workshop hosted by Tim Baker. A chilled and easy going natured guy, the students who participated in his first workshop connected and listened to him share about his writing career journey. Starting from his first revelation sitting his English exams in his final years of secondary and connecting with the pen and watching it flow across his exam paper, describing an early morning experience. He knew he could write about his surfing experiences because he lived his life with many early morning encounters. Early morning was his favourite time of the day. He described making his way down to the beach and looking out over the surf, ‘like a dog taking a piss, marking his territory.’ Tim’s words. When he received one-hundred percent on his English exam, he decided to change his uni studies from agriculture to journalism. He has successfully made a career out of writing for surfing magazines and now has a number of books out. Towards the end of his talk, he engaged his students for the session in a short writing activity.

I always find it interesting to hear authors’ and illustrators’ pathways to their writing careers. Everyone’s journey is always different, just like the stories and illustrations they create.

DAY 1 Session 2  WRITING GREAT STORIES with presenter:  

~   Mark Smith   ~

I had not met author Mark Smith before and it was interesting that he too lived near the surf, along Victoria’s Surf Coast. It appeared a surf theme was threading its way amongst the workshops I was helping out on. Great for me as I’m quite partial to surf, professional surfing competitions and the energy and moves surfers make when out on the waves. I live near Noosa. I think surfing and the love of beaches is part and parcel if you live in one of the top beach holiday places in the world. So, it’s all good for me. Let the next show begin.

Mark spent a very short amount of time sharing about his writing life. He showed a photo of what he sees everyday on his drive to work, the bush that leads all the way down to the beach near his home. The photo shows the road, he takes, called the Great Ocean Road, winding its way through the scrub. His debut novel is aptly titled, The Road to Winter and is set in this area where he spends a lot of time. He demonstrated and elaborated to the students to use places where they really know or have researched well.

Because Mark’s goal was to deliver a workshop, he immersed the students into a series of activities of building a great story. He covered things like characters, setting, plot, dialogue, rising action, resolution and helped provide general, yet deeper understanding of each ingredient that goes into making a great story.

The students were kept busy and there was an exciting buzz on the air. One of the things I liked about the way Mark handled his session, is that he went from group to group and listened and interacted with EVERY group. He gave each group time to talk with and share ideas, and listen to. He did this remarkably well. He was calm throughout, but displayed energy to all in the room. The students were engaged and ready to learn. Towards the end of the session, students were offered the opportunity to read out what they had written.

Personally, I was glad to have helped on Mark’s session. As a teacher for a large part of my life, it was inspiring to see the students engaged and alive sharing their ideas. It was like watching sleeping ideas ignite.

Day 1  Session 3  WORD LOVE with presenter:  

~   Cath Crowley   ~ 

As a teacher of children’s creative writing classes, I found Cath’s session most inspiring.  She quickly got students involved in the activities she’d prepared by dividing them into small groups and presented a series of wonderful and thought provoking exercises that involved lots of word play. From the get go, it was massive fun and her exercises reminded me of some of the word play games I’ve given my own writing students. Students were engaged and in this session there was one standout observation that was EXCITING; the students were confident writers and COULDN’T WAIT to share their ideas.

In amongst a sea of girls, there was one boy, Alex. But, he didn’t seem to mind. He proved passionate about his writing and he reminded me of me when he began talking about his writing; he definitely had a fire in his belly. Passionate people get fired up and a little one-eyed and it’s hard not to gush about all things writing and books. I ended up going and sitting across from him because it proved challenging for him to immerse with a nearby group of girls. This worked out well because he got to share his ideas with me freely, and when Cath called on him, and I got to play with some words too.

Cath, an excellent presenter, praised students and proved quite adept at extracting ideas from participants. Her session was ALIVE and ENERGISED. It was MAGIC.

Cath shared with students some authors who have inspired her in her own writing life and one she mentioned was Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury’s own writing background is fascinating in itself and he attributed his talent and gift for writing to libraries and the books he’s read, as well as all the poetry he has read. He had a theory about list making that he employed in his early twenties to help inspire his own creative juices.

One particularly fun activity Cath prepared involved randomly choosing words from a list of interesting nouns and adjectives and joining them together; especially those you wouldn’t normally associate. This is where the fun part kicked in. Hearing students read out their best combinations sparked an energy in the room and students were bursting to reveal their combinations. It was a fun activity and the risks were removed because it was merely an ‘exercise’ and students were not going to be judged. One example I came up with was milky dust or swap them around, dusty milk. One of the students came up with fragile neighbours. An almost endless list of super cool and quite poetic combinations surfaced and the students had big smiles. Winner – Winner.

Day 1 Session 4 WRITING AUTHENTIC CHARACTERS with presenter:    

~   Steph Bowe   ~

Steph’s energy was apparent from the start of her session.

From her powerpoint presentation, she delivered a series of slides with loads of information for students to take notes on. Students participating in this session would take home lots of great tips and information to help them develop characters they were already working on or to create new characters.

With each slide, Steph engaged the students in short exercises where they got to experience trying out her tips.

When Steph’s debut YA novel, Girl Saves Boy, came out, I remember reading an article on her in the Courier Mail. I snipped it out and shared her story with my creative writing students at the time. She was added to our studio’s wall of fame. It’s great to see she has gone on to write two more novels and now is coming to these events to inspire young upcoming writers, just like she once was.

Steph’s personality is energetic and personable and I’m sure many students in her session connected to her method for building authentic characters.

Day 2  Session 1   CREATING PICTURE BOOKS THROUGH FUN AND FUNK with presenter:    

~   Chris Collin   ~

Chris Collin’s author talk was the first talk I’d worked on so far. Day 1 saw me working on all workshops. I was really interested in seeing Chris in action because I’ve known him for a few years now, but hadn’t had the privilege of seeing him present before.

He came ladened with suitcases, speaker system, computer and other devices on a trolley. This looked serious! And that’s exactly true. Chris Collin is SERIOUS about having fun and his presentation was a delight for the primary students who’d booked their ticket for a funky ride.

Chris is energetic and rocketed along in his talk, engaging students with great questions and mini competitions. Whilst he presented to primary school children and was mindful of their ages, he asked them intelligent questions that really got them, as well as the few scattered adults, namely teachers present in the room thinking. And some of his questions would have interested many authors and illustrators who are contemplating publishing themselves.  As an indie publisher of three books, and another on the way, Chris has the facts and figures down pat. He shared the costs involved in choosing the publishing path he took and it gave the students much more respect for the humble picture book. In fact, the whole session was built around all the thought, efforts and creative expression, not to mention additional resources, that are part of the process. It is mind boggling.

For authors who are writing picture book text, like myself, it puts everything into perspective as to why some manuscripts might be absolutely fabulous but yet still get rejected. It’s a real numbers game and the numbers must be stacked right. And if a publishing house is going to invest big dollars into a project, then it must be a truly worthy candidate. For those who still believe in their stories, even after rejection, there’s still a different road to publishing; that of self publishing. So, the question, do you have the money and belief in your story to invest your own coin? And if you answer yes, after doing market research and all the other bits and bobs that go along with the process, then the only thing stopping you, is … YOU!?

Chris asked me to help students he selected pop on a couple of costumes tucked away in the suitcase. He comes armed with an array of costumes and puppets. Chris actually talked about his puppets and how they have changed the way he does things in his presentations. He presents to the very young and goes into nursing homes and presents to very elderly folk and he has found that EVERYBODY, regardless of their ages, seem to respond positively to the puppets.

Chris discussed with the students how he adds value to his books by providing audio CD versions of each of the books that can be played in DVD drives of computers as well as CD players. His son, Sam helped produce a song to go with the stories.

At the end of the presentation and with the selected students dressed in costume, Funky Chicken, Chris Collin and the rest of the participants, rollicked along to the Funky Chicken song.

It was clear to all, the students had a blast and even though the ages of these students may mean they no longer read too many picture books these days, most of them had read at least one Funky Chicken book.

Everyone had a great time.

Winner – Winner. Chicken Dinner? Oops. No, maybe not! Wink. Wink.

Day 2   Session 2   THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING YOURSELF presented by:    

~   Jessica Walton   ~

I was most interested in hearing Jessica give this talk about her life and what led her to becoming an author of a picture book. Jessica is an author I’d never heard of before, sadly, and now after listening to her story, I’ve become one of her latest fans. What an incredible tale she has and a fascinating outlook on life. She is matter-of-fact, gently spoken and strong, not to mention, BRAVE!

If you’ve never heard of this author, or her story, be prepared to be blown away and to find out more, take a trip to her website Jessica Walton to find out more.

Jessica’s story captivated her audience as she flicked through a large collection of personal snaps on her powerpoint.

Her first picture book, Introducing Teddy, is a beautiful story and its message is one of inspiration and would be a very helpful resource for people trying to stay true to themselves and demonstrating the importance of being yourself, no matter who you are, what you look like or what you think.

As an amputee, Jessica is currently working on a picture book to inspire other amputees.

Day 2 Session 5  The Boy, The Bear, The Baron, & The Bard with presenters:  

   ~Shake n Stir   ~

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I worked part time at QPAC in South Brisbane. For those who don’t know, QPAC stands for Queensland Performing Arts Centre and can be found in Brisbane’s Southbank at the cultural precinct and is the jewel in Brisbane’s artistic crown. I absolutely adored working there. Never anything less than exciting and action packed, I met some amazing people and experienced some wonderful events; not to mention the stories that became part of the role as I worked my shifts. It was an amazing part of my life and one I will always treasure.

But what, say you, has this got to do with Shake n Stir’s performance of The Boy, the Bear, The Baron and The Bard? Well, it has got everything to do with it! Volunteering on this performance gig reminded me of my days at QPAC. I, along with a fellow volunteer, made our way over to the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Innovation Centre, where we ticketed through many children who were coming to see the show. Of course, working on the doors to the Voices on the Coast event wasn’t nearly as intense as it can sometimes be at QPAC.

Children spilled into the theatre and it wasn’t long before we had a full house and the show started. Three performance artists with the Shake n Stir theatre company stepped out onto the stage and began some warm ups before the show began. Once a slight technical hitch was sorted, the show started.

The audience was pumped and the artists were energetic. With a very simple set, limited costumes, the help of technology and the images of Gregory Rogers, the story unfolded about a boy who loses his ball inside a deserted theatre and finds himself on its world famous stage. It is here, the boy goes on a journey and meets and befriends some unlikely characters, including Shakespeare.

With reality suspended and morphed into creative imagination, the energy from both actors and audience filled the room. The show went for approximately 30 minutes. The smiles on students’ faces and the chatter after the show indicated the show was a success. I certainly enjoyed watching the romp up there on stage and I’m pretty sure my volunteer partner did too. This was definitely a highlight during my stint as a volunteer.

These performers travel around Queensland, including regional areas, bringing live performances to schools. I would highly recommend Shake n Stir to any school. The actors work hard to bring new work to their audiences.

Day 2 Session 6 Game Writing: Choose Your Own Adventure with presenter:  

~   Katryna Starks   ~

This is one time I’m really glad I didn’t opt to choose my own adventure but left it up to the coordinator of Voices on the Coast to choose for me. Somehow, I doubt I would have chosen this particular workshop, thinking it wouldn’t be something I’d be too interested in.

But how wrong would I have been? Leaving it all up to the volunteering Gods was a good thing on this occasion.

Not a gamer myself and never interested in playing games on my computer or phone, if I’m truthful, I was a little sceptical about the topic of this workshop and just what might be involved. Watching students playing on computers didn’t really excite me. Would this hour long session be a big yawn for me?

Short answer, No!

Couldn’t have been further from the truth. From the get go, students who entered this room seemed to know exactly what they were there for and they had this look about them; a bit like the crew from the Big Bang Theory, if you catch my drift. So, that caught my attention.

Katryna walked the students through an interactive, Choose your Own Story, narrative gaming program. The software program, Twine is fantastic and at the beginner level requires little to no coding experience. So, yes, you guessed it! I could perhaps even have a go at this myself. The students experienced a taste of what skills are necessary to design, create, and play-test their own interactive stories. Katryna introduced some basic concepts relating to game-based learning, level design, narrative within the game and developing pick-your-own-pathways within the context of a video game design. Click on the word Twine to find out more.

The room hummed with the sound of busy computer keyboards, minimal chat and an occasional question. In a quiet manner, Katryna kept the pace at a level which suited the majority of students and those who worked faster, could. These students were engaged! They had chosen to attend something they were all very interested in.

During the session, the students developed their own version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and were encouraged to save their work to their own usb to take home to continue.

As for me, volunteering on this workshop opened up a whole new spectrum of how writing, using this platform, excites students enough to engage them and motivate them to write. Now isn’t that something?

It’s a Wrap

After doing two days of volunteering on Voices on the Coast, I was pleasantly tired, and energised. I learnt a lot, and it was great to hang out with some of my writing friends.

There were so many other great authors and illustrators present at the festival that I would have loved the opportunity to hear and watch them in action, but working on eight sessions over the two days, was both a full and an enriching experience.

Some of the other hard working presenters included: Amy Bodossian, Dr Gary Crew, Justin D’Ath, Nick Earls, Mick Elliott, Karen Foxlee, Sophie Hardcastle, Tim Harris, Jacqueline Harvey, Jack Heath, Rebecca Johnson, Elizabeth Kasmer, Brenton McKenna, Dean O’Brien, Mandy Ord, Paul O’Sullivan, the Queensland Writers Centre, Avril Sabine, Ross Watkins, Terry Whidbourne and Breakfast author, Caroline Jane. Forgive me if I missed someone.

What a line up! For a first timer like me, the Voices on the Coast Literary Festival, was brilliant. I always attend the Brisbane Writers Festival and I think this youth festival stacks up high for igniting the love of all things writing and illustrating in our younger authors and illustrators, or gamers or journalists. The Sunshine Coast literary scene is ALIVE and WELL with talented and hard working, behind the scene, festival bees like Kelly Dunham and her merry champions. It certainly takes a village and in the case of the Voices on the Coast, through the support of sponsors, funding and hard working volunteers and presenters, events like this are raising up the next generation in a foundational and fundamental way, by planting seeds.

Would I volunteer again? Affirmative. My experience was extremely positive as you can gather from this post.

Oh, and did I mention the great gourmet spread?

I hope to see you next year Voices on the Coast. In the meantime, if you are a creative, either writer or illustrator, or something else creative, have fun. If you missed Voices on the Coast this year, plan to attend next year and support people who strive to make a difference. You’ll be glad you did.

Author: Debbie Smith

Author Bio

Debbie Smith is the author of a number of children’s short stories, poetry, picture books texts and is currently working on her first MG (middle-grade) novel, Hampton Common. She also writes for adults and has written the first draft of her adult outback novel, Lanolin on the Boards. Her debut children’s picture book, If You Meet an Elephant, is COMING SOON in 2019. Read about it here.

Debbie is the Founder and Creative Director of Shadytree Books. She tutors students in the Language Arts and Literacy areas, coordinates and runs Children’s Creative Writing and Art workshops for Shadytree Books’ StoryArts Holiday Program.

Debbie also helps other authors and creatives with their creative works in her role as a qualified proofreader and editor. For more info go here and here.

Debbie lives on the gorgeous Sunshine Coast near the lovely beaches of Noosa and it’s rich Hinterland life with her husband and gorgeous Cavoodle, Oscar. When Debbie takes time away from writing, she can be found at the farm riding her daughter’s Lippizaner horse, Obie, and handling and ground training her yearling Appaloosa foal, Joey.

Debbie loves hearing from other creatives and children, so please pop along here and say hello.