Autumn is my favourite season. The chill comes back to the air. Warmth begins to have a value like currency. The colour of the sky bleaches to white, or becomes heavy with grey rain. Trunks of trees and their branches are stained black because they are always damp. It’s in this season that my favourite events on the calendar begin. Starting with Clunes Booktown.
I went to the event on their second day. The weather was perfectly pre-winter. I decided to catch the train with my bike so I could load the pannier bags with books and ride from the train station down to the town. On the train there were acting students from FedUni who entertained the passengers with Shakespeare’s sonnets. I stared out at the brown fields and grey sky, rocked by the train, listening to the poetry and smiling to myself. It rained as we pulled into the station and I stood in the cold with my bike hoping for the rain to ease and it did.
This was the tenth annual Clunes Booktown event. I've been to many of the events throughout the years, and it's been great to watch it grow. The event is orchestrated by a collection of locals and nearby support and has been instrumental in reviving the city from a near ghost town with 900 residents, to a busy weekend tourist destination. The population has since doubled. The city is so small it's been regularly hired for TV and films such as Ned Kelly, Mad Max and most recently the Tomorrow When the War Began series.
The city was bustling with buskers, books, baked goods and the faint smell of woodsmoke. I didn’t get to any of the speakers for the event (even though each year they boast a huge list of brilliant authors and intellectuals), as I am more in preference of staring at the spines of cloth hard cover classics while sucking cinnamon and sugar from my fingers. The chill made my nose and fingers red. After taking photos with Nigel I went with my grandmother and father into the Lucky Strike and listened to tunes on the old upright house piano while eating warm apple strudel.
Having just falling back into the pleasure of reading, I am consciously aware of how much the festival is like reading itself. I get caught up in it, my mind wanders, the city is an experience away from everything else. It captures every sense. I explore, discover, take my time. Then when I’m ready, I go back to every day life.
So what would be a blog post about Clunes Booktown without recommending at least one book? Well, I just finished reading The Secret Recipe for Second Chances. “Lucy Muir is leaving her husband. It's complicated. They're joint owners and chefs at one of the best restaurants in Sydney, so making a clean break is tough. But, let's face it, a woman can only take so much cheating, recipe stealing and lack of good grace. Despondently driving around the back streets of Woolloomooloo one night, Lucy happens upon an old, empty terrace that was once the city's hottest restaurant: Fortune. One minute she's peering through grimy windows into an abandoned space, the next she's planning a pop-up bistro. When Lucy fires up Fortune's old kitchen she discovers a little red recipe book that belonged to the former chef, the infamous Frankie Summers. As she cries over the ingredients for Frankie's French Onion Soup, she imagines what Fortune was like in its heyday. It's strange, Lucy can sense Frankie beside her, almost see him there…”
I loved this book so much. The characterisation and the dialogue are sharp, witty and clever. All the characters fill the plot with self-assuredness that boasts of their completeness. The humour is laced with the deep hum of aching beauty in the human experience. It’s fast pace means the blurb didn’t give spoilers and I didn’t get bored. There were moments I laughed out loud and moments I held my breath while the story brushed tenderly past grief. The writing was as delicious as the recipes it described and I devoured it in two days (it would have been one if I didn’t have a day job).
This is what it’s like being at the festival. Surrounded by words and the weather and the pleasure of literature. I can’t wait for next year!
Brooch: c/o Bok Bok B’Gerk
Photographer: Nigel Stevens Photography
Location: Clunes Booktown