Clunes Booktown Festival

This year I finally made it across to Clunes for one of their annual Booktown festivals.

Clunes is a small town in country Victoria with a lot of bookshops, and is the first Booktown in the Southern Hemisphere to be recognised by the International Organisation of Booktowns. Instead of explaining the origins of the Booktown phenomena, I’m going to pop a few links below for interested parties. For everyone else, what you need to know is that in addition to the six or so permanent bookshops in the town on the festival weekend they close off a few streets in Clunes and booksellers from around the country set up stalls and take residence in the town hall hall, bank, garage and other assorted areas to sell their wares. There are  book signings, author talks, performances, discussion panels, and of course plenty of plenty of books to be seen all around.

We arrived in town at about 10.45am and things were already going strong, with the festival having started at 10, and we were lucky to get a car spot within a ten minute walk to the entrance. Any later and we would have had to park halfway across town. There was a line about twenty people deep of people waiting to purchase entry to the festival, but it moved swiftly, with festival staff/volunteers moving along the line and selling badges instead of waiting for the whole line to move forward through the welcome area/ticket desk.

We started at the Town Hall, where Mum had a chat to some book restorers, and made Dad buy an archive box to house the 120 year old Bible we have lying around until we can get a quote on repairing it. Currently, the front cover has completely detached itself from the spine, and one of the brass clips is missing. There are also insect holes in the first few pages, which is a shame because it is gorgeous. We then continued down the hallway to the first of many book vendors.

Due to the fact that the vendors were jammed into almost every indoor space available (and quite a few outdoors, though under marquees, thankfully as it had rained heavily early in the morning) many of the spaces were cramped, a feeling not helped by the fact that there were so many other book browsers around. I am sure the festival would have made it’s estimation of twenty-thousand visitors easily.

I found a few interesting things I thought Dad would like in that first section (and a super secret present I did end up buying for someone else) including old football match catalogues, a book of old movie posters, a John Wayne adventure book, and some phantom comics. None of which he let me buy, but I regret now that I didn’t take the opportunity to double back at some point when his back was turned – especially as he has now said he would have liked one of the biographies he saw but didn’t buy.

The booktown festival is a real gem for book collectors, and I was interested in seeing the prices asked for different editions of books, and occasionally overhearing people asking vendors if they had particular items in stock. I think I would really need to do some research into prices, devaluation of books, and maintenance before I even thought about doing any serious book collecting. At the moment I am just happy to keep growing my shelves of recreational reading – though I was awfully tempted by a couple of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ editions I came across, and there was Enid Blyton everywhere.

It wasn’t until an hour an a half later, and after a bottle of creamy soda and a lemon slice, that I found anything for myself.  Herein lies one of my only gripes with the whole day: fantasy and science fiction were incredibly scarce and under-represented by the used-book vendors. Admittedly, I did not visit every single vendor, as we weren’t walking around with enough methodology for me to keep track of everywhere we had been, but it was a bit disappointing to see crime, romance, adventure and of course scads of general literature, but barely any of my own favourite genres. Maybe fantasy and science fiction readers hoard their books more, and so stock was low?

Anyway, I did find an almost new copy of Jay Kristoff’s ‘Endsinger’ which I snapped up. I’d read the first book in the trilogy and had been meaning to read the rest, so now having ordered copies of those first two books to complete the set I have no excuse not to do so. After watching a street performer for a while and rummaging through several other stores, I also bought ‘The Snow Child’ and an anthology of dog stories for Mum. I had previously thought about borrowing ‘The Snow Child’ from the library but wondered if it would be too depressing. I guess I’ll find out.

I also visited the RSL, trying to remember the name of  the library patron I had talked to who said to come and say hello if I visited. I failed, but am sure word will get back that ‘someone from Vision Australia wanted to say hi’ to the lady after I spoke to a few others. I also briefly caught up with a lady who I went through my undergraduate degree with, who is an illustrator and bookseller. It was lovely to catch up, however I always feel quite embarrassed about not writing more when I catch up with people from the Professional Writing and Editing course, especially when they are so lovely as to tell you how talented they think you are. I took a card and promised to keep in touch, which I fully intend to do.

I made a point to visit the small publishers attending, though unfortunately noting really grabbed my attention from the titles available. One of the publishers was sending someone out in medieval costume to generate interest, which I think was a great move, especially when her opening line was ‘are you interested in fantasy?’. It’s the kind of self promotion I admire, but have a tendency to avoid when I see it, which I’ll explain in a moment because…

The last place we visited before we left included a stall with authors selling their own work. I was initially drawn in by big fantasy cover banners, but walked by without investigating, having overheard that at least one of the people there was an author. I thought it would be extremely awkward to talk to someone if it turned out I wasn’t interested in their book once I had a look, which is the most likely outcome when I am asked to make a decision about purchasing something without prior knowledge of it – ask anyone, I’m a ditherer!

On the way back, Dad talked me into going and having a look at the stall and one of the authors immediately approached me with a friendly word and a well-practiced spiel about her novel. She was the only one of the three who wasn’t self-published, and at the time was standing, not sitting behind a table. She was lovely and personable, and the cover blurb of the book was well put together, but I was a bit hesitant about it because it mentioned ‘terrible choices and their consequences’ and really I am in the mood for lighter reading at the moment. Dad, however, decided to buy it for me. I admire the courage it would take to push your own work out like that, and though I didn’t end up approaching the other two authors I am sure they would be equally as passionate about their work, as I am myself when coaxed to talk about it.

I haven’t spoken about any of the author talks or discussion panels, because unfortunately this year there wasn’t anyone I was really keen on seeing and I didn’t have time to attend any of the more academic talks. Federation University was also heavily involved with the festival this year, with volunteers, but also roaming Shakespeare performers. The students were all really good, and I never knew whether to pay rapt attention to the performance, or just pretend random-Shakespeare was an ordinary event. Mum was pretty impressed with the caliber of the performances as well.

So there you have it. Booktown.

I really enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend going at least once for all book lovers. There seemed to be something there for everyone, even sword-making and hay mazes for the children. Just come prepared to apologise for bumping into strangers over and over again in the densely populated areas.


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