Between the 7th and 9th of October, in a hotel on Swanston Street in Carlton, Melbourne, a heap of people gathered for SheKilda 2011.
Having been lucky enough to get a gig on the Organising Committee - this is the first chance I've had to mutter anything about the weekend from my own perspective. I've had a bit of "day job" catching up to do as the organising workload got pretty intense in the leadup to the weekend, and, well I am not keen on writing opinion pieces....
SheKilda 2011 came into being firstly because it was the 20th Anniversary of Sisters in Crime Australia, and secondly because it was 10 years since the first SheKilda convention... and perhaps because a bunch of women with short memories and magnificent optimism decided, one day, what the hell - we can do this again.
The bunch included some of the original organisers - the indomitable Carmel Shute - the power behind the throne of Sisters in Crime since its creation here. Lindy Cameron - she of the limitless optimism, energy and sheer positivity - another dynamo of Sisters in Crime for just as long as Carmel and Viv Colmer - again one of the original organisers, an oasis of calm in the middle of a chaos of organisers.
Alongside these three women up to the mark (each contributing what they could) stepped the current day convenors - Ann Byrne, Phyllis King, Jacqui Horwood, Sylvia Loader, Sue Turnbull, Rose Mercer, Tanya King-Carmichael, Vikki Petraitis, Christine West, and me. Alongside us we were blessed to have the assistance of Magnolia Flora, Caz Brown, Kelly Marshall, Amanda Wrangles and Kylie Fox who, not even convenors, threw their names into the ring and got to work.
And work we bloody well did I can tell you.
Ladies - we are / were one hell of a team.
It's gratifying to see the chat continuing about the convention - from authors and participants who attended, as well as commentators on the world of Australian Crime Fiction who didn't. It's interesting to see some of our author participants raising the public consciousness about some of the issues that came out of the Convention, as well as pointing out the fun, highlights, the buzz, the atmosphere that we managed to engender.
That atmosphere being in no small way down to all of our fabulous participants - who from the opening night, were open to the idea, keen to participate, happy to be there, sharing and in no small way, incredibly generous to everyone who was there on the weekend. Gleaning some feedback there have been some messages which are absolutely inspiring - the small gestures of support - "name authors" to newer or upcoming authors, authors with readers, readers getting a chance to meet and share the joy that the authors books have given them. It was incredibly inspiring and somehow makes the work really worthwhile.
But I'd really like to use this post to tell you about the people behind the Convention. Because this group of organisers, this band of women who pulled this convention together absolutely deserve individual mention.
Whilst we might like to tease Carmel Shute ... no really, just a bit, without her commitment to the Sisters in Crime, without her generous spirit, her enthusiasm and her embracing of everyone on the Committee I doubt we'd have even known how to get started. Carmel is one of those people that it's almost impossible not to love, she's certainly a woman worthy of respect and our combined gratitude for her sheer ability to keep plugging away. Carmel's our PR dynamo - bringing her professional skills to play in not just getting publicity for the Convention - but contributing so much to the profile of our local female authors on a day to day basis. She's also a mean hand with a bagel and somehow seems to have infinite storage capacity even though she insists it's just one shed!
Lindy Cameron is simply an oasis of positivity in a world of naysayers. I honestly don't think at any point in Lindy's life has she ever ever contemplated "no you can't". The amount of effort, the hours of contacting guest authors, sorting out all of the travel arrangements, the work involved in wrangling the Programming Committee putting together the entire weekend's proceedings, then sorting out who was doing what when with all the authors. Contemplating how she did that made my head hurt. The fact that she got through that with only a few minor (and I think one major) meltdown... she's made of stern stuff that woman. And on the weekend itself she ran panels, she drove the bus, she talked and talked and talked and talked. And she smiled, and laughed and not once did I see her sitting in a corner sobbing. (Which probably just about all of us had a right to do at some stage!)
Phyllis King deserves a special mention. Her participation was somewhat curtailed by family problems, the likes of which should have made her at the very least stressed and tense. Phyllis however, remained an oasis of calm and good humour, she worked so hard over the weekend, she even made the ultimate sacrifice and sat through a panel whose subject matter was "woo woo" - something we all know so well Phyllis is implacably allergic to. If that's not taking a hit for the team, I've no idea what is.
Ann Byrne provided us with a meeting place, some of the best lunches I've had in a long time, a calm and organised voice, and again, worked like a trooper over the entire weekend. At one stage I was really suspicious that Ann was the only one of us that had the slightest idea where the rooms we'd cunningly renamed actually were - without a mad scramble for the map!
Viv Colmer has an incredible memory of the original SheKilda and her perspective and experience gave us many insights (not least for me in particular as I worked through the possible methods of doing the session ticketing). Both Viv and Ann helped out, not just on the floor of the Convention at Registration and as Room Monitors, but also as Panel Chairs and contributors.
Sylvia Loader was kind enough to come down to Victoria from her paradise in NSW in the week before the Convention - and work on the Convention. When you think about how incredibly generous and supportive of the rest of the Committee and the Convention as a whole that was - it's breathtaking!
Christine West is our new Sisters in Crime treasurer, and I guess, if she'd known what she was getting into when she volunteered for that role, we'd not have seen her for dust. But Christine's efforts in keeping track of the finances, of offering to take phone enquiries, of just simply rolling up the sleeves and getting stuck in, again just astoundingly generous. Especially when you consider that Christine has also not been a long-term member of Sisters in Crime.
Jacqui Horwood was always there offering assistance when there was "one of those jobs" that needed doing, helping out on the weekend, as were Vikki Petraitis and Tanya King-Carmichael (also struggling with family commitments). Tanya and Jacqui also continued in their roles as Davitt Judge with incredible dedication to what is a very difficult task. Poor Rose Mercer worked like a trooper in creating content on the website, sending out enewsletters, and stepping in to assist whenever needed, knowing that due to an overseas holiday (of all things!) she'd miss the entire convention. Sue Turnbull also came down from NSW especially for the weekend and stepped into the role of MC and speech maker with the aplomb, good humour and sheer skill that Sue always brings to that job.
Leaving until last, because they all deserve a special mention, the amazing contribution of Magnolia Flora, Kelly Marshall, Caz Brown, Amanda Wrangles and Kylie Fox - not even Sisters in Crime co-convenors (although I fervently hope that those who are thinking of standing at the next AGM don't snap out of it and do join us!) they worked like you simply cannot believe. Caz wrestled with the preparation of printing materials frequently against tight deadlines and technology problems, Kelly worked in the lead up and again like a trojan all weekend, Amanda and Kylie contributed to the programming committee, to the PR committee, and to many of the panels on the weekend... not the least of which seemed to involve the arrest and detention of one very suspect "Leader in Chief"!
My own contribution was the creation and management of the web site. As much as is ever possible, there was a lot of work going on in the background to try to provide as simple an interface as possible to what was, under the hood, a complicated undertaking.
Part of what was the most rewarding aspects of working with this great bunch of women is firstly the great generosity and kindness shown by everyone to each other. We'd be lying if we didn't say that things didn't occasionally get a tad heated (stroppy, opinionated... Vanda Symon nailed it really), but at no stage did we have to hose down any major prima donna routines, no hissy fits, no tantrums. That's not to say that we didn't all have our own little meltdowns. But it was tidy. Mostly we took it in turns, frequently it resulted in the worst case of the giggles you've ever heard. This is the aspect of the entire thing that will stay with me for a very long time to come.
Of course, none of us could have done what we did without the assistance, barracking, forbearance and tolerance of our various partners, families and pets. I hope everyone else in the team will forgive me speaking for them - but we love you all - each and every one of you. We couldn't have done it without you.
On a purely personal note, I'm really pleased to see that SheKilda 2011 is still being talked about.
You just never know, a few of the organising committee may just be back, in less than 10 years for another go!