This is Not Art (TiNA) has just taken place in Newcastle, its stomping ground, for the twentieth time. TiNA wouldn’t be if it weren’t for National Young Writers Festival (NYWF), Crack Theatre Festival (CTF) and Critical Animals. TiNA also wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the incredible team of directors, producers, artists, brains, volunteers, and of course audience members.

TiNA was born in 1998 as National Young Writers Festival and National Student Media Conference. Since, it has drawn crowds from far and wide, both of artists and festival goers. In spite of this, it severely lacks local interest and attendance. I was one of three local artists of the total eighty for NYWF. Since living in Newcastle, I have always tried to get involved in TiNA, but having an event on your doorstep means you don’t pay it quite as much attention as it deserves. The NYWF events always took precedence whenever I attended TiNA, and hey, I’m a writer now.

This festival, and particularly NYWF, has been instrumental to my growth and development as a writer over the past few years. TiNA has always given me, and certainly did this year, the opportunity to connect with other young emerging, and more established, writers. I would always admire people a few years my senior, viewing them in the position I aim to be when I get to ‘their age.’ I met writers that were a few years older than me, who’ve been published in literary magazines I aim to be published in.

I really felt like I hit Peak Newcastle when I received my email congratulating my success, then again finding out the panels I would be talking on. To me, TiNA, and particularly the word-y aspects of the festival, are integral to my life, and I feel incredibly privileged to have such a wonderful and diverse event on my doorstep every year. The best part of TiNA is their attempt at inclusion by keeping all events free. It’s an extraordinarily fulfilling weekend that thrives off quality attendance from locals and those who travel from all corners of the country – and New Zealand. It was quite an emotional rollercoaster to grapple with, right up until I was sitting, microphone in hand, facing a sea of eager, bright-eyed faces.

“People want to know what I have to say?”

Even now, sitting on my bed, writing this, I am still coming to terms with the fact that people were so receptive to my ideas – they wrote down quotes that I said and they asked me questions, directly, because they cared about what I had to say. To be in a position of authority about these topics was surreal, to say the least. I felt as though I was a ‘fish out of water’. On both occasions, I was significantly younger than the other panellists I spoke with. In this case, age seemed to have a relatively strong correlation with experience.

The panels on which I featured were Maintain the Rage and The Climes, They Are A’Changin’. Maintain the Rage was an opportunity to discuss how activist writers, or writers in general, maintain momentum and drive – or rage – in the face of criticism. My fellow panellists were very diverse in experience and approach to the core questions. Not only did I come away having imparted my experience upon other people, but I was privileged enough to learn some valuable lessons from the lives of my incredibly talented and motivated fellow panellists. This panel was held at the Elderly Citizens Centre on Laing Street, which is tucked in behind the middle part of Hunter Street Mall. It was a muggy, poorly insulated and challenging to find building in the labyrinthine – for those unfamiliar – top end of town. I was late to my own panel. The audience consisted of twenty-odd people I did not know, my dad and my best friend. Having the opportunity to chat openly with three other like-minded people about a topic that is intrinsic to my being, while also feeling as though I was conversing with the whole room is something I am struggling to articulate. Maintaining the rage is something considered important in activist circles, as a way to stave off burn out, something I experienced this year. We sign off a vast amount of written communication with: “with love and rage.” In some way, it is a sincere attempt and gesture of support and encouragement away from disenfranchisement. “Maintain the Rage” taught me that burning out is sometimes okay, because every little bit you do, counts towards contributing to the movement or bettering the world, should that be one’s goal. It also taught me that being angry and filled with rage and passion is okay and not irrational.

The Climes, They Are A’Changin’ approached the ever-growing monster of climate change. The panel sought to have us question whether our writing is doing the issue justice. The panel consisted of myself, and two others, one from Perth and one from Wellington, New Zealand. I found this panel more challenging, at least in mental preparation, than my first one. This panel was held at the Royal Exchange on Bolton Street, so naturally, it filled up quite quickly. I had anticipated a full house, and that’s what I got. The audience consisted of many local activists I know, as well as some family and friends who came just by chance. I was never nervous for the panel; however, I was not looking forward to it until I was in my seat, speaking about the difficulties of writing about climate change and activism. Having been on both sides – writing and on the ground action – I could quite fairly discuss where writing falls down in comparison to direct action, and even writing about other topics or issues. The panel ran overtime due to the need and passion to discuss this topic, not only among myself and the other panellists, who came from vastly different geographies and backgrounds, and maintained distinct feelings about the key questions, but beyond the confines of the event. I benefited considerably from my fellow panellists as well as the thought provoking and engaging questions that required such nuanced and well-thought answers, that the next event panellists were tapping their watches at us from the side of the stage. My one wish for panels is that they are awarded longer time slots. None of these topics are small or concise. I could still be discussing rage and climate change. Maybe that’s the goal of TiNA – to start never ending, thoughtful conversations.

Beyond my own panels, I attended the NYWF party at the CBD Hotel as well as Crack Theatre performance art at Watt Space. The performance art challenged my conceptions of art considerably, and forced me to engage with a form I was not really comfortable with. Since attending that performance, I have vowed to attend more challenging and thought-provoking events in the future. At the party, which was an opportunity for us to let go and casually network, I ran into David, one of the festival directors, who introduced me to some other artists as his favourite person he had met this year. I feel very honoured to not only have been a part of such an amazing weekend of events, but to be memorable to some people. I endeavour to engage more next year, in the hopes that one day, I will be able to direct National Young Writers Festival, and give back what the festival gave me.

In 2018, it would be so wonderful to see more locals applying, speaking and attending. I love TiNA, and all it does for our wonderful city.