Meet Misty McPhail! She’s the Volunteers Manager for the Sydney Writers’ Festival, and a current PhD candidate at Western Sydney University, studying online literary festivals. She is also a DWF17 Creative producer!
Out of all the writers’ festivals that you’ve been to, which has been the best writers’ festival event of all time?
Good question, though I’m pretty biased on this one! I work and play at the Sydney Writers’ Festival and each year it’s a real buzz being part of such a huge event. I run the volunteer team and so for me, much of the joy of the festival comes from being behind the scenes with hundreds of people who are inspired to make every event memorable. The sense of community this generates is a big part of why I love festivals.
The best events, for me, are those that push us to consider our perspective on things. Writers’ festival events can be pretty powerful sometimes – authors are often quite thoughtful beings and when they have something to say, they can change the way you think about life. Ellen Van Neerven is one such author who affects me. So is Robert Dessaix. I’ll always stop to listen for a while if they’re speaking at an event.
Have you ever kept a book with you long after you’d finished reading it? Why?
I keep most books – I just love having them around. A book that has travelled with me for over a decade is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It was given to me by a good friend overseas and I’ve probably read it more times than any other book on my shelves. I read it when I need to be reminded of life’s simple truths and often I’ll share it with others. My best friend and I once read the whole book out loud to each other over cups of tea, discussing each chapter as it finished. I’ve read the passage on Marriage at two friends’ weddings. I remember once I read the chapter on Giving over and over after returning from a nice holiday with friends and someone was being infuriatingly greedy over the gifts we’d brought back. I remember reading the chapter on Children with my grandmother’s sister, who owned the same book in Slovak but had never heard it read in English. She loved the idea that children ‘come through you but not from you’ and the line telling parents, ‘You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth’ (20). I can’t help but go back to that book again and again – it means a lot to me.
What do you anticipate being the most exciting thing about being a creative producer?
Meeting such great people! I’m in third year of a PhD candidature at the moment and the chance to meet other writers (without even having to leave my desk!) is very welcome. I’m researching digital festivals and so this creative producer role is really relevant to my work and has already brought me plenty of inspiration. Being involved with DWF gives me an opportunity to be around some amazing writers and producers that are on the cutting edge of writing practice today. Helping to produce events that give us all a chance to hear what they have to say is a real privilege.
What do you love most about your life?
I’m pretty lucky to be able to work on different projects and events that inspire me. Several years ago, my partner and I quit our full-time jobs in Perth to become full-time students in Sydney. It was a real challenge, but realigning our lives to work in the Arts was the best thing we ever did. We now run a film festival for local filmmakers in Western Sydney and the community of artists we are helping to build there is incredible. As a writer, working on big projects like SWF as well as more innovative events like DWF is a great way to stay inspired about life and my creative practice.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Go for what you really want – you might surprise yourself and actually get it. Push through the fear. Celebrate your wins. Learn from your losses. And be kind to yourself along the way.
Who are some of your favourite artists from DWF 2016?
I really enjoyed hearing from Ash Davies about his journey with Tablo. I have great respect for him just going out there and starting a new community publishing platform when he saw there was a need for it. I’m always in awe of Alice Grundy. She’s a great speaker on all things editing and has built something amazing in Seizure mag, which I think is pretty impressive. I remember I enjoyed Khalid Warsame’s event as I hadn’t heard him speak before and he offered some insightful advice on writing and publishing. And Giselle Nguyen’s too – she was just really genuine. I follow her online now and I still enjoy her humour. I think there are lots of great conversations on offer at DWF each year and discovering new artists is half the fun. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us at DWF 2017!
The 2017 Digital Writers’ Festival will run from October 26 – November 3. Misty is working on many incredible things, find out more details when the program launches on October 2!