NYWF: Festival of Lurve

Perhaps there’s something in Newcastle’s water, but the National Young Writers’ Festival and TiNA have been the (literal) breeding ground for many a creative romance. We speak to some NYWF lovers about how they met their significant other, why the festival made their love bloom, and that most time honoured of TiNA traditions: trying to find a private place to get it on.

Chad Parkhill, NYWF Manager, and Zora Sanders, Editor of Meanjin, first met at the NYWF 2011 artist meet and greet when Chad spotted her across the room and then made fun of Zora’s nametag. Now they’re getting married. In their own words, Chad and Zora tell us about pun-offs, Newcastle’s no shots policy, and the NYWF weekend that was the beginning of a ‘journey of a lifetime’.

Chad: So we’d just start talking about our relationship and then copy-paste it over to Antonia?
Zora: Yep! That’s my idea.
Chad: Okay, cool!
Zora: Laziness is the best policy!
Chad: ^ Tagline for our entire relationship.
Zora: Ok, do you want to go first? You seem to have a better memory of our meeting than I do.
Chad: Well, I remember seeing you at the artist meet and greet at NYWF 2011. I came in and I was a bit early because I’d just gotten to town and dropped my bags off, etc., and had nothing to do. And as soon as I saw you I knew I had to go over and introduce myself to you. It was just this overwhelming urge I had. So I went over and I think I made some kind of lame joke about your name tag. I’m surprised you didn’t just turn around and blank me.
Zora: You have mentioned this before to me… it’s very sweet. But probably you mean you had to get to ‘know’ me in the biblical sense, right? Right?
Chad: Oh totally. Anyway I think it took one conversation before I was smitten.
Zora: Aww.
Chad: I remember later that night asking Craig, our mutual friend, where you were, and he said “why, do you loooove her?” He could tell.
Zora: I remember that you were very friendly and funny. And despite appearances, I actually hate situations like that where you’re expected to just mingle and start conversations. So I was pretty grateful that I had someone to talk to. And then later that night you tried to buy me a shot of tequila. But good ol’ Newie, no shots allowed!
Chad: I thought that happened at the Saturday night? But yeah, there was a weird situation where I was rambling on about how good a certain brand of tequila was and they had it at the bar we were at but wouldn’t sell it to us.
Zora: Yes, you’re right, that was a different night. That first night we were all at the pub with a big group of people having a pun-off. Such NYWF nerds! And eventually everyone else left except for us. I think it was only then I realised what was going on. I’m not so good at picking up on ‘signals’. After that, to be honest, the whole weekend kind of blurs together for me. I mainly remember walking around, engaging in that most time honoured of TiNA traditions: trying to find a private place to get it on.
Chad: I remember on the first night we hung out at a table in the Great Northern making puns with a bunch of people and we laughed a little bit too conspicuously at each other’s jokes. It was the first time I met Geoff Lemon and later he said ‘I can’t remember any of the jokes you made but I remember Zora laughing at all of them.’ I know that my jokes/puns are terrible so it must have been obvious to everyone but us I guess.
Zora: Oh man, I do NOT remember doing that! Your jokes are APPALLING. I don’t think I’ve laughed at a single one of your puns since, so clearly I was not fully in control of my faculties that night.
Chad: Then we got fortune cookies on the Friday night! Mine said something like ‘You will have an amazing time this weekend’ and yours said ‘You are about to embark on the journey of a lifetime.’ I guess both of those came true?
Zora: Wow. I definitely don’t remember that! We got fortune cookies? Holy crap it’s like a bad romcom. I only remember being drunk and exhausted the whole time. Things are a lot more rose-tinted in your memory. I’m kind of jealous. Also, ‘You’ll have an amazing time this weekend’ doesn’t sound very fortune-cookie like. You’re clearly making this up.
Chad: This was during the Writer Wants a Wife event, too! It was definitely like a romcom, although I don’t know many romcoms that involve that special TiNA moment of trying vainly to get your hostel roommates to give you half an hour alone with your new inamorata.
Zora: I can’t believe I’m going to marry someone who tries to use ‘inamorata’ casually in a sentence.
Chad: ~ big words ~
Zora: NYWF clearly fried my brains and I’ve never recovered. Thanks a lot, NYWF.
Chad: Don’t blame NYWF, blame the drugs I slip into your food.
Zora: Well I’m sure glad I took this lovely trip with you down memory lane, you big weirdo.
Chad: Love you too, baby. xxx
Zora: The voices in my head tell me to say that I love you too. Xox


Michaela McGuire dragged Liam Pieper into an abandoned power station (so Newcastle!) to have her way with him at the 2010 festival and they’re still together. They reminisce about whiskey, a case of mistaken identity knitwear, and why NYWF is like that beach in the Galapagos where sea turtles go to mate once a year.

Michaela: I remember being intrigued by Liam. I’d initially met him through mutual friends a few weeks ago, and told my housemate about this funny guy, about who I could only glean that he was a professional trashbag. Liam was the only person at Tullamarine’s Jetstar 5am check-in who was swigging whiskey out of a flask, and later, at the festival, he gave a world-weary speech about how only now, after “decades of drug use” he saw that vice was just an excuse used by writers. I thought he was either a liar or insane. I asked my little brother for advice at the Saturday night ball. We agreed that while Liam was very short, he was also very handsome, possibly a sociopath, but very funny, and maybe gay. I had another swig of whiskey and went to talk to him some more. We ended up at a party together on the Sunday night and, while trapped in a particularly boring conversation with another writer about What Art Really Means, I ended the earnest philosophising session by declaring I had to go and make out with Liam now. I didn’t know if he liked me, but he sure seemed to like the bottle of whiskey I’d brought along, so I figured I was in with a chance. The next morning he texted me to say that he couldn’t remember what happened that night, but that he “woke up feeling like Jodi Foster in The Accused.” A month later we were dating properly, and we’ve been together ever since.

Liam: Technically, I’d met Michaela a week before TINA, but it was at a friend’s book launch, so it almost counts as being at TINA. In any case, I knew her already and thought she was pretty, but this was before she learned to emote, so I wasn’t sure if she liked me or not. We were on the same plane from Melbourne up to Newie, and we chatted some. She was wearing a bright red sweater – I remember this, not because I’m romantic, but because it’s a narrative device. Later on that weekend I was on a panel on whether vice was important to writing (it’s not) and I looked out and saw that distinctive sweater, even though my eyes aren’t great, and got all excited that Michaela had come to see me. I amped up the charm as far as it would go, cracked some jokes, tried to be funny, but poignant and wise and project an air of world-weary sexiness for her benefit. Every time I got a reaction from the crowd I would glance at her and make meaningful eye contact. What I didn’t know is that Michaela was there with her brother, Tim, who shares Michaela’s tall, lithe build and, on this day, her jumper. After an hour of passionately eye-fucking Tim from across the room, I finished the panel and went looking for Michaela in the crowd but found her gone. I was dismayed, but I found out later that she’d left after she turned to Tim and told him she thought she liked me. “Oh no,” Tim assured her. “He’s gay.” So TINA is special to me as the place we met, but that’s hardly unique. People get together at TINA. That’s why it’s there; it’s like that beach in the Galapagos where sea turtles go to mate once a year. There’s a kind of a heady, pheromone soup that happens when the annual migration of desperately horny and underappreciated creatives wash up on Newie beach, drunk, thrilled with being around people who they’ve met through Twitter, and flooded with hormones from being hunted by utes full of natives, of course they get together. Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing is a conspiracy to keep creatives poor and ineffectual by making sure they end up with each other rather than marrying out into a socioeconomic class that could do something useful.

Will you meet your soulmate at NYWF 2013? Here are the places to do it (and by “do it” we mean meet them in this instance, but if you are stuck for places to get romantic in Newcastle, seek advice from NYWF Manager Chad):

Speed Writing (Straight)

Friday October 4, 4pm-4.45pm
This is a speed-dating writing event. Requirements: be straight and single, and be prepared to write silly things when we tell you to. You don’t have to marry anyone, but you might get a free drink. Please email info@youngwritersfestival.org to register.

With Sofija Stefanovic and Lorelei Vashti.

Speed Writing (Gay)

Friday October 4, 4.45pm-5.30pm
This is a speed-dating writing event. Requirements: be gay and single, and be prepared to write silly things when we tell you to. You don’t have to marry anyone, but you might get a free drink. Please email info@youngwritersfestival.org to register.

With Sofija Stefanovic and Lorelei Vashti.

Meet and Greet: An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Thursday October 3, 4.30pm-6pm

Creative types can be solitary creatures, but learning how to network with other writers and editors is more important to success within this industry than ever before. Hear some real talk about how to make friends (definitely) and influence people (maybe) at NYWF featuring some non-cringeworthy ice-breakers. Facilitated by Voiceworks.

Too Close For Comfort

Saturday October 5, 4pm-5pm
Exploring the relationship between literary couples and families and the challenges (and benefits!) that arise from working with your nearest and dearest in the same industry.

With Benjamin Law, Michelle Law, Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Sam Cooney, Lizzie Stafford, Paul Donoughue, Bridget Lutherborrow, Patrick Lenton.


Friday October 4, 10pm-8am
Pack your adult onesie! Stow a pillow and sleeping bag! Cos this year we’ve got a sleepover planned you’ll never forget. There’ll be ghost stories from Australia’s best young writers, plus truth and dare, screenings, teen poetry and more. Hot cocoa! Too many lollies! We gonna make you stay up all night.

This event has a limited capacity and requires bookings. Please email info@youngwritersfestival.org to secure your spot.

Paranormal Formal

Saturday October 5, 9pm-midnight
Join the NYWF family to celebrate the festival’s sweet 16th birthday at the Paranormal Formal. Tarot readings and psychics! Prom dresses and ectoplasm! Come dressed as your favourite medium, svengali, or magician, and dance to spookily awesome music.