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Volunteer power

Speculate is just the start

I was honoured on Saturday to take part in the first Speculate festival as its Volunteer Manager. The festival was created by The Morning Bell podcast hosts Joel Martin and Ian Laking to bring together and build the speculative fiction writing community.

I joined the team a couple of months before the event, and long after Joel, Ian, Artist Liaison Manager Rachelle Dekker and fellow Morning Bellian Luke Manly had laid the groundwork, set up the website and booked a stellar line-up of panellists.

The volunteers and organisers at Speculate on Saturday. Thanks to Mark Smith for taking the pic!

The festival’s community feel flowed through the day as published authors chatted to emerging writers from around the country over lunch and between sessions. We were all, to be honest, a little nervous about how this first-time festival would go – but by the end of the day we had people asking about next year’s. And that felt amazing.

The volunteers were incredible, coping with last-minute changes to roles and looking after all the panellists and attendees. The volunteers included Swinburne University students, Writers Victoria volunteers and friends who were keen to help.

For me, the day marked a milestone. Twelve months after finishing as a volunteer with Writers Victoria and joining the staff, I was managing a volunteer staff of ten – running a callout, sign-up, induction and coordinating on the day. It was a long day for the volunteers, who started before 8am and finished after 5pm with only a short break for lunch. And each and every one of them did an awesome job. Ophelia, Isabella, Zoe, Melissa, Edna, Ed, Simone, David, Brett and Shanei – you are all superstars.

I’m going to go all mother hen for a minute. The most rewarding aspect for me was seeing the students in particular enthralled with the words of the panellists, or laughing at the Dungeons and Development live D&D session, or coolly helping an author at the signing table then getting excited about who they’d just met. Watching them take their first steps into the warm and welcoming writing community was exciting because I know what being a volunteer can mean.

I started in this industry as a volunteer. We’d moved to a rural town where we knew no-one, and when I started writing I struggled to find the local community. The nearest large writing group seemed to concentrate on biography and poetry, which weren’t my thing.

I applied for an internship at Writers Victoria, which I didn’t get, but I was invited to apply to work as a volunteer. So I did. I started as an office volunteer once a fortnight for a full day. With a two-hour commute each way and a child in early primary school who was struggling to settle into a routine, this was perfect: I had a break from the constant tantrums and a standing lunch date with a mate; the youngster had a chance to get used to before- and after-school care.

And I love the city. I hadn’t worked in the CBD since my uni student/department store days. Volunteering at WV felt like the epicentre of literature – based in The Wheeler Centre with other writing organisations and staff conversations revolving around books, and writers, and words, and writing, and opportunities, and it felt like I’d found my tribe.

Once my son was more settled, I started volunteering for workshops – assisting with setup and packdown, and being on hand to help tutors and participants. Through this I’ve made several close friends and met critique partners. In a single-income family, volunteering also enabled me to attend workshops that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford.

The first panel at Speculate (seated from left) Joel Martin, Alison Goodman, Trudi Canavan, Jay Kristoff and Earl Livings.

Volunteering, both in the office and in workshops, helped me build the relationships, skills and knowledge that led to employment in the industry.

And if you want an example of what volunteers are capable of – look at Speculate. The ushers, artist liaison and stage assistants were all volunteers. The tech desk was run by volunteers. The social media, handled magnificently by volunteer Zoe, saw #Speculate18 listing as the top trend in Australia for three hours. Even the organisers – Joel, Ian, Rachelle, Luke and myself – were volunteers, working around day jobs, new jobs, uni studies and new babies.

Here’s hoping this volunteer-run event becomes a permanent fixture in the Melbourne literary calendar.

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