2014 Perth Writers Festival program manager Emily Mann with PIAF artistic director Jonathan Holloway

Emily Mann still vividly recalls one of her earliest festival experiences. "I remember walking into this little studio room, it must have been 1999, in Walsh Bay and seeing Michelle de Kretser on stage," she says. "I had read so much about her and couldn't believe this real, live author would be there. And as I sat in this room with all these other people I thought, 'I have found my church'."

Years later, and after extensive artistic and administrative experience from the ground up with the Sydney Writers Festival in particular, Mann finds herself presiding over the 2014 Perth Writers Festival.

She's done an impressive job. Headline international authors include Martin Amis, Lionel Shriver, Margaret Drabble and Eleanor Catton. From interstate, you have the likes of Richard Flanagan, William McInnes, Thomas Keneally, Chris Womersley, Carrie Tiffany, Hannah Kent, Nick Earls and Morris Gleitzman. Home-grown talent is legion, with Kim Scott, Amanda Curtin, A. J. Betts, David Whish-Wilson, Alan Carter, Ron Elliott, Deb Fitzpatrick and John Mateer some of the more than 100 WA writers featured.

"I had heard a lot about the Perth Writers Festival from Wendy Were, whom I had worked for (at the Sydney Writers Festival) and who had run it in the past," says Mann, who studied creative writing at Wollongong University and Sydney's University of Technology. "I was already a big fan of Amanda Curtin and her first novel The Sinkings. But Wendy introduced me to all this other talent over here and now I'm so excited that I was able to put so many of them in this festival."

Although she's undoubtedly a master administrator, Mann's approach to putting a festival together, at least in its early stages, is not unlike an author beginning a novel.

"It's a very intuitive process," she says. "The whole act of creating a festival is exactly the same as approaching a blank page. You find the structure gradually and start to expand your ideas into those places. Then you redraft and you edit and you tighten. And along the way amazing ideas might occur to you."

Of course a program's final form is also dependent on who might be available and when - which throws a bit more spontaneity into the mix. "I approach them and it just opens up so many opportunities," she says. "But content-wise, I think most major Australian writers' festivals strive for that same balance of content between fiction, non-fiction and poetry. It's also important to celebrate locals as much as it is to introduce people to the wider experience. In effect, this program has almost 200 people in it but half of them are from somewhere else and half of them are from WA."

The end result of all the groundwork is, Mann says, for her not unlike "watching like a spreadsheet had come to life, where a million meetings had occurred and this was the result. It's this whole process of synthesis I suppose, which I just find such a pleasure."

At this point Mann raises two further issues which are often overlooked: the role of the chair or facilitator, and the role of author as performer.

"A good facilitator is about structure and the artist just needs to feel comfortable that they've got that space cleared to think around the questions," she says. "Truly, a good chair is worth their weight in gold."

A good author/performer, on the other hand, is often workshopping their next big idea for a novel. "For some authors, the festival scene is perhaps in part the workshopping process of the stories and the new ideas that refine themselves over time," she says. "I've seen this many times when I happen to follow an author between festivals: the same ideas are coming up but they're polishing as they go. So when you see an author on stage, you might also be witnessing a work in progress. Authors don't often tell people what they're working on, but if you listen carefully you might hear a clue."

Mann says it's been a privilege to pull together the 2014 Perth Writers Festival.

"I really do hope everybody enjoys it, is challenged by the ideas that are presented and engages with the authors by asking plenty of questions," she says. "I was hoping to put some meat into it and show that literature isn't just about new fiction titles. It's about how we communicate with each other, whether through video gaming, oral storytelling, the kids drawing murals on Family Day. Ultimately, I was very conscious of stretching the festival in as many different directions as possible."

2014 Perth Writers Festival, February 20-23

The West Australian

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