22 May 2024

Riverina Readers Festival to celebrate our connection to the stories we love

| Chris Roe
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five women with books

The Riverina Readers Festival team is gearing up to celebrate our shared love of books. Photo: Jackie Cooper (Jack of Hearts).

Wagga bibliophile Mel Fattore is looking forward to sharing her love of all things books with fellow bookworms at the inaugural Riverina Readers Festival in July.

The Wagga book blogger, reviewer and bookseller explained that it’s an idea that has been percolating for a while.

“This was a young Mel idea that I had maybe two to three years ago,” she said.

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“About a year ago, I kicked it into action by bringing all of these wonderful women together on our committee.

“They have very diverse backgrounds but are all really community-focused and we’ve all been very passionate about the idea from the beginning.”

four women with tickets and a brochure

Mel Fattore (front) and the committee members have unveiled an impressive line-up of authors for the Riverina Readers Festival. Photo: Facebook.

Riverina readers are invited to gather for the all-day event at the CSU Riverina Playhouse to hear from an impressive line-up of Australian and international bestselling authors representing a broad spectrum of genres.

“One of the most show-stopping guests is Michael Robotham, who is one of Australia’s top crime-fiction authors,” Mel said.

“We’ve also got historical fiction, food and lifestyle and entertainment with Sophie Hanson, who is just incredible, and has one of the bestselling cookbooks in this region.

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“Romance authors Karina May and Emma Gray are returning after they came to our very first micro-event last year, called ‘An evening of romance’.”

Also on the list of more than a dozen authors are Shelley Burr, Chris Hammer, Jack Heath, Sulari Gentil and Wagga’s own Gabrielle Tozer.

three women and a book

Festival secretary Jennie Burns (left) with Mel Fattore (right) and author Gabrielle Tozer. Photo: Jackie Cooper (Jack of Hearts).

After spending the better part of a decade immersed in the local reading community, Mel said she had a good sense of what people in the Riverina looked for.

“From my background of working at Collins Booksellers here in Wagga and having an online presence in the book community with my blog and my Bookstagram and things, I really got a feel for what it is that our region reads,” she reflected.

“It tends to be commercial fiction because I think we are seeking that escapism. We live in a rural and regional area, which means we like to travel, and we do it through books and through other people’s stories.”

As opposed to a writers’ festival that aims to equip aspiring scribes, the Riverina Readers Festival is about celebrating the way readers engage with stories.

“We found that everyone’s a reader, but not everyone’s a writer and I think readers can engage with books and the written word and audio and digital reading very differently to what writers do,” Mel said.

“I think something like commercial fiction offers a way to develop a community and connect to people and have strong empathy.

“You’ll find that at writers’ festivals, there tends to be a more literary focus or more of a nonfiction focus, which from my perspective is not what our region seeks.”

festival logo

The Riverina’s first Readers Festival will be held on 13 July, 2024. Photo: Supplied.

Despite doom-and-gloom predictions of a decline in reading, the book industry is experiencing a renaissance, spurred by online trends such as BookTok (book-related TikToks) and new ways of engaging with the written word.

“It’s very encouraging and we’re excited by the way people are embracing reading in all its forms,” Mel said.

“It’s not only in a book in its physical form, but it could be reading it on your Kindle or borrowing an e-version from the library, or listening on audio.

“Being rural and regional, we see a huge consumption of audiobooks in the Riverina, and I think we’ve just broadened our understanding of what reading can be, and that’s encouraged more people to pick it up as a hobby and try it.”

With the countdown on to the Riverina’s first Readers Festival on 13 July, Mel is encouraging book lovers to book online through the website or by visiting Wagga Civic Centre.

The festival is also keen to get behind not-for-profits that directly support reading accessibility and will be collecting donations for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

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