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Janet De Neefe on the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Bali

Janet De Neefe talks about organising the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, Bali…

READERSVOICE.COM: How did you hook up with your program directors and so forth?

JANET DE NEEFE: Karen [McClellan], my faithful program director, had just moved here before the second festival.

She initially volunteered and then I managed to entice her to work for us full time on a shoe-string wage.

She had experience in event management, so was like a dream come true for me!

My festival manager is being supported by Asia Link and my other employee had worked for me in the past and came back to join our team.

We have loads of fun together and I am truly blessed that I have these angels around me.

RV: Some well-respected writers like Amitav Ghosh and Michael Ondaatje have attended the festival, plus the President and First Lady of East Timor.

Did you get an opportunity to meet and mix with them or is everyone on a pretty tight schedule and get whisked away after their appearances?

JD: Michael and Amitav stayed at our house and we spent all our days and often nights together.

It was such an exciting week.

My children became so used to seeing me jump up and down for joy while I was corresponding with them in the lead up to the festival, and I couldn’t believe these two great writers stayed in our little Balinese compound.

I had met Kirsty [Sword Gusmao, First Lady of East Timor] before and managed to spend some time with her and Xanana [Gusmao, president of East Timor] while they were here.

Kirsty is a wonderful person and Xanana is extremely charismatic, as we all know.

I hope to visit them in Timor Leste this year.

Our aim is to offer the best of Balinese hospitality and we also focus on developing relationships in the region and around the world.

This is happening before my eyes.

RV: What sort of fees do writers charge to appear at the festival, or do some appear for free?

JD: We, sadly, do not have the funds to pay the writers fees and we make this very clear at the start.

Most of the time, we can’t even pay the bills.

The writers appear because they understand our vision and want to support Bali.

RV: The second Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in 2005 featured more than 80 Indonesian and international writers and poets.

Could you mention a few of these writers’ works that particularly struck you?

JD: Well, of course, Michael Ondaatje and Amitav Ghosh were the 2005 heroes for me.

But other surprises were Randir Khare, from India, Putu Wijaya (always), Moammar Emka and Dewi Lestari from Jakarta for their singing, Jerome Kugan from Malaysia and Deepika Shetty, from Singapore.

Nury Vittachi from Hong Kong is a regular now and is a great performer.

He also advises us each year.

RV: Does the organisation of the festival go the whole year round, with full-time staff, or does it heat up about six months before the festival, say?
JD: Our team is on the case all year and the action heats up three months before the festival, when we get more volunteers coming on board and start bringing in the Balinese heavies.

The month before the festival, we work morning, noon and night.

RV: On your website you mention getting stuck in traffic in Jakarta with your program director, on the way to meetings.

I was wondering what some of these meetings might be about.

JD: Karen [McClellan], the program director, and I, often go to Jakarta, begging and pleading for cash from all sorts of corporate folk.

Jakarta is a big, bustling, chaotic Asian city with loads of personality and we love it.

If Karen, the program director, is with me, the traffic jams are a joy!

We laugh all the way to each appointment.

Karen is from New York and somehow the taxis, traffic, smog and security men recharge her relaxed Ubud batteries.

We go into city mode instantly!

I love chatting to the taxi drivers and have even exchanged recipes with them, discussed Hinduism to Moslems, compared Presidents and Prime Ministers and the life in the midst of terrorism in Indonesia.

I really love the Indonesian people – there is always a joke to be told!

RV: You have a lot of irons in the fire. Can you give a run-down of what you did last week, for example?

JD: Last week – hmmm – let me see. I always start the day with yoga.

It’s my holistic medicine. Last week, I ran a couple of cooking classes, started working on a new menu for Casa Luna, shifted furniture around at Indus (our other restaurant), met a few restaurant suppliers, contacted a ton of writers, and went to Jakarta for a few days.

In between that, I saw the kids and husband, here and there!

RV: What are some things that remain to be done before the next Ubud Readers and Writers Festival, September 30- October 3, 2006?

JD: We are still trying to entice and confirm writers.

Somehow this year it seems much harder or maybe I am more impatient.

I am also very anxious about funding – if we don’t get the cash I have to pick up the pieces.

This is such a slow process. In fact, there are a ton of duties that need to be done, including program and website development, publicity, printing and on it goes.

I feel tired just thinking about it!
– Check out www.ubudwritersfestival.com