Raquel Stevens

One of my favourite words in the dictionary is serendipity: the fact of finding interesting things by chance.  This happened with my Burrow Banter interview this week. The interview I had lined up fell over, and I was left standing at Lake Daylesford with coffee in hand and no-one to speak to.

Emma Ireland, organiser of ‘Words in Winter’, an annual arts and literary festival, was also getting her caffeine fix from Walters on the lake. She introduced herself, and for the next two hours we discussed mental health, menopause, and the magic of words.

Listen to the Podcast on HCR

Listen to a podcast of Raquel’s interview with Emma Ireland on the Hepburn Community Radio Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/hepburn-community-radio/emma-ireland

Em, tell me about Words in Winter.

Words in Winter has been something that’s been established for a few decades. It was created by a beautiful gentleman, David Hall.

David and his wife, Lorrelle, moved to town and wanted to meet people, so they thought, we’ll invite people to get together and read poetry and talk about books and things like that.

David Hall, founder of Words in Winter

It’s been something that’s always been going on in the background and I’ve watched it in all its incarnations. And more recently, when the festival director decided not to do it, I had an opportunity and time to step in and take it on. Which I love, because I used to work with a lot of poets with Babble, Open Mic and Poetry Overload Festival when I lived in Melbourne.

And it’s more than just words, isn’t it?

Absolutely. I used to run a thing called Eaze Multi-Arts, so I’d put poetry with audio-visual, with dance and music. I’ve always seen words as inspiration for dance back in the day.

We’re all inspired by communication and poetry and it’s our roots from storytelling from when we’re children. I think it’s all in words, as they say, the pen is mightier than the sword and I love me a sword, so give me a poem any day, I love it.

The program is so diverse, there is even a puppetry workshop. 

The idea for me is to make it multi-generational. I think that with any art forms, you can end up with poets reading to poets, so the idea of the theme, ‘Coming out of the shadows’, linked to the shadow puppetry. Georgie Rose in town is doing incredible work with her art and her puppetry, so she was really excited to be involved.

Daylesford is the perfect backdrop for an event like this.  Do you have a secret spot?

To me, Daylesford is about the water. We have three amazing waterways that run under Daylesford.

It’s an indigenous healing place, one of those spots is the lake here. I’m one of those walkers around the lake, and I see a lot of people keeping their mental health well.

I think Coomoora in the Wombat State Forest is probably my favourite place though. It’s just stunning.

If you were sent off to Wombat State Forest for the rest of your eternal life and could take three things, what would they be?

Ooh, so I would take my partner, because I really love him, and because he’s really good at starting fires.

I would take paper and pen to write down my thoughts. I’d also like to say a record player. I’m not sure I could get to plug it in, but yeah, something to play music from.

What’s on your bedside at the moment?

I have Neil Gaiman’s book about Vikings, and I’m one of those people that has a stack of books.  I love to just open them up, and I accidentally start too many at once.

What’s on your fridge?

Oh my gosh, the fridge is covered. Every time I travel anywhere, my family and I, we grab magnets.

Recently we went to Greece, to the island of Hydra, and it was just donkey city, so we’ve got a really good donkey magnet on there.

And what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

I always go to say, ‘don’t dream it, be it,’ from the Rocky Horror Show. Also, I think it would be to trust in your instincts more, and to not give up on following your dreams.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

Emma Ireland, not a problem.

When I worked at Blues Fest, I used to wear a red and black tie, and they used to call me Emma Ireland, not a problem. When people would approach me in any kind of mood, I’d say, not a problem.

I have a bit of a psych nursing background from way ago. It’s really helped me in life, working on events and with people.

What is next for Em Ireland?

I’m obviously working on Words in Winter, and reviving the Swiss Italian Festival, which is very exciting.

I’m also turning 50, and I’m working on my own passion project. It’s called, ‘Women to the front.’  I’m trying to connect women in regional areas, trans women and non-binary people as well, that have been isolated for whatever reason to reconnect with other women and support each other in industry.

Well, I wish you a happy 50th birthday Em for this month.  Welcome to the club. I also look forward to more walks with you around beautiful Lake Daylesford. Ps. I left out the menopause chat. What’s said on our walk, stays on our walk. 

Words in Winter will be held from August 25-27th. See www.wordsinwinter.com for the full program.

Raquel Stevens is a former Network Ten News Journalist. She has been a part time local for more than 25 years, and one day hopes to be a full time local.