15:55: Tension is mounting here in the Festival Club as we count down to lift-off. Lawrence Leung is crawling around on stage like a demented feline trying to connect the tech. Audience names are being placed into a tin, along with suggestions for fiendishly difficult words from the audience.
I will be live blogging the entire event within this post. So you will need to refresh the page to get updates. Garth is sitting next to me, with the swirling nerves that come with being defending champion. The others in this room have nothing to lose. And you know what they say. Desperate men spell with utmost clarity.
16:06: Festival director Zoe Norton Lodge will be co-presenting, dressed in a manner that I can only describe as like a slender Magda Szubanski. Leung has announced the start, and away we go.
16:08: There will be three rounds. The winner of each round will go straight into the Grand Final round, where they will take on the defending champion.
16:10: Answer protocol is being laid out. Several people are in each round. They will be called to the microphone one by one and be given a word. They may ask for context. They may go back and correct their word once, as long as they have not marked their completed attempt by repeating the word at the end of spelling.
First round will be Anna, Frank, and Erin, as drawn from the audience. A fourth contestant is being chosen as a wildcard, by way of an audience-wide game of Cheese or Font.
16:17: Ben is our wildcard. It’s quarter past four and people are already wasted drunk and heckling. Go artists.
16:17: Erin gets ‘accommodate’ first up. A big trap for young players. She drops the second M as expected. Erin had pre-identified as a dyslexic, so not entirely sure of her motivation in entering, but you have to be in it.
Frank gets ‘acquire’. He’s hesitant, you can smell the fear coming off him, but after a tentative attempt or two, he gets it right. Nicely played Frank.
Anna lands ‘abysmal’. She pins it on the first attempt without too much hesitation. An early contender.
Ben gets ‘focused’. That’s a tricky one – could argue for the American double S, but we’re playing Macquarie Dictionary rules, so Ben gets the correct English spelling.
16:22: Frank gets ‘lieutenants’, but gets tangled on the early vowel-pie that the French so often like to cook. Wait till we whip out the bureaux and manoeuvres.
Anna then steps up to take Frank’s word, and nails it. Ben then lands ‘omniscience’. Another toughie early on. It seems like he forgets where he is, and stumbles. The contenders are down, and Anna is through to the grand final.
Contestants are Alice, Claire, Emily, and Cheese or Font wildcard Phil.
Alice lands ‘hierarchy’ first up. She sadly drops the second R – hard to visualise these things in only the mind’s eye. She’s consulting with Garth on her way off stage.
Emily gets ‘entrepreneur’. Falls at the first hurdle. George Bush couldn’t spell it either, so don’t feel bad. Or something. Claire makes a bit of a hash of it too, and Phil does a Bradbury right through into the grand final round without having to spell a word. He decides to have a go anyway. This could be embarrassing.
And it is! He actually spells it worse than either of the previous attempts. Ellena Savage gets up on stage as an audience challenge. Lawrence is so taken by her radiance (left over from last night’s Circus Ball) that he half falls off the stage. Ellena nails the spelling faultlessly, and Phil is booted. Thank God for that. I think he spelled it ‘enterapranour’.
16:36: Betty, Aaron, Emma. The wildcard in this round is being picked by Real Book/Fake Book. Real books so far have included How to Bombproof Your Horse, How to Avoid Huge Ships, and Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers. Former festival director Sarah Gory reluctantly wins and is almost dragged onstage.
Betty gets ‘Armageddon’. A deceptively straightforward one. She’s second-guessing herself. Doubts flit across her face. Hesitance. But she gets it. World doesn’t end.
Aaron gets ‘cataclysm’. He nails it without a second hesitation. Aaron and Anna from Round 1 are my early picks.
Emma gets ‘kaleidoscope’. She absolutely creams it. No hesitation at all. Good signs.
Sarah gets ‘baccalaureate’. She just slightly goes awry, I think it was the middle U that did it. Betty is back to the mic. Can she make it happen? She does it. Not without some stops and pauses and go-backs, but we get there.
Aaron gets that old crowd favourite ‘diarrhoea’. It’s the vowel-filled ending that gives you the shits, but he spurts it straight into the bowl. True as an arrow.
Emma gets ‘pterodactyl’ and has no problems whatsoever. I want to date her now. Betty is back with ‘blaggard’. Another deceptively simple one. She’s over-thinking it. There’s so much consternation on Betty’s face. It’s like an episode of Neighbours going on between her nose and eyebrows. She stumbles. Aaron is up. He knows no fear. But his confidence is misplaced. He goes for ‘blaguard’. And no! Emma is through.
But wait! There’s a challenge from the crowd! An Irishman has surged onto the stage wanting to spell it. Emma steps up to the mic. She gets it wrong. She’s still up though, Irish has to spell it to beat her. He gets it wrong too! ‘Blagguard’. I’m not sure where these spellings are coming from.
And here’s the twist! They’re using Maquarie. They’re using ‘blackguard’ but pronouncing it ‘blaggard’. Oh, the humanity. Still, the right result has been reached. Emma goes through. Drinks break.
So I kind of disappeared there. The truth is I was rather abruptly called up on stage to contest the final.
Ellena fell early while still in the elimination stage. With four left, we were given an immunity challenge, rearranging letters in a Scrabble style to spell the names of IKEA furniture.
Emma crashed out on ‘bivouacking’, one I was glad to avoid given the uncertainty over whether a K would be required. Garth went strongly for a time, but bowed out on ‘hors d’oeuvres’, after taking too many attempts at the word. It was down to two. The crowd cheered for the unflappable Anna, and poured their loathing and scorn on me, mostly because they’re a bunch of racists.
The head-to-head went on through several exhausting and thrillerating rounds, trading correct spellings, blow for blow, like Macbeth and Macduff.
Bivouacking, she said.
Bourgeoisie, said I.
It was ‘porphyry’ that got me. What is it, I asked. “It’s a disease,” yelled someone in the audience. No, it’s not. Porphyria is a disease. Porphyry is a type of igneous rock. Not that the definition would have helped with a word I’ve never head of. Anna spelt it easy as knocking a kitten on the head. Clinical. Knowledgeable. Universally acclaimed. The National Young Writers festival has a new champion, ladies and gentlemen. Garth and I shall retire that hall for warriors past, to mull over with Mick Malthouse how to spell ‘kismet’.