Saturday, August 20, 2016

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2016

Earlier this month, I tripped off to Byron Bay for the Byron Writers Festival.

It promised a welcome break from Melbourne's wet squalls. And honoured its promise: on the day I arrived. Minutes after my shuttle bus stopped in Byron, I picked up boardshorts and sunglasses, and headed to the gorgeous beach. Then tortured locals and tourists alike with my white glare.

Follow me round perdition's flames: white whale and sea
And then the clouds came: dense, dark, and not sparing their soak. The festival site was damaged by high winds, shredding tents and damaging books. Kudos to the festival staff, who worked tirelessly to keep the events running.

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Bibliophiles immersing themselves in literature
My first gigs were over the next two days, Primary School Days with over a thousand kids from the region. Illustrator Peter Carnavas and I offered tips on writing and drawing, a fiendish quiz, and a reading of My Sister is a Superhero. Some clever questions from the kids, alongside some outstanding illustrations.

Wednesday night fever: Primary School Days
Five hundred students, two authors, one book: My Sister is a Superhero
First on Thursday was my philosophy workshop, which included a brief lecture, some exercises and discussion. The class discussed Seneca, Nietzsche, alongside poetry and essays--and the relevance of each to everyday life.

On Friday I spoke on the "Writing for Kids" panel with Anna Fienberg and Nick Earls, chaired by the lovely Ashley Hay. We spoke about the ties between reading and writing, the value of reading aloud, and much more. Fascinating to hear about the origins of these hugely popular tales from Anna and Nick.

Grown-up kids, AKA children's authors: Ashley Hay, DY, Anna Fienberg, Nick Earls
Over drinks on Friday night, I received an upgrade to my name-tag from illustrator Tony Flowers.

Werewolves of Byron
The next day began with "Reading: Portal to a Thousand Worlds"--a title taken from Geordie Williamson's review of my The Art of Reading. Geordie chaired the panel, which starred Charlotte Nash, Catherine KeenanJeffrey Renard Allen and me. It was intriguing to hear about the value of reading for each: from Catherine's brilliant work at the Story Factory, to Jeffrey's emancipating escapism.

The (Relatively) Famous Five; Geordie Williamson, Catherine Keenan, Charlotte Nash, DY
Later on Saturday was "The Art of Walking", with Ailsa Piper and John Faulker, again chaired by Ashley Hay. Much of the session was devoted to seemingly foolhardy feats of pedestrian adventure, but we also touched on the psychological and intellectual rewards of walking. At one point, John described me as the maddest person he'd met--high praise from a career politician.

A truly pedestrian panel: John Faulkner, Ailsa Piper, DY, Ashley Hay
Sunday began with the Kids Big Day Out, and I spoke to a huge marquee full of kids, parents and grandparents. A great buzz in that room, and lots of enthusiasm for My Sister is a Superhero, which was heartening.

Not born in a tent, but comfortable in one: The Big Kids Day Out
Finally, my last gig was a panel with Peter Stuchbury and Wendy Whiteley: "Creating Sacred Spaces". I began with a definition of the sacred from my Philosophy in the Garden, though the conversation wandered with a combination of vagueness and reverie. I tried to introduce a little quotidian detail to the chat: the sacred in urban life, rather than just in 'natural' landscapes or high art.

Creating sacred spaces, then filling them with talk: Janet Hawley, Peter Stuchbury, Wendy Whiteley, DY
All in all, a busy and rewarding week away, which included some gobsmacking local food, handsome landscapes and memorable conversation.

A glimpse of the sublime: Byron Bay beach at dusk
Great to meet other authors in various genres, including Nick Falk, Luke Stegemann, Osamah Sami and Rosalyn D'Mello. I'm reading Rosalyn's Handbook For My Lover, an intelligent and fiercely sensual memoir.

Thank you to the very welcoming Byron Bay Writers Festival staff and volunteers, with special thanks to Edwina Johnson, Sarah Ma, Cherrie Sheldrick and Coralie Tapper.

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