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This Is Northern New South Wales

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2013 – Wrap up


It was a feast; there was so much on offer. There were the requisite fiction writer’s explaining their craft but there were also journalists and politicians, philosophers and surfers, musicians and photographers; they were all impeccably eloquent and each time I strolled across the green grass to another marquee, just to have a quick look, I would invariably find myself hooked, immediately engaged in the conversation, the gentle debate and the considered views of some of Australia’s most creative minds.

I’d been to the Sydney Writer’s Festival but the difference in Byron is that you buy a day ticket instead of having to pick and choose each individual talk. This freedom to wander in and out of the various marquees meant I engaged with a whole range of writers that I didn’t know, that I’d never heard of.

For each of the three days of the festival I arrived to impeccable winter sunshine, I parked the car a short stroll from the entrance (the Splendour weekend had me on my toes but the BBWF is a different beast entirely). First stop was one of the many coffee carts, then straight into a marquee.

I looked around and my first impression was that I was half the age of the bulk of attendees, this was understandable, but it was a shame that I didn’t bump into many of my younger friends who live locally. In a bid to fit-in I crossed one leg over the other, I furrowed my brow and I nodded pensively when the speaker extolled another gem of insightful wisdom.

Early on I listened to Peter Carey discuss his life and his vibes on Byron. I’d been lucky enough to interview Carey earlier in the day and this whole process, of being up close and personal with such well-regarded writers, it shocked me at how down-to-earth these celebrities are. They wandered with us commoners, they stood in line at the coffee cart with the rest of us and were happy to chat and smile in the sunshine.

DBS Pierre’s discussion with Chris Hanley was a highlight for a lot of people. Dirty-But-Clean-Peter has had a colourful life to say the least and after a decade of drug abuse he wrote his debut novel, he got published then he won the Man Booker Prize, easy. Despite such success he has maintained a humble earnestness and it won him a lot of hearts in the crowd.

Come Saturday I arrived late and ran around trying to find the elusive Launchpad marquee. Here I perched with a solid crowd to hear a selection of writer’s who had the opportunity of reading a brief pitch of their unpublished manuscript to a panel of Australia’s top publishers. As an unpublished writer myself it was a thrill. Congrats to Byron local, Claire Dunn, who was voted the winner.

Next up was the launch of Australia’s most exciting new publication, The New Philosopher. The magazine’s founder Zan Boag puts this elegant journal together from his Bangalow office and if you haven’t sunk your teeth into it then you’ head straight for the newsagent.

Chip Rolley interviewed Glenn Carle about his time as a spy for the CIA. Carle has released a book about his involvement in the torture of terrorist suspects linked to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden. The crowd was gripped with his discussion of torture, morals and keeping your occupation a secret from those around you.

Georgia Blane, Cate Kennedy, Robert Drewe and Jennifer Mills presented a surprisingly engaging discussion on the craft of short story writing. They offered some profound insights into the unique demands of the short form as opposed to a novel. Cate Kennedy is one of only three Australian’s to have been published in the New Yorker magazine; she noted that all three are women.

DBC Pierre was joined by MJ Hyland, Georgia Blain and Sally Breen to discuss Urban Noir and the darker side of fiction. Here the writer’s laid bare their less than rosey past-lives to explain how a life of extremes is vital if one is to inject drama and tragedy into one’s stories.

The final session for me was one of the most intellectually stimulating. Maxine McKew, George Megalogenis, Mungo MacCalluma and the Indian journalist MJ Akbar spoke with earnest and well informed opinions on the relationship between Australia and China. They discussed the history of our links, the differences between our social and our economic bonds but also about other Asian neighbors that we may have ignored in our blind rush to sell dirt to China. The opportunity to be part of the discussion was a thrill, but it was also bizarre, the sun shone bright on the mangroves just outside and if I listened closely I could hear the waves breaking on Belongil beach.

Byron in Winter ain’t so bad.