2014 Byron Bay Writers Festival

Jeanette WintersonLeft – Jeanette Winterson. Photo – Derry Moore

What is IN write now? 

Inspiration: Where does it come from? How does a writer harness inspiration; formulate emotions, ideas, fiction and facts into sentences that grow to paragraphs that lead to chapters, burgeoning to books that transcend ‘here and now’ carrying us, the reader, into the world of the writer, if only for the length of a stanza?

Interconnectivity: Writers delve into their psyche, longings, desires, background, experiences, length-of-time-on-this-planet, feeding it back to us, the reader/audience, ever hungry for more. Sharing their stories we feel included; perhaps we’ve found a kindred spirt; perhaps the writer has unlocked a memory from our own past? Has this writer really walked a mile in our shoes? Is this our long-lost twin, separated at birth, whom we didn’t know even existed? Plumbing their past to irrigate our future, in so many ways...

Intelligence: Not artificial just yet! Real views and recollections from real people, from all walks-of-life, brave enough to follow their dreams, fears and phobias, free-falls-from-faith and everything that hides in-between. To share spirit (make mine a double) and soul is to offer succor to the suffering. Pardon my pundit, I feel the need for alliteration...

Interplay and Interaction: Creativity, cultural pursuits, words into songs, songs into stories and stories into scripts. Scripts into stage plays; paragraphs into pantomimes and documentaries into world awareness, where we, the audience, respond and reel in shock, horror, terror and dismay, only to be led back out into the light, where we can breathe again. 

Such is the power of the pen, and when that pen is held by the creative elite, congregating en masse in one venue for three days (albeit separate tents under one unique banner) then I call this power The Byron Writers Festival.

The Byron Writers Festival, now in its eighteenth year, offered up over 100 acclaimed authors, this year’s festival program providing a plethora of creativity on every platform, from poetry, songwriting, storytelling, stand-up comedy and death-by-dialogue, documentaries, journalism (not dead yet), how to write a children’s book and how not to write a narcissistic memoir! 

Just one thought-provoking story can change a life forever: we shared laughs, tears, anxiety, depression, drama, love, joy, empathy, fear, elation and cultural awareness on a global scale. 

Choosing which tent to session-camp in might possibly be the hardest decision to make on day one of the festival (that, and which food tent to trial first). After day one, I realised that a feast was on offer no matter where I parked my carcass. I took the ‘Byron approach’ and decided to ‘go with the flow’ as there was just too much to absorb and embrace. 

‘Our Story: Film and National Identity’ with Terry Hayes, Andrew Knight, John Weiley (chaired by Zacharey Jane) informs us “genre” is a French word that means “no new ideas” and “predictability is crushing the life-force out of film.” Formulaic films have you leaving before the end as you already know the storyline, so why bother sitting it out? Film industry in Australia at the moment reflects the negative culture for investment. The panel mooted, “move back to Aussie content... we’re not being xenophobic but let us not be a dumping ground for American programs... there is no opportunity in the ABC anymore... there is a spate of great new talent to be harvested and young filmmakers need the opportunity to fail and experiment. There should be more focus on youth to build a culture and support this culture... we all started out with junior jobs at the ABC...” The panel suggested we reinstate Australian content quotas and “let feature films grow from the fertile environment of ABC (Oz) television!” You’ve got my vote! 

Andy Griffiths in conversation with Julian Louis (NORPA) explains, “I don’t think of kids as my audience, I think of them as collaborators and I let them do 49% of the work”, explaining his darker side of comedy (the black bits that make you laugh like a loon, kid humour on steroids) sharing his mindset, “Thwarted expectation is at the heart of most comedy” and he still hasn’t found the point where “that’s too stupid for kids” converting story to stage play, admitting, “It’s not pretty, it’s not intellectual, but it’s fun...” Andy’s book, ‘The 13-Storey Treehouse’ was adapted into a play by Richard Tulloch and recently performed at NORPA in Lismore, direct from a sell-out season at the Sydney Opera House. 

‘The Art of Song Writing’ with Darren Hanlon and Missy Higgins (chaired by Anneli Knight) shared insights into how to write a song, with the added bonus of hearing both Darren and Missy performing their beautiful offerings. Darren could be a stand-up comedian, sharing his daily diary, telling us to “get off the internet with the constant need for clicking and checking” and to follow “the more linear path.” His “autobiographical diary” sparks songs from his wanderings, “country towns and station stops” whereas Missy admits her inspiration can come from one line, “fictional with an element of truth... cathartic and powerfully emotional.” Missy likes the “sound of a word, if it sings right.” Her song about her grandmother “half in this world and half in the next”, wondering if she had the right to manifest this emotion into a song, gave me a sad case of moist-eye.

‘Well It Made Me Laugh’ made me laugh. Listening to the agonies of a stand-up comedian (Mel Buttle – wow – FUNNY) and the rumination of Nick Earls on how to convert a funny observance into a funny story: I was overwhelmed with their collective ability to be off-the-richter-scale-funny and how they can “let their ego go”, admitting that sometimes it is “so stressful that you leave your body... and rebuild your self-esteem by eating or drinking...”

Jeanette Winterson spoke in tomes when she laid her soul bare to a packed tent on the very cold last day of the Byron Writers Festival. ‘Creativity and Craziness’: Jeanette suggested we don’t go through life in a blur; take notice, be in the world and not be a cocoon; embrace the gloriousness of the present; taste, feel, “this belongs to you now and can’t be taken away” and how fretting leaks energy. Time poor, no time to read? This is a warning sign. “Not everything has to be awesome and try not to be an intensity junkie!”

Landscapes, strength of womankind, political and ecological dramas, the journey, the struggle and “carving out your own space” (and so much more) all addressed in detail with question time to talk to our heroes. 

Mind over matter, and if I don’t mind, why should it matter? But matter it does, with the world poised on the precipice of cultural invisibility, let alone what havoc we are wreaking on this planet of ours. A meeting of minds, backed by the power of the pen, is an awesome three day weekend and so much to digest, it will take me until next year to filter and file all of this information and inspiration!

Thank you Byron Writers Festival. Thank you to all the 100 plus authors who, without their wild, wise, wistful, whimsical, worldly, whacky, wondrous and sometimes woeful wordage, there would be no springboard for stage, screen and ultimately, scruples. 

2014 Byron Bay Writers Festival
1-3 August, 2014
Visit: www.byronbaywritersfestival.com.au

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