Byron Writers Festival 2017

Byron Writers Festival 2017Left – Kate Grenville. Cover – MeShel Laurie, Peter Helliar. Photos – Kurt Petersen

Friday morning and I’m driving to Byron with my sister, visiting from Zurich, managing to arrive in time for the Byron Writers Festival. So exciting. We love books, let’s get that out there from the go-get. Dealing with life's challenges, good and bad, we agreed that a book is tantamount to a best friend; better than a headache-pill; better than a lukewarm embrace… you can see where I’m going here… A writers festival is nirvana: the bringing together of talent, individualism, great minds on so many varied subjects; enlightening, illustrative and the pulse of the world throbbing through our veins, via our ears and eyes. Did I mention the humour and camaraderie between chair, writer and audience, too? Leaving them laughing in the aisles, racing out to the signing tent to show the authors how much they enjoyed their session!

At the end of each day my brain is full to burst: so many stories in my head, so much new information to absorb and embrace into my daily life (please don’t let me forget) and so many new books to read, all signed over to me by the author who penned them. Can life get any sweeter? Yes, it can, if you add coffee and cake to that heady mix, and perhaps a sushi or pocket curry or whatever fare is purveyed in the various foody-tents. The Byron Writers Festival is the complete package, right down to the sponsors (where would ‘the arts’ be without sponsors, eh?) and we are satiated. Glorious weather shines on us all and we move from tent to tent, room to room, sighing the sigh of the newly knowledgeable, ribs aching, having left Mandy Nolan interviewing Peter Helliar, Meshel Laurie and Tracey Spicer. A comedy outing amongst brilliance, and only one of so many sessions, where cross-pollination is feeding us all.

Mandy Nolan is conversing with Jimmy Barnes to a capacity crowd and we laugh, gasp, cry, suck-back-our-breath in shock at what ‘Barnsey’ had to endure as a child, with ensuing angst through the rest of his life up until now, even though he is a record-breaking (pardon the pun) performer. So many stories within stories and for those people who have had similar tragic and brutal upbringings, they can either relate or commiserate. Whatever they feel, thousands of books have been sold and they line up eagerly to get their copy signed by this legend. Jimmy is not the only rock-star on the bill today, as Tex Perkins tells of his Aria Award-times-two being wedged into a wall and also into someone’s... oh, I’ll leave that story for you-all to discover for yourselves. Suffice to say, laugh… 

From The Simple Life: Why Less is More, More or Less (David Haskell, Magdalena Roze and Emrys Westacott) outlining how to live frugally without malice (ha ha) to Midnight’s Children: Contemporary Indian Literature, outlining the adversity just to get a book ‘out there’; Science, Philosophy and Ideas (Dava Sobel, Emrys Westacott, Robyn Williams and chaired by Adam Spencer) taking us to the stars and back – this festival brings us all alive, mentally erect and part of the human race. And what a race it is – they're off and running. I asked Emrys W. if it is all ‘doom and gloom’ out there (after the words ‘science’ and ‘trump’ were said in the same sentence) and he assured me, “that the last one hundred years have seen enlightenment, look where women are in science now… what can we expect in the next one hundred years?” With such intelligence, enthusiasm, quest-for-knowledge and “getting your story written, no matter the cost, emotionally and physically”, there is hope for all humans on this planet – we just have to buy the book and read about it, if we are not, ourselves, contemplating writing the next vision! 

Intertwined Lives in Fiction (A.S. Patric, Michael Sala, Kayla Rae Whitaker) show us “language behaves like a disease, constantly inflicting us with it’s meaning”, with many stories, cathartic at best, outlining stories of abuse, and acceptance of abuse, theming in with the domestic violence issues being highlighted at this festival. As always, timely: thank you again literature, culture, science and the arts, for bringing honesty and awareness. Mixing it Up: Writing Across Forms showcases Melinda Bobis, reading an excerpt from her poem, ending with “hold my hand and we’ll swim together” (her rescue in Wollongong) levelling the crowd. 

Impossible for me to touch on one-poopteenth of what is on offer for the hungry mind at this inspirational ‘gathering of minds, genres and subjects’ in this meagre review. The Byron Writers Festival, now in its 21st year, hosted “over 130 writers and thinkers” and Edwina Johnson, Director, quotes from A.C. Grayling (a regular Byron Bay visitor)… “To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage, which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” Yes, a book can be your new best friend, your companion and your mentor. How fortunate we are to be able to witness and absorb all that information wealth on offer. How we spend it is another matter. I can’t wait until next year to be inspired all over again!

Byron Writers Festival 2017

Festival Director Edwina Johnson

Venue: Byron Bay, NSW
Dates: 4 – 6 Aug 2017


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