The Byron Bay Writers Festival, 2010
I attended the Byron Bay Writers Festival last weekend (Aug 7-9) while there were elements to it that fell flat for me, I felt it was worth attending.
For the first two days I was somewhat disappointed in the [lack of] quality of conversations in the various panels. There was, to my mind, excessive reading from books with one chair even saying, when a panelist said they were unsure of what to say, that the purpose of them being on stage was to sell books, so they should just stick with that! I felt a bit unsalted by this, as that was certainly not why I nor I imagine most of the other attendees came along. To me it is cheap when writers default to book reading instead of responding to the panel topic, of sharing their intelligence.
So that to me was a bit tacky, and was a bit indicative of this year's festival's shortcomings. Another was it seemed that sometimes the chairs clearly had not read the books or done much preperation in how they would conduct the panel (obviously there were some chairs and panelists who were last minute substitutions so some latitude must be given).
I remember when my ex-wife was chairing some panels the work she put into them was massive with dozens of emails back and forth with each author, and so by the time the panel began it was already dynamic and meaningful, and as a result people were touched deeply. I left the festival feeling untouched by anything in particular, that I had not found anything gripping that left me moist eyed or charged up about anything. Possibly this is because I am already well versed in the various political issues being discussed, but it did feel pedestrian sometimes, although that may have been where the audiences were at.
However, aside from those parts that I was disappointed with (and others I know who have been attending for many years had similar experiences, and chose not to come on days 2 and 3 even tho they had tickets) I did learn some things. Such as being creative in choosing the voice through which one tells a story, an issue that has given me trouble whenever I have contemplated writing stories as my 'voice' often feels flat and monotonous. One author had written her family memoirs from the perspective of a painting that hung in the living room which created quite a revolution in my mind. The way other authors used humour to tell a serious story was interesting also.
I met a woman the day after the festival who had been there, and after comparing notes and talking about our high- and low-lights realised that over the course of 3 days we had only been to the same sessiion once, so her experience was utterly different to mine. And that is probably how it is for everyone, that no two people will have seen the same events.
There was record tickets sold, and the Sunday crowd was the largest on record but it did not feel like it, as rarely were events packed to overcrowding as had been the case before. Possibly there was an evenness of quality of panels so the crowds were spread evenly, and so coffee and food queues were nothing like in previous years which speaks of better crowd management.
My favourites: Ian Lowe, Megan Stack, Clive Hamilton, John Doyle and AJ (Sandy) McKinnon. The book I bought? I wanted to buy Megan Stack's book (about life as journos in Afghanistan and Iraq, a life she seems way too delicate to have lived) Every Man in This Village is a Liar which looked fabulous but they were all sold out (see for a bio on Megan) and ended up buying The Legacy by Kirsten Tranter, just cause it looked like a good novel. I find bookshops uncomfortable places, (standing and browsing through books is physically uncomfortable for me) so rarely go into them, but find the festival shop easy to navigate (maybe because there are limited titles).
All in all another quality event in Byron Bay.
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By Mark O'Brien