Each year I look forward to the Sydney Writers’ Festival programme being announced. So many possibilities, so much excitement. Will any of my favourite authors be speaking? What new things will I hear about and be inspired by?
I scrutinize the programme and work out a schedule for the week in May. Held at the wharves on Sydney’s gorgeous harbour, my friends and I never fail to remember how, when we were growing up, these timber wharves were derelict and without purpose, often on the list of places to be knocked down. Now they host a myriad of activities throughout the year; Sydney Writers’ Festival being one of them. The wharves (Piers 2/3 and 4/5 in Walsh Bay) are painted a wonderful dove grey which sits so well in the landscape and the wharves moan and ‘sing’ as the tides go in and out between the festival sessions.
It never ceases to amaze me the amount of people milling about at the Sydney Writers’ Festival celebrating books. So good to see. Gleebooks have two fabulous bookshops selling books, often signed, by speakers and other titles they may have mentioned in their talks. You can hardly go home empty-handed. Goody.
I started this year by watching Austen’s Women; a one-man show celebrating the female characters in Austen’s books. The Janeite audience were riveted as we watched Rebecca Vaughan act out our very own Emma Woodhouse, Lizzie Bennet, Miss Bates and Mrs Norris.
Next up was a fabulous talk by Susan Elderkin on her book The Novel Cure all about the concept of customers lying on couches talking about their lives then being give a book prescription about books they should read. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Elderkin explained how reading makes us more empathetic and how books give us the chance to think about things, process and analyse. So true.
Friday’s session watching the live broadcast of Michael Cathcart’s ABC RN’s Books and Arts Daily followed by Richard Fidler’s live broadcast of Conversations was a real treat as Magda Szubanski was a member on the panel and discussed her multi award-winning book Reckoning; A Memoir.
Jacqui Newling was interviewed by my childhood neighbor, Simon Marnie, about her book Eat Your History which I have read, reviewed and adored. Again, I learnt so much.
Animating history was another favourite session. Surprisingly funny, the banter between author panelists including Sulari Gentill (author of the mystery books starting with A Few Right Thinking Men), American author Jami Attenberg (author of Saint Maizie) and David Dyer (author of The Midnight Watch about the Titanic) was hysterical. They talked about how historical fiction has to be relevant now and epigenetics (regarding next generation), but Attenberg’s reaction to who Gentill based her characters on, how she generates her lines for some characters and the discussions about political correctness or not had us all falling off our seats with laughter. I didn’t expect this session to be funny and it was a wonderful surprise.
The session that had me and the rest of the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter was the banter between Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales in their My Reading Year session. They talked about books, their cooking show and – life! Leigh asked if anyone had brought any baked goods along. Hello? I thought she was joking. But no; a lady happily brought down to the stage her offering of a Tupperware container with baked goodies. Asked if there were any more, about a dozen people took their containers to the stage and Crabb and Sales proceeded to taste test them. True story. The spiced nuts were particular favourites. Hysterical! I will definitely be downloading their podcasts When I Get A Minute to listen to.
The Biographies session with Margot Saville interviewing Kerry O’Brien (writing about Paul Keating), Catharine Lumby (writing about Frank Moorhouse) and Martin Flannagan (writing about Michael Long) was an intriguing with the panel discussing their relationship with the people they are writing about, the pleasures, perks and pitfalls of writing biographies. Saville asked if it is possible to write a full and impartial account of a public figure who is still alive? Fascinating I tell you! Additional treats to this session were questions by audience member Caroline Jones, a question being asked to audience member, Richard Flannagan (Martin’s brother) and the spellbinding performance by the signer for the hearing impaired.
Delicious lunch at the great Simmer on the Bay each day, thought-provoking sessions, wonderful book conversations, book shopping and friendships. What more could one ask? I’m already looking forward to next years’ festival.
Sydney Writers’ Festival: https://www.swf.org.au/