Highlights of the Byron Bay Writers' Festival 2008 – LiteraryMinded Style…

As I have to write quite official reports of the proceedings in the Weekly Book Newsletter and Bookseller + Publisher, I thought I’d take a different approach for LiteraryMinded.

You may have already heard that Friday (25th July) was cancelled due to incredible downpour. The Byron Bay Beach Resort was too muddy to support tents full of writers and literary fans, so unfortunately some panels were missed out on. Festival Director Jeni Caffin was still smiling on Sunday but said she looked at Friday’s program and saw ‘months of work’, and obviously felt for the writers and guests who missed out on talking about their wonderful books.

Although, my first highlight came about because of this…

Impromptu Intimate Session with Australia’s Best Short Story Writers….

Nam Le and Cate Kennedy shared a mini-tent with about 20-30 of us lucky lit-lovers, and spoke about their collections The Boat and Dark Roots respectively. The writers are both warm and intelligent and their contrasting personalities made the session a real treat. I have been wanting to read The Boat for a long time (we all know how long my to-read list is) and I now proudly own a copy. I loved the experience of Nam’s Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice in Best Australian Stories 2007, which opens the volume.

I met Cate last year and bought Dark Roots and not long after, interviewed her. Not only is she a writer who captures such simple, beautiful moments with such power, but she’s such a warm and engaging speaker.

I highly encourage you to read both these books and see them speak if you ever get a chance. This session was actually recorded so check the festival site for audio soon.

I Peed on Stratton and Other Whizzer Action…

There were many comedians at the festival, but the funniest people were often the ones not meant to be. On a panel with the very huggable and translucent David Stratton (who admitted in his heart-of-hearts he would have loved to be an actor), the chair introduced the session by saying he found himself in the loo with Stratton and was suddenly imagining that he could make the same mistake David did with Fellini and then write a book – I Peed on Stratton. Doesn’t quite have the same ring as I Peed on Fellini, but the crowd enjoyed the story.

In a packed out session including comedians Judith Lucy, Danny Katz, Bryan Dawe, Chris Taylor, and Kam Raslan; Judith Lucy told a story about when she was doing stand-up and a man in the crowd yelled out ‘show us your whizzer’. When the floor was opened for questions, one person kindly asked the sign language interpreter to demonstrate to the audience what they did for ‘whizzer’. Let’s just say he stole the show.

Please Switch Off Your Mobile Phone…

I don’t know why people don’t just leave their phones on silent the whole time, but Judith Lucy mortified one festival guest when her phone went off and it was subsequently snatched up by the comedian.

‘Hello? No, Meredith isn’t available I’m afraid. Yeah. She’s watching this incredibly funny woman talking about herself…’ and so on.

I’m sure Meredith learnt her lesson.

Being the Youngest Person at the Festival (besides some of the writers)…

The predominance of laid-back Byron Bay retirees and seasoned publisher-types meant that my friend Stuart and I looked like young hooligans. It’s not that people in their twenties don’t read, it’s just that most of us probably don’t have time to fly to festivals! Lucky my profession means I can make an excuse for getting further in debt on my credit card to chase around literary stars.

Formulating New Admiration Crushes…

My top three crushes of the festival would be Mark Seymour, Nam Le and Max Barry. I didn’t end up buying Mark Seymour’s recollection of his time in Hunters and Collectors, but I did get to hear him play an incredible impromptu song. He was also so down to earth and then spoke about the way music was his whole world (not to mention his beautiful Guy Pearce-realm cheekbones). Nam Le as I’ve already mentioned was an intelligent speaker, and he also has a beautiful smile. Max Barry, the bald, pale satirist just really has something about him. I bought The Company too, as I’ve been wanting to read his books for ages – what other Australian is writing accessible satires on consumer culture and corporate environments?


The BBWF immerses you in different forms, genres and cultures. It enables you to step outside your comfort zone and discover amazing things. For me, the evening session featuring the hip-hop artist Morganics, and the comedian Bryan Dawe, was a real treat. Morganics is incredibly talented – dramatist, dancer, poet, teacher, musician. His performance was genuine and mind-blowing.

Bryan Dawe appeared as alter-ego Sir Murray Rivers QC, and the political satire was so incredibly hilarious and apt my stomach was literally aching with laughter. The positioning of these two together was a wonderful idea – and I think Jeni Caffin has amazing skill at creating the mash-up of guests. People probably would have come to see one or the other and just been astounded by the one they weren’t expecting.

Other Writers I Liked Hearing…

Emily Maguire, Virginia Duigan, Michael Gow, Judy Nunn, William McInnes, Bruce Beresford, Stefan Laszczuk and William Kostakis.

Ones I Regrettably Missed Out On But Heard Were Great…

Miriam Margoyles, Steve Toltz, Charlotte Wood, Elmo Jayawardena, Morris Gleitzman, Debra Adelaide and Jackie French.

The Biggest Highlight…

Having people stare at my chest all day because of my unsubtle blog ad – if you’re here now because you stared at my chest, welcome!

Check the website for updates on audio soon.

12 thoughts on “Highlights of the Byron Bay Writers' Festival 2008 – LiteraryMinded Style…

  1. Angela, it all sounds wonderful, especially the Cate Kennedy/Nam Le informal session, I am very jealous. I want to come – d’ya think they could squeeze me in next year??! I am dying to visit Australia again, and I remember Byron Bay very well from my last visit. I’ve got Australian citizenship, will that help 🙂

  2. Yay! I got a mention in your blog. It did feel so weird that we were the youngest people there. But at the same time I was happy to be able to tower over their shrivelled bodies with my young, virile height.

  3. Tania – that’s so great that you’ve been to Byron Bay! You’ll have to try and make it for the festival some time! And of course you would have loved Nam Le and Cate Kennedy being the short fiction fan you are :-)Stuart – did you notice I also stole your description of ‘Stratto’ as being translucent? You did see him up a lot closer than me. I still think the lady with mismatching crocks (is that what you call those shoes?) and a sunflower umbrella showed up all of us in terms of ‘youthfulness’. 🙂

  4. Great post. I’ve been wanting to read The Boat for a while, so will just have to get it now!I met Charlotte Wood at the Perth Writer’s Festival in Feb and consequently exchanged a few emails with her and she’s so lovely. She sent me a copy of her first (now out of print) book, which is very different to The Children.How great that you get to do all these things 🙂

  5. Hi Simonne – yes I regrettably missed out on Charlotte Wood, and I adore ‘The Children’ as you would see from the review of it on here.I am very lucky to attend these things, but you know I am in quite a bit of debt for it! How I would LOVE to go to Ubud this year but I simply cannot afford it. Luckily I now live in Melbourne so the Melbourne Writers’ Fest will be easy.I’ll review ‘The Boat’ when I get to it so keep an eye out – hopefully Nam might also do an interview,thanks again for your visit :-)Angela

  6. You know, I’ve always wanted to go to a lit festival. They sound like such fun, but I never seem to be able to squeeze it in. Some day, though. By the way, I found your blog at blogcatalog.com and since you’re obviously into writing and literature, I wanted to let you know about a new e-zine that me and a few writer friends are putting together.It’s called The Oddville Press.You should check us out if you’re interested–it’s free to subscribe, hey! Or better yet, submit something!Thanks a bunch!

  7. Hi Steph,I’m so glad you found me. If you ever get the chance to attend a literary festival, do it!I will check out your zine for sure. And I see you’re Norwegian! I’m 1/4 Norwegian and very much in touch with my heritage. I spent some time in Oslo and Bergen in February, meeting and catching up with relatives. You live in a very beautiful country.

  8. I live in a very beautiful country, yes, but I’m not Norwegian. 😛 I just live here. I’m from America originally (and I’m so excited to be heading back for a visit next month!)

  9. Aren’t they ever? Throw in a lovely lake, yum cha, and cups of tea (and wine and beer of course). A perfect weekend 🙂

  10. Pingback: LiteraryMinded’s List for 2008 « ElephantBlog

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