Byron Bay Writers Festival 2010 diary, part 2

A sun-drenched and possibly superficial series of blog posts

On Friday I had my first three panels. I won’t go into too much detail, but there were highlights – such as being on stage alongside Tom Cho on one, and Krissy Kneen on another (and not as a chair, but fellow writer); meeting Susan Wyndham, literary editor of the Sydney Morning Herald; and getting to hear Susan Maushart’s and Alvin Pang’s differing takes on social media. Susan took her family ‘off the grid’, away from technology for six months – and that time is recorded in her book The Winter of Our Disconnect. She’s also incredibly smart, funny and lovely. Susan and Alvin spoke about a divide between the ‘real’ and ‘online’ worlds and selves. I spoke about that divide not existing so definitely for me – that I didn’t really think about my online activity so much as being separate from my real life, that it was more integrated for me.

Another highlight was my afternoon session, on which I chaired Kirsten Tranter, Brenda Walker and Georgia Blain – talking about books and family. Each author had literary influences in their lives as children, particularly their literary mothers. Kirsten and Brenda even run their manuscripts by their mothers and take on board their criticism – Georgia was fascinated by this as she felt she couldn’t really do that. We spoke about favourite books, too, and childhood memories of books (such as illustrated fairytales). I loved getting to chat to these three talented authors about personal and professional crossovers.

Later, at the close of the festival, author Marele Day pulled me aside and said she’d caught the session and that she wanted to tell me what a great job I was doing chairing. I can’t say how wonderful this is to hear. When you’re up there on stage, often you have no idea how you’re going. You are juggling your knowledge of the books, with the topic, with the author personalities, with audience interest – it’s a balancing act. And you must guide, but also take up the authors on interesting points, and make sure they each get enough air-time. So, thanks, Marele, and other audience members who let me know what worked over the festival. I appreciate it.

On Friday night I was lucky enough to be invited along to a small dinner with a few Text Publishing authors, dapper publisher Michael Heyward and publicist Jane Novak. Michael Cathcart (The Water Dreamers) was there, and his wife/partner Hannie Rayson, the playwright – what a charming pair. Susan Maushart was there, and my friends Dan Ducrou and Krissy Kneen. The steak was amazing and the conversation ranged from ’70s arthouse/erotic films to the way social media is influencing publishing. Half-way through, Dan got a text from his girlfriend, the wonderful Phoebe Bond. She had just attended the Bret Easton Ellis event with Ramona Koval and reported that he’d been very misbehaved. We awaited her arrival to get the full story.

Over the next few days I only heard snippets of the story, so this is all second-hand, but it will be played on Radio National’s The Book Show so you can make up your own minds. Many people thought he was being a wanker – tapping his feet, looking around and talking about how hot Delta Goodrem was. Some others thought Ramona was being antagonistic and should have followed along, playfully. (Again, this is all second-hand.) Many thought it was performative. I think he was being absurd, which I like, but then I really like Ramona, too, and can imagine how hard it would have been! She’s one of our most experienced interviewers and broadcasters. Anyway, enough speculation. Were any of you there? Can you give us your opinion in the comments?

I did see BEE do a one-on-one with Simon Marnie on Sunday and he was much better behaved. Some of Simon’s questions were deflected but Simon found a way to wiggle around to the info anyway. BEE, to me, seemed funny, intelligent, and actually quite authentic. He just honestly doesn’t know how to answer some of the questions about the ‘why?’. He can’t really talk about process because ‘writing a novel is not a logical, practical thing.’ It’s an emotional thing, he says. He was amused, in a way, by how the interview went the other night. He said ‘people assumed I’m a much more serious literary figure than I actually am.’ People think he’s depressed and dour. I’m going to save the rest of my notes from that session, as I’m interviewing him this Thursday, and can work them in. But maybe we’ll just talk about pop music! I will just quickly say, that he does view his books as each being quite cathartic, and he doesn’t censor himself because he needs the voice of the narrator to be authentic. And he absolutely loves that American Psycho comes in a little ‘sandwich bag’ in Australia. He thinks it’s cute.

But back to Saturday now. On Saturday I had my last two panels, I was chairing both. In the morning, a panel on ‘Fragmented Identities’ was packed-out – more than likely because of crime star Michael Robotham. Georgia Blain and Patrick Holland were also on the panel. I think Holland was a star with his articulate explanations of character complexity. I wish I’d recorded him. I’ll be posting a review of his book The Mary Smokes Boys very soon on here. This was one of those panels where I had no idea how it was going on stage. I kept being unable to find the right words (a bit fatigued by now) but once it was over both the authors and audience seemed to have had a wonderful time. So I was happy with that.

My last panel was late in the day and I spent some time down by the lake, watching ducks, and these other beautiful birds with blue bellies (which I’ve found out are Purple Swamphen), and catching up with Matthia Dempsey from Bookseller+Publisher and Peter Bishop from Varuna. Matthia is going on the annual trip for the Indigenous Literacy Project – she will probably be doing some updates on the Fancy Goods blog if she gets a chance. On this day at some stage I was also in the Green Room and heard a very familiar voice from behind me. It was ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke! I was only a wee lass when he was PM. I was too shy to say hello, but I saw many people do so. How different would it be if it were little Johnnie Howard? On Sunday I also got to thank Clive Hamilton for his 2004 book Affluenza, which I’ve read several times and really made me think about my country, and my society, Western society, consumer society, differently. I talked about my doctorate a bit and he gave me some more authors to follow-up.

To be continued…

3 thoughts on “Byron Bay Writers Festival 2010 diary, part 2

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Byron Bay Writers Festival 2010 diary, part 2 – LiteraryMinded --

  2. Enjoying your sun-drenched posts. I was at the BEE Ramona interview. It was surreal at the start like a sitcom when Ramona was asking the questions and BEE was not answering and talking about Delta. A clash of mood and styles. IMO Ramona was doing her job as she normally does it and BEE wanted to chill and have fun, and as you say he doesn’t really seem to enjoy or feel comfortable with the why questions especially 14 months after finishing the book. We do have expectations of authors to provide detailed analysis and for some people it’s just not their thing. My blog about it:

  3. I just heard Bret Easton Ellis on The Book Show. The foot-tapping and looking around weren’t evident, but the bad behaviour made for wonderful radio. Ramona, I thought, played along beautifully. “You obviously didn’t like that question.’ ‘No it was a good question. Ask it again.’ ‘Well, I didn’t like your answer, so I’ll ask you another one.’ She had just the right tone of exasperated amusement. And by the end he was saying very interesting things about his work, such as that American Psycho had its origins in the pain and rage of being 23 and facing the prospect of having to become an adult.

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