Byron Bay Writers’ Festival

Yesterday I got home from my first ever writing festival. I have been to one conference but that was slightly different and much much smaller. I felt incredibly guilty about going as my daughter’s 4th birthday was on Saturday but I figured this might be my only chance for a few years due to baby number 3 so swallowed the motherguilt and booked my ticket.

I stayed with a bunch of other writer friends, in a palatial holiday house almost on the beach. After driving down Thursday evening we stayed up late and got stuck in traffic the next morning trying to get a park. I missed my first planned session but we had a random encounter with Tim Ferguson and ended up going to see a mini debate. Mandy Nolan stole the show with her hilarious proposal to steal the Big Prawn and mount it on the Byron Bay lighthouse. And that kind of set the tone for the Festival I have to say!

There were a few sessions I felt like I got ideas from, and maybe a new perspective, but realistically I got more out of the little conference last year (where I met Kylie Chan, Marianne de Pierres, Rowena Cory Daniells and met up again with Trent Jamieson who I used to work with!) in terms of writing and publishing advice. The BBWF was definitely aimed more at the literary/thriller/cookbook set and didn’t cater much for the spec fic crowd. There was one fantasy panel but sci fi, horror and other speccy genres weren’t really represented. Some panels were poorly constructed (for instance in the sessions “The Dark in Literature” and “Scaring you Witless” there were no speculative fiction authors, only dark literary/suspense/thriller/crime authors. One even said she wasn’t sure why she was there as she liked writing funny! Surely a token horror author would have made sense?) Some sessions went off topic or seemed to only vaguely fit the theme.

So for me it was more about getting to know fellow authors, doing a bit of networking, and immersing myself in the culture of words. I would have liked far more diversity in genres and more practical sessions. The vague session titles were frustrating as I turned up to a few sessions only to discover they were nothing like what I thought they would be (immensely frustrating when there were 3 or 4 sessions that clashed and I could have perhaps gone to a more valuable panel). Some moderators did a brilliant job in keeping on topic but more than a few encouraged a more chatty style that would have been ok if the session was “In Conversation”, but they weren’t.

I am definitely inspired to seek out several authors and read their books, and to explore poetry a little more. I’ve got some ideas for characters and maybe even a story or two. I had a fabulously good time watching “The Vinyl Solution”, a stand up comedy routine by Fiona Scott-Norman, I enjoyed Fiona McIntosh’s irreverant style in the fantasy panel, Mandy Nolan was a hoot, Ouyung Yu’s recitation of an unpublished poem (written that very morning) will definitely stick in my mind and Caroline Overington’s journey to fiction writing was inspiring and heart wrenching. The writers I met were beautifully unpretentious, fascinating and shared my crazy sense of humour. I got to talk about writing and editing with people who got it and were equally passionate about it. For that alone it was worth it.

Next year I won’t be going because I won’t want to have to split my focus between mothering a baby and attending a festival, but I’m hoping to maybe go to some of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival sessions. I am also hoping I can keep in touch with my writing posse! I’m utterly exhausted, running on empty and my mind is still whirling, but I had a great time thanks to some brilliant people.


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