Byron Bay Writers Festival

“Welcome to the thirteenth program of the Byron Bay Writers Festival…..Fiction, non-fiction, film, theatre, verse and lashings of laughter: it’s all here for readers and writers…………..” Jeni Caffin, Festival Director.
Byron Bay Writers Festival
Byron Bay Writers Festival Belongil Fields, Byron Bay August 7-9 with workshops from August 3 “Welcome to the thirteenth program of the Byron Bay Writers Festival…..Fiction, non-fiction, film, theatre, verse and lashings of laughter: it’s all here for readers and writers…………..” Jeni Caffin, Festival Director. Truly this is an understatement. There was SO MUCH MORE. It is inconceivable in this day and age of paparazzi, star-worship, icon-clingers and the ‘five second vignette attention-grabbing shock-tactic head-lining quick-fix’ that one can walk onto a field – a camping ground field, mind you – in the middle of that ubiquitous beach resort and back-packing haven, Byron Bay – and witness the machinations of writers in all walks of life, up there, on the makeshift stages, telling us would-be writers (and won’t be writers) how they got to where they are today. In simple terms. Amidst loads of laughter. Family recollections. Shared truths and concocted lies. Dramatic trysts and turns and tales. Could I take your photograph, please, Kerry? What? You don’t mind, really? OK, can I now have your autograph and bank account number…..? Even then, permission was granted, with a laugh and a jolly grin. I love this country! At each session, amongst the Chair person and the panel, stood an empty chair, with the words ‘PEN’ printed upon it. The empty chair was a reminder and a mark of respect for the writer unable to physically sit there. That writer who sits in jail somewhere – sentenced or awaiting sentence, for doing what we, in this country, take for granted – speaking one’s mind, or in the literary arena, writing one’s mind. The introduction to each session commenced with an acknowledgement to these missing writers who have not been able to share their concerns on their own world; what is happening in their lives, or indeed any viewpoint they may have that contravenes their country, be it Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, ad infinitum. A poignant moment to consider how extremely fortunate we are to live in a country where we can still voice, and indeed write our opinions. For anyone who has ever wanted to “pen” something for the public arena; for script or screen or play or poetry; biographical or comic relief; this is the Festival to be at! Mentors and peers sharing their moments, their methodology, their internal madness and their drive. Talking among themselves, mostly humorous, always enlightening, such icons as Thomas Keneally, Bob Ellis, Nick Earls, Marele Day, Kerry O’Brien, Linda Jaivin, David Williamson, Denise Scott (yes, Denise, you are rivet-tingly funny) gave the audience the pep and prep talk they needed, many walking away with momentum, inspiration and exciting ideas to mull over. Count me in – there has got to be a novel just waiting to be born. Oh dear. Highlighting but a few of the chosen sessions, from a full three days of Festival and almost a week of workshops: Dreamweaving: spinning the narrative yarn with Nick Earls, Karen Foxlee and Matt Nable. Karen says, “I start out with a seed of an idea, a central character but no idea where it might lead…..the more I write the more I learn….I write my way into it…” Nick says ideas can happen at any time, and remembered when he was driving in traffic, stuck behind a ute that said ‘…World of Tyres and Mufflers’ and thought about “men having bizarre ‘worlds’ of one certain item”. Which brought him to thinking about the “dumbest world I could write about, and I came up with ‘Ron Tod’s World of Chickens’ – 100,000 words later, it becomes a novel”. Matt says he puts himself into situations where he can be paralleled and wears the persona. They all agree that they are “observers of minute details” and that “fiction is connected with the real world but non-fiction must have a duty to the facts as it is expected to be true”. In Conversation – Before Underbelly: undercover cops spill. Domenico Cacciola and Colin McLaren with Kerry O’Brien. Listening to these men talk, the audience related (gasps and OMG’s) on every level, imagining what these men had to live through in order for their story to be eventually told. Regaling us with facts and figures, scenarios and stand-offs – about ‘snitches’ in the ranks and the mafia’s corrupt tentacles; worry compounding daily and “working within the police force was more daunting than the job itself”; the difference between covert investigators and infiltrators; police psychologists and ‘debriefers’; naming names and the repercussions; “judge’s evidence tainted with illegality” and all that that entails – well, there wasn’t a person in the audience that would want to trade places with them for one week, let alone a mini-lifetime. How brave to have lived it, let alone to commit the experience to print. Show and tell: the role of the public broadcaster. Michael Cathcart, Elly Varrenti, Bob Ellis and Nic Pullen gave us their views and jibes about the culture, today, of the ABC. Some quotes: “Can’t keep piling indifference as the centre will fold”. On digital multiplicity, “…so many choices that you lose the point altogether – goodness of choice is not that great”. Presenters as brands and shows as products – Bob Ellis saying “wowserism taking over our culture” and reflecting on presentation of the Labour Party then and now – “Wake in Fright to Jane Austen”. The need to increase funding to make Australian programs and the pride of working within the ABC – sharing the same core values – “principle, integrity, institution, loyalty and great hope; a refusal to give way”. With the cornucopia of talent and the enlightenment of the hungry audience ringing true across the paddocks, the Writers Festival becomes a MUST for any would-be/could-be or should-be writer. If these writers can follow their passion, and share with the audience the how, where, when and why – in real time and terms – then it gives hope for the strugglers and the jugglers who ever wanted to put pen to paper, for whatever the reason. Resoundingly unanimous from most of the presenters was the term “Perseverance”. Inspirational would be my catch-term for the whole event. Truly inspirational……………….. For comprehensive details for the Byron Bay Writers Festival, and to subscribe for future festivals, go to:

Marika Bryant

Thursday 13 August, 2009

About the author

Marika Bryant is an artist and writer living in Northern New South Wales, graduating from Southern Cross University (Bachelor of Visual Arts) in 2004. Marika has worked as a writer for magazines, advertising agencies and other ‘strictly for profit’ institutions and is now focussing on her career as an abstract expressionistic, poetry based artist with a twist. Having written (and performed) the odd comedy skit, and been caught behind the microphone once or twice, Marika can empathise with many in the ‘arty world’, knowing that it isn’t always easy!