Every writers’ festival has its own personality.
Sydney Writers Festival is big, brash and busy. The speakers are the top of the literary game nationally and internationally, as well as including promising new authors. But it’s so huge now you can wait in line for 45 minutes in all weather (I’ve had blazing sun and driving rain) and still not get in. Many people only go to the ticketed events because getting into free sessions is just too frustrating.
Melbourne Writers Festival is smaller and much more civilised. They also attract the top liners and the free sessions are easy to get into. There’s also this quaint caravan where you sit inside with a small group of others and get close and personal with a writer for a chat.
Edinburgh Writers Festival. Ahh… more like Melbourne but when writers like Will Self, Sebastian Barry and Anne Enright live just a stone’s throw away you can fill all the tents with the Masters.
Newcastle is a relative newcomer. But this year’s line up was impressive – Robert Dessaix, Kitty Flanagan, Robert Drewe, Kathryn Heyman, Michael Sala, Ryan O’Neill, Jock Serong, Jimmy Barnes, among others. But what stands out at Newcastle, more than anywhere else I’ve been, is the warm friendliness of the volunteers and the relaxed and easy navigation around sessions. It’s a pleasure to be there.
Many things are said at festivals that are worth noting. What resonated most powerfully for me this year in Newcastle was said in a panel discussing what fiction is for:
If you open readers’ hearts, you open their minds. Lia Hills
The latest Newcastle Festival Newsletter provides more highlights:
I like to put Australia on the slab and see how it is operating. Robert Drewe
I’m encouraged by young people, who are much better at looking after the world than we are. Bruce Pascoe
This city has magic in it and I’m grateful that my first ever visit was for the love of words. Holly Ringland
Women like Elizabeth Macquarie and Caroline Chisholm can teach us to encourage a politics of caring for those in need. Luke Slattery
There’s a cone of silence around Aboriginal massacres on the colonial frontier that needs to be challenged and taken down. Lyndall Ryan
We’ve unnecessarily complicated what is good for us. Brigid Delaney
Wellness is about self-education, it’s not supposed to be an alternative science or medicine, but that’s the way it’s progressed. Nick Toscano
Enid Blyton was an impossible woman but she made me the man I am today. Robert Dessaix
Know your rights and collect your sisterhood and supporters before you speak out. I’m a great believer in collective power. Tracey Spicer
My whole career has been pure luck. Kitty Flanagan
If you stand very still and listen very closely, stories come right up to you. Richard Fidler
Reading should be therapy for the reader. Kathryn Heyman
For satire to work, it must be targeted at the powerful. Ryan O’Neill
Living for years in a female body was like trying to play an instrument that was out of tune. Eddie Ayres
We have an electronic curtain descending between nature and the next generation. Charles Massy
Next year the Newcastle Writers Festival will be April 5-7. Save the date!