The first day of the Byron Bay Writers Festival was gloriously clear and sunny. So, when the traffic slowed to a crawl, I abandoned my car (legally) and walked the final 500m to the festival gates.
I decided to attended ‘The Appeal of War’ for my first session solely to see Sally Sara, but actually the whole panel was fascinating (despite my ambivalence about the topic). The Chair, Mick O’Regan, joked that it was an odd topic for the Northern Rivers and that he was surprised by the strong turn out. He then proceeded to interrogate the panel on the affects of war on people and cultures, and on the way that the effects of war can echo throughout lives. Sally Sara talked about her confronting experiences of reporting from the front line in Afghanistan, while Mark Dapin talked about his interviews with over 150 Vietnam War Vets. It was interesting to hear that for many returned servicemen the war was basically the highlight of their lives.
Mick O’Regan was clearly captivated by Gregory Day’s book, Archipelago of Souls, and read some beautiful passages from it. The only downside was that he also directed far more questions to both Day and Dapin, and I would have like to hear more from Sally Sara. That said, I now want to read Day’s book.
Next I went to ‘Family Trauma in Fiction’. The panel was pretty incredible – Emily Bitto, Mireille Juchau, Eben Venter & Sofie Laguna – and the conversation about families, memory and repression was fascinating. By the end I was desperate to read The Strays and Eye of the Sheep (both of which I’ve been meaning to read anyway).
I was thinking of seeing Tariq Ali next, because he’s incredible and always has insightful things to say about the state of the world, but his session was utterly packed and so I took it as a sign to take a break from politics. Instead, I grabbed some food before heading over to see Ramona Koval in conversation. I’d already listened to a podcast of her being interviewed about her book, ‘Blood Hound‘, but it sounds fascinating, and I still miss listening to her on The Book Show, so I went back for more. She was fabulous. Another book to buy.
From Ramona Koval I went over to see The Cartoonists. I was hoping to be entertained and they did not disappoint. They were at their best when focused on Australia. I found the meditations on the Charlie Hebdo incident a bit earnest. First Dog was amusing as expected, but my favourite part was that Cathy Wilcox totally controlled the show, despite being the only woman – a nice contrast from the first session.
Next up was ‘The State of the Nation’ with Barrie Cassidy, Wayne Swan, Kate McClymont and Greg Sheridan. I love politics – I’d describe myself as a political tragic – but this panel was tiresome. Wayne Swan appeared to be in full campaign mode and was spouting meaningless political-speak. So when Greg Sheridan started waxing lyrical about the hidden charms of Tony Abbott I had to leave. The nice part about that decision was that I had the chance to catch the second half of ‘Herstory, Historical Fiction’ with Emma Ashmere, Jane Caro and Robyn Cadwallader.
Emma Ashmere’s book ‘The Floating Garden‘, set in 1920s Milson’s Point as the Bridge was being built, sounds fascinating, but I was most intrigued by Robyn Cadwallader’s book. Have you heard of an anchoress? Apparently they were religious women in the 1200s who would commit their lives to Christ by getting shut inside a tiny cell FOR LIFE. As in they would nail the door shut. I feel sick and claustrophobic just thinking about it. The book sounds beautiful, but I doubt I’ll read it.
Finally, I saw ‘Dirty Chicks’ – an all-woman memoir panel. It was fabulous. Mandy Nolan had me in stitches, while Hannie Rayson was both funny and intriguing. Antonia Murphy seemed delightfully crazy and her love of producing her own cheese, wine & meat reminded me of of my friend Tammi Jonas.