Looking down on the piers of the Sydney Writers Festival 2015

Readers and Writers in Wonderland

‘What on earth’s a writers’ festival? And what’s Richard going to do while he’s there?’ When I’d mentioned we were going to Sydney for the Writers’ Festival, my friend was as astonished as if I’d said we were going to a Fruit Fly Fest in Alabama.

SWF 2015

SWF 2015

But when I had recovered from my own surprise at her reaction, it occurred to me that there must be many people who have no idea what a writers’ festival is all about. Who goes? Why? What is its appeal?

The fact is that writers’ festivals serve a whole raft of different interests around the central focus of reading and writing.

As both writer and reader, I have been to quite a few either as a presenter (fairly nerve-wracking) or more simply to immerse myself in the provocative and inspiring atmosphere of discussion among like-minded people. It provides a platform to meet readers, other writers, colleagues, publicise my own books. It’s also a terrific opportunity to meet or listen to some of the writers I love to read, some of whom also happen to be brilliant and witty speakers – Alex Miller, Hilary Mantel, J. M. Coetzee, Colm Toibin, Ben Okri – ah, the list is too long.

Being naturally inclined to chat to whomever is next to me in line, in a bookshop or in an audience, my personal experience would indicate that there are at least as many readers as writers in attendance.

For literary agents and publishers it is a place to promote and sell, as well as a chance to meet their writers face to face instead of communicating via phone or email.

Bookshops, food and drink outlets, accommodation and tourism all benefit from the influx of people – and the media, of course, has a field day.

With Adelaide the first Australian city to hold a literary festival more than fifty years ago, each capital now hosts its own with festivals sprouting up in an increasing number of regional centres – Margaret River, Noosa, Byron Bay, Katoomba (part of the Sydney Fest) and Newcastle, to name a few. There are also festivals for young writers, emerging writers, the Jewish Writers Festival in Melbourne and so forth. In all, somewhere between 30 and 40 in Australia alone.

Walsh Bay, Sydney

Walsh Bay, Sydney

Largely held  in the Walsh Bay precinct along the piers that jut out into the harbour, Sydney is the third-largest in the world with close on 100,000 people attending each year. The boardwalk and the piers literally throb with queues and drifts of people who mass and dissolve like amoebas. It is truly a wonderland of sorts.

And, yes, Richard enjoyed it as much as I did. Particularly lovely were catch-ups with family and friends.

But our friend’s question set me thinking about the intimate relationship of readers and writers. Both reading and writing are solitary pursuits and yet how necessary one is to the other, how both provoke, inspire and stimulate. And how lucky is a person who writes to have a partner who reads –

Breaking news

I’m delighted and hopelessly proud to be able to say that my daughter Tammy Tansley has published her first book. It’s a business book with a difference. Titled Do What You Say You’ll Do, you can check it out or order by clicking on http://www.dowhatyousay.com.au.


Feature pic: From the 33rd floor of the Shangri-La Hotel looking down on Sydney’s Walsh Bay precinct where many of the events are held



  1. Beautiful writing as always.. and THANK YOU for the shout out and the link x

  2. Thanks,Tammy. And your book looks fab. Good luck with it.

  3. Richard Wheater says:

    As a reader only, my writing has always been confined to reports and policy documents, I found it truly stimulating. An interesting speaker grabs the imagination almost regardless of topic.
    The break away from the daily round is also very good for body and mind.
    I enjoyed and would recommend the experience to anyone, in Perth or Sydney it doesn’t matter.

  4. Ian Reid says:

    Thanks for this post, Tangea – a nice reminder of some of the benefits of Being There. It makes me wish I could get to more literary festivals myself. The whole “wonderland” phenomenon of a writers-and-readers-get-together is certainly worth pondering. I’ve written about literary festivals a couple of times on my own blog, and I greatly enjoyed the one earlier this year in Perth, where I was lucky enough to facilitate a couple of sessions with articulate writers.

    • Many thanks for taking the time to comment, Ian. Yes, the reader:writer relationship is very interesting I think. In philosophy 101, I guess they would hold that a book is a book in that it is an object (in the case of a printed book, that is!). But I wonder whether a work that is written to be read actually becomes a whole — i.e. a book — until it has readers?

  5. Tangea says:

    Thanks, Richard, and so glad you enjoyed. Yes, the skill of the speaker — and even-handedness on the part of the presenter — makes for stimulating stuff and great theatre, doesn’t it?

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