‘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.
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.
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 –
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