September 20 - 26, 2015: Issue 232

  Byron Bay Writers Festival 2015 

 Sunset on the Byron Bay beach

 Byron Bay Writers Festival 2015 

by Robyn McWilliam

Australia’s most easterly point is where writers and book lovers converge in early August for the nineteenth Byron Bay Writers Festival. Edwina Johnson, Festival Director, has gathered more than 140 influential writers and thinkers for our delight and discovery.

The evening before, I walk the beach to the sound of drumming. Sunset turns the sky magenta; darkening waves creep up the sand. People crowd the foreshore absorbing this magical atmosphere.

On Friday morning cars and shuttle buses deposit devotees at the Festival site. Monstrous white marquees with their cluster of chairs begin to fill. Coffee aromas attract a queue. Creative sculptures dot the landscape. One looks like a sandstone Shaun the Sheep but my favourite is Two Dogs in a House on a Boat in the Water by Daniel Clemmett. A colourful metal masterpiece of welded car parts.

My first highlight is Kate Grenville’s interview about her latest book, One Life My Mother’s Story. Kate’s mother wanted to be a teacher but her own mother forced her into pharmacy. Originally this was going to be a family story but following interviews and examining her mother’s diaries, Kate realised it needed to be a bigger book.

Kate Grenville

Creating Drama in Fiction is a popular panel featuring Sofie Laguna, Hannie Rayson and Michael Robotham. Sofie, winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award, says an immediately engaging voice is vital. Hannie, a playwright and screenwriter, often opens her laptop to discover stuff has happened to her characters overnight. For Michael it’s compelling characters. He asks, ‘What is the worst I can do to them?’ Michael’s new thriller, Close Your Eyes, features his series character, a psychologist, Joe O’Loughlin.

Hannie Rayson 

Michael Robotham 

Sofie Laguna

Ex-politicians write books as well. Over 2000 people assemble in and around a marquee to hear Julia Gillard in conversation with Clare Wright. Julia hopes her memoir, My Story, might encourage young women to enter politics.

Sunny but cool, it’s time to hit the food queues and then another session. Ramona Koval is speaking with Mia Freedman about Anxiety and Creativity. Mia has sought help for anxiety and has written about it online. Ramona has spent an obsessive 15 years working on Bloodhound: Searching for my Father.

Ramona Koval

After reading one of Joan London’s novels, I’m keen to hear her promote The Golden Age. She wrote about a hospital in the 1950s in this novel. Her companion was to be Helen Garner, who is unable to be here due to illness. Robert Drewe, a fellow Western Australian steps in. He and Joan discovered they shared the same horrid primary school teacher.

Joan London

The Power of the Journalist panel of Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Hedley Thomas and Kate McClymont, provides amazing insight into the process of investigative journalism. Kate says when she receives a legal threat she knows she is onto something.

A final delight is hearing Don Watson, a bushologist and Tim Low, a naturalist describing our landscape beyond suburbia. In The Bush, Don’s recent work, is a plea to regenerate and look after our land.

Don Watson

Sadly, our three-day bonanza of speakers with their scintillating ideas is over too soon. A trip to Byron is already on the agenda for the twentieth Festival in 2016.

 Two Dogs in a House on a Boat in the Water by Daniel Clemmett.

Photos by Robyn McWilliam, 2015.