September 25 - October 1, 2022: Issue 556


Byron Bay Writers Festival 2022 
by Robyn McWilliam

Through the trunks of a pandanus palm, I spot a surfer riding the curl of a wave. The differing blues of sea and sunny sky add to my sense of exhilaration at being back in Byron Bay awaiting the Writers Festival on 26-28 August.

For two years the pandemic has robbed literary lovers of exposure to writers and thinkers talking directly about their work. Artistic Director, Zoe Pollock, has gathered together emerging and established talent under the theme Radical Hope. White marquees spread over the paddock behind Elements of Byron resort.

Flags flutter in the breeze and sculptures, strategically placed, enhance the atmosphere. My favourite is a creature clinging to a bucking bull. Bodhisattva and the Bull by Allen Horstmanshof explores conflict to the point where Balance is achieved.

I attend the session on The Power of Rage. Jess Hill, a Walkley-award winning journalist and author of See What You Made Me Do, is the star of the panel. I believe that book to be the best explanation of domestic violence including an understanding of coercive control. The discussion revolves on changing the focus from the victim to the perpetrator.

Jess Hill

Another intriguing panel comprises Paul Callaghan, Christine Jackman and Indira Naidoo. All three explore how life or grief has overwhelmed them enforcing a slower pace. Time alone in nature and embracing silence are two key features of survival. Naidoo’s latest book is The Space Between Stars. While Callaghan’s inspiring story of finding culture is The Dreaming Path.

Indira Naidoo

Hannah Kent is bright and bubbly in her interview with Susan Wyndham. Kent’s account of Devotion, her latest novel, focuses on a queer relationship between two girls on a ship out to South Australia and early settlement in a religious community.

Hannah Kent 

On a Saturday session, Surviving Domestic Violence, Jane Caro’s articulate voice promotes her novel, The Mother. This is a riveting read which generates lively discussions at book clubs.

Jane Caro

Bryan Brown is a festival favourite with his acting legacy of 80 films. He’s turned to fiction with linked stories entitled, Sweet Jimmy. The massive audience explodes with laughter when he tells his interviewer, ‘I’m not into writing for the money but the festivals.’

Brown is also on a Sunday panel, A Life of Crime, with Trent Dalton and Steve Toltz. For some, their upbringing in working-class suburbs provides a plethora of material. Dalton is named the festival sweetheart for his latest book, Love Stories.

Bryan Brown

The panel, Scratching Society’s Underbelly, chaired by Matthew Condon features Kate McClymont and Mark McKenna. This session aims at examining how criminal activity affects society. Kate says her ASIC searches always provide a thrill of excitement. With her nine Walkley Awards as an investigative journalist, Kate appears fearless in uncovering criminals.

Kate McClymont 

In a session on Female Desire, Jessie Cole and Nikki Gemmell discuss how trauma affects relationships. Both had a parent who suicided. Gemmell’s parents had a bad divorce when she was ten. Dissolve is her recent memoir while Cole’s is titled, Desire.

Nikki Gemmell 

Jessie Cole

A Sunday panel sees Jess Hill and David Lesser address the question of overcoming patriarchy. Lesser’s daughter told him, ‘Shut up, listen, stand beside and behind us and bear witness.’ He learnt a lot. The shaming and bullying of young boys is not a script for masculinity. Lesser says it has led to self-harm and the pandemic of violence against women. Jess is currently working on a book dealing with patriarchy.

This is just a taste of the festival’s extensive program. Stories full of inspiration, hope and change will no doubt draw a throng of book lovers to Byron Bay Writers Festival in 2023.

Bodhisattva and the Bull by Allen Horstmanshof. All photographs by Robyn McWilliam