Writers' festival defies words
IMAGINE a place where the sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing and all around you people are chatting, listening, exchanging ideas, hanging out and laughing.
At outgoing director Jeni Caffin's last Byron Bay Writers Festival, which wound up on Sunday evening, even the capricious weather gods were kind, and on the whole the various panellists, chairs and audiences were a great mix.
There was just enough controversy to keep the gossip going – even if it is hard to imagine Blanche d'Alpuget angrily attempting to pull Mungo MacCallum's beard; or Mungo attracting the wrath of his female audience when he suggested that Julia Gillard had a shown a certain private part of her anatomy to the mining industry.
One of the best things about writers' festivals is the chance to find out about the person behind the words.
For me this was best expressed by the Los Angeles Times war correspondent Megan Stack. Her frank conversation with Kerry O'Brien was a highlight of the festival, as she spoke about the ‘addiction of adrenalin' when reporting from war zones; the shock of witnessing morgues full of the heads and feet of suicide bombers; and the frustration of trying to find out the ‘truth' behind acts of aggression.
Her book, Every Man in this Village is a Liar, which explores all this in the most amazingly poetic language, sold an astounding 200 copies in the Dymocks tent.
The only catastrophe was the sad appearance of Madam Lash, aka Gretel Pinniger, who proved that no matter how entertaining a scandalous life of sex, art and bondage (to use the title of Sam Everingham's book about her) may have been when she was young, it has not lasted the test of time.
However, there were massive doses of laughter on hand to help heal the moments that had not quite worked: Terry Denton wowed kids and grown-ups alike; Tony Martin reduced grown men to tears; playwright Hannie Rayson showed a talent for acting which suggested she should think about writing herself a part; and Kathy Lette ran through her usual routine, but was so professional and amusing that we all forgave her.
Jeni Caffin has done a fantastic job with the festival for the past four years, as Jill Eddington did before her. I hope that as the incoming director I can follow in their footsteps, and look forward to seeing you all at the 2011 Byron Bay Writers Festival.