It’s raining words. Hallelujah!

The wharves at Walsh Bay, the most excellent venue of the Sydney Writers Festival.

That’s the entrance to the Harbour Bridge in the background

It always rains when I’m in Sydney. Always.

My most recent visit on the weekend was no exception (and yet Melbourne gets the bad reputation for weather…go figure.)

But it didn’t matter, because I was there for my annual trip north to spend a weekend with M and partake of a little literary debauchery at the Sydney Writers Festival (yes, I’m still refusing to use the apostrophe…it’s a festival OF writers, it doesn’t belong to them…next we’ll be having the Melbourne Foods’ and Wines’ Festival. But I digress).

Anyway, as usual it lived up to my expectations. I continue to love the SWF just a little bit more than the Melbourne Writers Festival (since it moved to Fed Square anyway).

Some of the highlights of the weekend:

The session entitled, Let the games begin. Three passionate readers – James Bradley, Sophie Cunningham and Sarah L’Estrange were given the task of reading Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career on a Kindle, an iPad and an iPhone respectively. Their insights into the pros and cons of each method and the effects each had on their reading of the text were fascinating. My love affair with the idea of the iPad deepens. I was particularly enamoured with the idea that you can highlight parts of text as you read and save them to a bookmark function. So often when I read in bed I wish I had paper and pen to note something, particularly something I want to refer to at bookclub…but the moment passes, I don’t note it and then it is forgotten. I think I would use this bookmarking function often. I did however, think of a downside to the iPad. How would I get an author to sign my copy of their book if it was downloaded to an iPad? Perhaps there is a need for an app which allows an author to electronically sign the frontispiece on screen?

We attended the Emergency Town Hall Meeting on climate change, Have we all been conned? The panel was a veritable stellar cast of commentators on the issue of climate change: Bill McKibben, Ross Garnaut, Clive Hamilton and Tim Flannery, but I came away feeling a little disappointed that a dissenting voice had not been included, or even an economic rationalist to discuss the impact of an ETS. A debate could have been perhaps more interesting than a sermon – especially when it seemed the commentators were preaching to a hall full of the converted.

The one book I bought this year (yes, I really and truly restrained myself) was Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam. This book was awarded The Age Book of the Year last year, and I was won over by Amsterdam’s obvious intelligence, charm and somewhat self-deprecating wit at the session on first novels, My Brilliant Debut. Yes, I got it signed. And of course, we were first in the queue. M hasn’t lost any of her touch.

A session called Extreme Journalism could equally have been entitled Freak me out totally, why don’t you. Canadian science journalists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, authors of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, explained how they locked themselves in an apartment and exposed themselves to the synthetic chemical toxins that surround us in our daily life, then measured the effects on their bodies. It was scary stuff, especially when they proceeded to unpack a shopping bag of items readily available in Australia that contained some of their headline nasties…and I recognised several of the items from my own cupboards. Luckily, Danish journalist, Lone Frank, author of Mindfield (which documents her own brain experiments to see where brain neurological science is headed), was a calming influence to my rising level of hysteria. She pointed out that just because measurable levels of synthetic chemicals in our bodies are rising does not prove a causal link between them and health outcomes – particularly in light of an increasing mean life expectancy age and better quality of health than previous generations. I checked my bathroom for Colgate Total when I got home, though…just to be sure. I’d like my toothpaste to be triclosan free, thank you very much.

Our last session of the weekend was Battlelines. Tony Abbott talked to Annabel Crabb about his ideas, and what they mean for the Liberal Party. He began the session with a humorous nod to the controversy during the week over his comments on the 7.30 Report when he said, “‘I know politicians are going to be judged on everything they say, but sometimes, in the heat of discussion, you go a little bit further than you would if it was an absolutely calm, considered, prepared, scripted remark, which is one of the reasons why the statements that need to be taken absolutely as gospel truth is those carefully prepared scripted remarks.” Opening the prepared speech part of his session, he said something to the effect that as we had all paid good money to hear him speak, he ought to make sure that all he said was prepared and considered. Regardless of what you think of the man and his politics, he was an entertaining speaker, and I found it refreshing that a politician has actually taken pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and written down a manifesto of what he believes (Battlelines is a book in which Abbott provides an analysis of the way forward for the Liberal Party.) A couple of the more memorable quotes I took from the session were: “writing is the best way to clarify thinking,” and “ideas matter, and the words in which those ideas are expressed matter.”

It was an interesting end to a three day indulgence. Twelve sessions. A mix of fiction and non-fiction authors. Toss in a few cups of coffee, some meals on the run and time to browse the Festival bookstore, and you have a most satisfactory weekend. M and I also managed to run into an old friend from Uni days, who I haven’t seen in about 15 years…yet I spotted him as we passed in a crowd.

I always come away from the Writers Festivals recharged, with a mind over-filled with thoughts and ideas, and a “to be read” list that stretches into the next century. Of course, it all wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without my partner in crime, M. Thanks for being such excellent company!

Until Melbourne…


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