My life as a children's author while juggling being a mum, a wife and professional volunteer. (Sometimes it gets complicated)

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Byron Writers Festival 5-7 August 2016

Happy 20th Birthday to the Byron Writers Festival! 


The festival celebrated rain, hail and shine (more about that weather below!) across three incredible days full of literature and discussions. The amazing lineup had something for everyone from politics and architecture, to education and children's literature. And so much more!

Yamba


Before our family joined in the celebrations, we took a detour to Yamba for a few rest days. We had never been to Yamba before and discovered a lovely coastal town. The breathtaking rock pools that appear in and around the rocky platforms beside their main beach were breathtaking. My photos below don't truly show how awesome they really are. Each rock pool was different - full of plants and animals - all slowly swaying or moving and enjoying the divine Yamba sunshine.


We found crabs, sea snails, fish, kangaroos and a python while in Yamba. Yes - python! And we heard so many birds. I don't think I have heard so many different birds in the one place as we did while out on the golf course.


After spending four days walking on the beach, exploring rock pools, digging in the sand, reading, playing golf, shopping, eating ice cream, and swimming in the pool, we moved further north to Byron Bay on the Wednesday before the festival. Little did we know we were being followed by an East Coast low.

 

Byron Bay

Just before midnight on Wednesday night, that relentless East Coast low hit, and it hit hard. The winds were fierce and I wondered whether the roof on our accommodation would remain where it was.

I was sure the festival marquees would have been set up and wondered whether they has survived. I had been to the BWF (Byron Writers Festival) twice before and had experienced the most pleasant weather. I have lovely memories of sitting in soft, grassy patches sunning myself while being enthralled by the conversations going on around me.

The schools day program had been moved indoors Thursday morning while the rest of us remained housebound. I was sure busy bees where assessing the damage on the festival site in between heavy downpours during the day.

Thursday night's weather, the eve of the festival, wasn't much better, as the winds proceeded to double check whether our roof was secured. If the marquees survived Wednesday night, how could they survive another night now resting on waterlogged grounds?

And this is what greeted all the festival volunteers and organisers Friday morning before the official started at 9am:


Photos courtesy of Jesse Blackadder

Many hands pitched in (got to love community spirit) to repitch marquees and reassemble chair rows ready to house thousands of people over the next three days. Water had to be pumped from the site also. And thank goodness because the showers kept rolling by persistently Friday and Saturday.


 A rainbow appeared just as we entered the gates Friday morning

But enough about the weather. What about those speakers, discussions and books? Here is my recap of Friday and Sunday. I didn't go on Saturday. My husband attended while I celebrated my birthday with our children. We went shopping instead - bliss!

Friday: 5th August

The first session I attended was with Annabel Crabb in conversation with Chris Hanly. I had wanted to hear her speak for so long. I loved hearing about some of the stories and secrets behind her series, 'Kitchen Cabinet', and her insights into current political issues. She is such an intelligent and well-spoken lady.


The 'Writing for Children' panel was very insightful and included literature legends Anna Fienberg, Damon Young, and Nick Earls (replacing Claire Zorn) and was facilitated by Ashley Hay.


I just had to attend the 'Growing Up' panel discussion between David Burton, Magda Szubanski, Rosie Waterland, which was facilitated by Mandy Nolan. This topic got heavy at times but Mandy kept the mood well-balanced with perfectly timed witty comments and questions.


Then I snuggled in to listen to Michael Leunig, Briohny Doyle and Russell Eldridge (replacing Ceridwen Dovey) talk to Jeni Caffin about the wonderful world of animals. Lots of chatter about ducks, chickens and horses.

Education is a passionate topic for me and it was a delight to hear Lucy Clark, John Marsden, and Gabrielle Stroud discuss their views with Julie Baird. Every child certainly does matter!

The last panel I attended, a conversation between Tim Fischer and Jo Coglan (very out of my comfort zone), concluded an enlightening and insightful day as the heavens opened up once more.


Sunday, 7th August


It's Kids Big Day Out time! The sun was shining, the water was draining, the mud was settling and the kids were excited.


Philip Wilcox, 2015/2016 Poetry Slam Champion, opened the program with some funny stories to get the atmosphere pumping.


Anna Fienberg shared Tashi stories and secrets. That little guy goes everywhere with her :)


Pat Davern, former Grinspoon band member, sang songs and read from his new picture book, 'Alexander the Elephant'.


Damon Young was next but I slipped away to listen to Tristan Banks, John Marsden and Anna Fienberg discuss their school visits linked to the festival and the new festival bus that will help bring authors and illustrators to more isolated children in the area.


Kate Forsyth told the true stories behind her series, 'The Impossible Quest'.


Tristan Bancks shared stories about exploding chickens and then proceeded to ask audience members to actually blow a few up on stage. Not real one of course ;)


I have to say Nick Falk was the funniest guy of the festival. He had us all in stitches as he read and performed his book, 'How To Stop An Alien Invasion Using Shakespeare'. He was rolling around the stage, legs in the air and smelling his stinky socks while we were mesmerised. Funny stuff!

Tony Flowers just quietly illustrated behind him, ignoring all the fuss, redrawing images from the book. He is so clever!


A visit to a festival celebrating children's literature isn't complete without lining up to get books signed. My daughter met Tony and Nick while my son couldn't wait to get his new adventure book signed by Kate. (They have both read them before I could even get this blog post done!)



By 2pm the Kids Big Day Out was over, the signing lines had disappeared, and it was time for tired children to go home.




With all our holiday plans now completed, we proceeded to pack our bags and the car ready for our long drive home the next day.

Since we moved to Byron Bay, we had not had true warm Winter weather until we woke up to drive home Monday. Monday was glorious! But at least all the busy bees behind the festival scenes could pack up in fine weather while all the participants cleaned mud from their boots.


It certainly is a festival I won't forget and I'm sure thousands of other people feel the same - and for the right reasons. And as we turned the festival visit into a family holiday, we've come home refreshed and ready to re-enter our busy lives.

Congratulations to all board members, organisers, volunteers and the many helping hands who helped  present a wonderful festival. Without all of you, the festival would not have been possible no matter what the weather did. And when the weather threw its absolute worst at you, you stood strong and got on with the job! I'll be back.


Look what I found on the shelves of Collins Booksellers in Byron Bay!