A beginner’s guide to the Byron Writers Festival

21 July 2017 by Sam Smith

Tell us a bit about the Festival?

The Byron Writers Festival is a three-day event that brings writers and thinkers from many walks of life to Byron Bay. It’s set up a bit like a music festival, with six stages that you can move between as you please, featuring panel discussions, debates, conversations and Q&A’s with Australian and international guests. All of the speakers are writers of some kind, but their works span a huge variety of topics – they are artists, environmentalists, journalists, philosophers, musicians and activists, as well as novelists of course.

As such, the topics they discuss are also quite varied. I love fiction, and especially Australiana, so I seek out sessions with authors of that ilk and always go away feeling inspired. I get along to a few politics style debates, and I like to be amazed by leading figures speaking about curious discoveries I’ve never heard of.

Because the festival is not just about writing or reading fiction, there are heaps of great panels to go to with friends who don’t necessarily read what you read, such as those featuring well-loved musos, poets or artists.

Do you need to be a writer to enjoy Byron Writers Festival? 

Definitely not. The festival is for readers of all kinds, for music lovers and art lovers alike. I think a lot of people go to listen to timely discussions about the state of our world and the environment, to hear journalists and foreign correspondents unpack some of the issues we hear or read about in the media, and to find out about new and innovative ideas. It’s a good place to meet other curious-minded people, and to fall in love with new books. But if you are a writer, you won’t be disappointed – the program always includes a healthy dose of literary luminaries talking about the secrets of their craft.

Do you need to go to all three days?

No. A 3-Day Pass will give you access to all sessions at the Festival from Friday 4 to Sunday 6 August, which is a nice experience because you can dip in and out of sessions as you please. But if you can’t go for the whole three days, or if there’s one day you are particularly interested in, you can buy a 1-Day Pass for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. There’s also a series of Feature Events, which are individually ticketed events outside the main Festival Program in venues across Byron Bay and the wider region. Plus there’s a few free events.

What are your top tips for this year’s Festival that you think other young people would enjoy?

I’m looking forward to hearing Hannah Kent speaking about her latest book, as well as how she tackles writing, in a session called A Sense of Place. And I’m keen to hear a session called Stories of Nature’s Great Connectors, which is about the hidden social lives of trees. I’ll be rallying my mates to come to the Rails with me on Thursday night to have a beer and see Clementine Ford with other young guns, discussing ‘My Most Controversial Thought’ (that one’s free). And lastly, I’ll be heading along to a Feature Event called Bedtime Stories, at Byron Theatre, where Sarah Blasko’s live music will punctuate storytelling by John Safran, Hannah Kent and others.

Sam Smith