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Article  •  5 April 2024


What are writers' festivals like? A book publisher shares

Go behind the scenes at Adelaide Writers' Week with publisher Meredith Curnow.

Adelaide Writers' Week takes place outdoors in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden under shades slung between trees (it was thirty-plus degrees each day) and most events are free. You can wander between the three sessions taking place simultaneously and take in a bit of each if that is your desire. And there is plenty to choose from.

As someone whose professional and personal life is filled with books and writers, the highlights for me are always the discovery of a writer whose work I don’t know and whose session sets my mind sparking.

French writer Edouard Louis was fascinating, and I now want to consume everything he has written. Tasmanian writer Maggie Mackellar’s session, too, was amazing. I found that I had shed a few tears without realising. Loved it.

Classicist Mary Beard speaking with ex-BBC director Jonty Claypole was also wonderful. He knew her so well that he could tease and push her to be even more forthright and revealing than she usually is.

The events that I particularly enjoy at festivals are when unexpected people are brought together in interviews and panels, and they work – which doesn’t always happen.

This year, Anna Funder was joined by British historian and writer Sarah Watling, whose most recent book is Tomorrow Perhaps the Future: Following Writers and Rebels in the Spanish Civil War. The session was wonderful. They had enormous respect for each other, knew each other’s books and took the audience to fascinating places.

Panels can be competitive spaces, with writers trying to get their pieces said in the allotted time. Many that I saw were chaired by ABC broadcasters such as Natasha Mitchell and brilliantly managed. A particular favourite was called ‘Straight Talk’ and featured Richard Denniss from The Australia Institute, climate scientist and writer Joelle Gergis, academic and former Greek politician Yanis Varoufakis and writer and national treasure, Tom Keneally. Impossible to predict, but it worked! Incredible ideas were put forth and discussed; it was invigorating.

Each writers' festival I have attended has its own distinct personality and ambition, often influenced by geographic location. Some, such as Adelaide, are predominantly free. For others, like Byron Bay, you buy a day pass and cram in as many sessions as possible.

Most have a mix of free and charged events for which you purchase individual tickets. The festival atmosphere is important. There will be all sorts of hospitality available and, of course, a big bookshop where readers can buy the books of everyone they have heard from.

There are now a myriad of regional festivals, and the ones I have attended have been wonderful. Incredibly friendly readers attend, and writers away from home are able to relax.

Festivals offer a satisfying experience for writers – or those who want to write – and for readers, who are the main beneficiaries of festivals.

I highly recommend attendance. Even if you don’t purchase any tickets, turn up, consume some of the vibe and free sessions and maybe buy a book. I think you will head home happy and stimulated.

Recommended reading

Change Edouard Louis

The major new novel from the international bestselling author Édouard Louis - about social class, transformation, and the perils of leaving the past behind.

Buy now

Graft Maggie MacKellar

A gorgeously written reflection, set in Tasmania, on motherhood, farming, nature and home.

Buy now

Wifedom Anna Funder

A blazing, genre-bending masterpiece from one of the most inventive writers of our time.

Buy now

Tomorrow Perhaps the Future Sarah Watling

In our age of political divisions, this portrait of the women outsiders who took part in Spanish Civil War asks questions of solidarity and resistance

Buy now

Technofeudalism Yanis Varoufakis

The #1 bestselling economist opens our eyes to the new power that is reshaping our lives and the world.

Capitalism is dead. Welcome to technofeudalism.

Buy now

Fanatic Heart Tom Keneally

A retelling of the life and exploits of Irish patriot John Mitchel, with a particular focus on his time in exile on Van Diemen’s Land.

Buy now

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