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The Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2010 – a Gathering of Great Australian Writers and Thinkers. Oh, and Justin Sheedy.

4 July 2010



As a first-time author, to have been picked for the official program of the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival, I feel luckier than a… luckier than a… well, than a great big galloping Lucky thing.

Festival Director by day – ace crime-fighter by night – Jeni Caffin, writes, “We’ve taken as our motto this year words without walls and the enormous range of writers certainly contains some of the biggest thinkers and writers today.”  This said, she’s allowing me in anyway.

Jeni Caffin

One of the most exciting events (some would say the most exciting) on the Australian Literary Calendar, this year’s Festival features a veritable Metric Shitload of influential identities from the Australian literary and media scene. …Oh, and there’s a few journalistic types in there as well – some newcomer by the name of Kerry O’Brien, they don’t think he’ll amount to much…  To think, between the 6th and 8th of August (Workshops from 2nd August), I’ll be in actual gawking distance of individuals whose mastery of words I’ve so long admired, enjoyed, and humbly aspired to.

Megan Stack

Festival Guests of Honour include 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Megan Stack, war correspondent, Moscow bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and author of Every Man in This Village is a Liar: An Education in War.  Megan will feature ‘In Conversation’ with that Kerry O’Brien fellow.  Should be a beauty.

Oz trouper of stage and screen, William McInnes, is also way up there.  I  just thoroughly enjoyed Part 1 of 4 of The Making of Modern Australia – ABC TV,  Thursday nights, 8:30, based on his recent book release to be featured at the Festival.  Great stuff and, of course, subject matter central to my own passions…

William McInnes

On this year’s Program, there’s just so much to be part of, to learn from:  In chronological order, my personal pick of Events is as follows…

Friday 6 August, 12pm: The mind & times of Reg Mombassa – Literary Lunch with Reg and Murray Waldrenat ‘Italian at Pacific’, Beach Hotel, Byron Bay.  Go, Reg.

Friday 2:30pm: Bodice ripping: writing sex and intimacy (well, nothing much I can pick up there but I thought I’d saunter in) – Panel with Kathy Lette, Laura Bloom, Kim Falconer and Krissy Kneen, chaired by Rosemary Sorensen in the Macquarie Marquee, North Beach Festival Site.

Monica Trapaga

Saturday 7 August, 8am: Breakfast with Monica Trapaga at St Elmo’s, Fletcher St, Byron Bay.  I’ll be staying with my parents who live near Byron – Mum always says I should eat a good breakfast, especially the morning after the night before and, let’s not deny it, in this case the night before will be the Festival Opening Night Party (cue sound effect: Bottles tinkling…).

Tony Martin

Saturday 11:45am: 30 Minutes with Tony Martin – live readings and musings from one of my comic heroes.  Macquarie Marquee.  …I also like Tony Martin.

Saturday 1:30pm: Truth and nothing but the truth: getting history right – Panel with Mike Carlton, Michael Cathcart, Sam Everingham, chaired by somebody called Mungo MacCallum… (?)  Blue Marquee, Festival Site.

Kathy Lette

Saturday 5pm: Meet Kathy Lette – Byron Theatre, Byron Community Centre, Jonson St, Byron Bay.  Well maybe it’s just me but I can’t think of any sane, heterosexual man who wouldn’t like to meet Ms Lette…

Saturday 8pm: The comedy hour. Or two – Up-close, live and personal insights by comics Lily Bragge, John Doyle (another comic hero of mine), Tony Martin, Tim Pye and Akmal Saleh on the voodoo that they do so well.  Byron Theatre.

John Doyle

Sunday 8 August, 1pm: Clever, clever men: writing satire for performance – Panel featuring John Doyle, Tony Martin, Tim Pye, chaired by Jacquline Woodman.  All I can say is, the first three words of the event title here stand as an example of the English language at its most accurate.  Macquarie Marquee.

As for my own involvement in the Festival (and yes, I am still what is described in medical terminology as ‘Stoked‘), I’ll be taking part on two Panels as follows…

Sunday 10:45am – 12pm: You can’t pick ‘em but you can pick ‘em clean: families as fodder. (For Writing, presumably…)  Here I’ll be talking with Tony Martin, Susan Maushart and Brian Thacker in the Festival site’s SCU Marquee, panel chaired by publishing industry czarina, Irina Dunn.

Tony Martin has recently published A Nest of Occasionals, following the success of his first book, Lolly Scramble.  Unless you’ve been living on Pluto till lately, you’ll know that Tony is one of Australia’s best and most intelligent comic talents, the man who brought us Bargearse, who has been making us laugh and think since the D-Generation and who will continue to do so into the future of what he and Mick Malloy ever referred to as ‘this Wide Brown Land of ours’, though, it seemed to me, as in ‘brown’ with Dali-esque overtones and we all know what Dali was obsessed with, don’t we.  But seriously, folks, it’s no exaggeration when I say that Lolly Scramble and Nest contain some of the most resonantly funny passages I’ve read in recent times, especially when Martin portrays all that is so very right with all that goes so very wrong in the ‘Theatre’ of life.

Susan Maushart brings us The Winter of Our Disconnect, a hilarious and insightful read about how she and her family unplugged themselves from our modern techno reality – and survived (!).  I assume that our discussion may touch on the contrast between family life now and my own experience of family life in the 1970s where, aside from black-and-white TV, there was no technology…

Brian Thacker, intrepid travel-writer extraordinaire, will be talking about his latest release, I’m Not Eating Any of that Foreign Muck.  Though rabidly searching for this title of late, I had no joy as – even now – it’s in the process of being Reprinted, the single word that every writer lives to hear.  But found a copy on Ebay, it’s excellent: Travels with his old dad on the Costa Del Concrete – hilarious reading.  I spoke to Brian and he’s clearly a regulation Top Bloke as he said nice things about my own book and invited me to share an ale with him on Festival Opening Night.

Sunday 4-5pm: Simpler times: boyhoods of the past. For this panel I’ll be chatting with veteran authors Peter Skrzynecki and Rodney Hall, panel chaired by Dr Phillip Edmonds, a prolific force in Australian academic and literary circles and founder of Wet Ink, magazine champion of new writing.

In Skrzynecki’s latest work, Boys of Summer, he paints a portrait of childhood in the suburbs of 1950s Australia.  Seen through the eyes of a Polish immigrant child, his portrait is one of both haunting beauty and profound tragedy.  One of the most rewarding reads I’ve had in ages.

Hall’s Popeye Never Told You is his own story of growing up in the at times surreal world of wartime Britain.  He tells it with the involuntary objectivity of a very young child.  How he captures life’s fleeting moments of perfection.  Or rather, how, being what they are, they can never be ‘captured’.

My own more recent story in Goodbye Crackernight seems, by contrast to the above accounts, one of an idyllic childhood, though the 1970s Australia I describe had changed little from the 1950s Australia of Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs.  That said, just as I was growing up, so was Australia – a country on the very verge of turning from a Whitebread Anglo post-war society into the multicultural Oz we know and love today.

So there we are, folks, and it will all be covered by ABC North Coast Radio who’ll be broadcasting live from the Festival Site.

Oh oh oh – almost forgot!  Byron Bay Writers’ Festival Workshops!

My personal pick is Tuesday 3 August, Breaking through: getting your first novel published, with Amy Barker – 1:30pm, SCU Room, Byron Community Centre:  Yep, you gottit… They say you get your first book published after your second book and Goodbye Crackernight is my second.  Calling all Major Publishing Company representatives who just happen to be passing through Byron Bay in the first week of August! I’ll be the one loitering around with that hungry, desperate look of having his FIRST bloody NOVEL slavishly polished but profoundly Unpublished.

Till August!  Click here to view the whole Festival Program.

Newcomer, Kerry O’Brien

Author Justin Sheedy

Author Justin Sheedy

My sincere thanks to Jeni Caffin and All at the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre for allowing me this marvellous opportunity.  Be sure to check out their website at the link above for news, book reviews and Festival updates.

Justin Sheedy

July 2010.





Click HERE to see all Justin’s articles.


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