Writers Will Turn over a New Leaf Writing the Future of the Book; Format's Not Important; Writing, Reading Are

The Northern Star (Lismore, Australia), July 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

Writers Will Turn over a New Leaf Writing the Future of the Book; Format's Not Important; Writing, Reading Are


Byline: Helen Hawkes

BOOKS. That's what it's all about. But it's not only what it's about.

For the thousands of people who flock to the Byron Bay Writers' Festival it's also about cultural trends, philosophy, politics and a chance to hang out with, pose with or press flesh with other literary types including their idols.

No wonder, then, that the pressure is on festival director Jonathan Parsons to produce a program with all the thrills and spills required to captivate a discerning crowd.

aThe role of director is a balancing act,a says Jonathan.

aThe festival is now in its 16th year and we want to honour that history while also coming up with something fresh and surprising.a

Besides being a juggler and a magician, the other quality you need to be festival director is diplomacy, says Jonathan.

This year it seems likely that he's managed to compile a festival program that will keep most of the people happy, maybe even ecstatic, most of the time.

aFor the more traditional literature audience we are bringing the consummate writers, with an emphasis on Australian writing in particular.

aOne of the things we haven't changed is the strong Australian focus.a

Those authors will include author of two books of short stories and five novels, Gail Jones; two-time winner of The Miles Franklin Literary Award, Alex Miller; and author of four novels including Animal People and Love & Hunger, Charlotte Wood.

Australia's best poets, including John Tranter, who has published more than 20 collections of verse, also feature in this year's literary line-up.

aThere is also a strong political dimension to the program, with special guests including former West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop talking about Australia's political future and truth in politics.

aThat's sure to hit a chord with audiences,a says Jonathan.

And let's not forget the international authors, among them Andrea Hirata, one of Indonesia's most popular and successful contemporary writers; Katherine Boo, a staff writer at The New Yorker whose reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize; and Kiran Nagarkar, bilingual novelist, playwriter, film, drama, social critic and screenplay writer from Bombay.

For popularists, there is everything from Frank Bongiorno, Michael Kirby, Nicole Moore and Bernard Salt talking about The Sex Lives of Australians to Mandy Nolan and Fiona O'Loughlin discussing the Bad Mothers' Club.

Jonathan says the calibre of children's and young adults writers, from John Marsden to Morris Gleitzman, will not disappoint.

aMany are looking at themes that are of just as much interest to an adult as a children's audience.

aMy approach to programming this year's festival was deliberately eclectic.

aI wanted to cater for as broad an audience as possible and provide a lot of ways people can engage.a

Like authors involved in the festival, Jonathan is passionate about the future of reading.

aWhat we are seeing is a transformation of the delivery form,a he says.

aBut people reading is not changing, they are just doing so in other spaces and forums.

aI don't think we will ever see the book disappear. It's just that, in the future, we may curl up with an iPad.a

Leanne Hall, an author and a children's literature specialist at an independent book store

I think for some people reading will continue to be a solitary, immersive and meditative past-time - one person curled up on the couch with a well-thumbed paperback. But for others, reading will become something that is done in a multiplicity of formats and on a multiplicity of devices. I think reading will become a more social activity, whether via online reading and book networks or in real-life book clubs. Word of mouth will be the most important way for a reader to connect with what they will like most in a sea of content. …

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