Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Canberra Writers Festival 2019 Recap

Just when you thought it was safe to return to my blog, I’m at it again, talking about this year’s Canberra Writers Festival. However, if you are like me you are intrigued about what other readers and festival goers like, so I thought I’d share what the Canberra Writers Festival sent us subscribers.

But, I’ll start with my 7 posts, and their popularity (by number of hits):

Interesting. The two which specifically featured local authors and/or local subject matter were the most popular, despite my international readership. Maybe some local authors shared the link and a lot of hits were local? Anyhow, these were followed by the two most literary sessions I attended – Tara June Winch and Brian Castro. This doesn’t surprise me, given my “brand” here. And then the last three, which had about two-thirds the hits of the top post, are a mixed bag of, generally, more popular subjects.

Before moving to the Canberra Writers Festival’s report, I’d like to point you to a post written by one of this year’s New Territory bloggers, Shelley Burr. She wrote on the Wonder Women panel (which featured Australian historical fiction novelists.) You’ll have to read her post to find out who they were!

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Now, were my most popular posts reflected in the most popular sessions attended? Sort of. The Canberra Writers Festival wrote that the “Top Ten” sessions “include”:

  • Simon Winchester in conversation with Richard Fidler
  • Capital Culture
  • Never Never
  • Defining Moments – True Crime Panel
  • For Whom the Pell Tolls
  • You Daughters of Freedom
  • Best of the Best: Book Club Favourites
  • Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing
  • Is Hate Our New Normal?
  • David & Margaret

I’m not sure how to interpret this, because they say “the top ten include“, but there are ten here, so I’m presuming these are the top ten? Let’s presume they are, and that they are in order (though I’m surprised that the session featuring Behrouz Boochani from Manus Island is not in the list.)

Anyhow, certainly Simon Winchester was in a 300-seat theatre and was sold out. Capital Culture was sold out too, but in a smaller space. I’m intrigued that three of the sessions I chose were in the top four of the Top Ten, though what that says, I’ll leave to you. It’s interesting, though, that the most popular session, by this list, was not my most popular post. A couple of other sessions listed here – such as Never Never, about “the role that the bush plays in our collective imagination” – were ones I had to miss because of clashes. I didn’t mind missing You daughters of freedom because I had heard Clare Wright speak about her book last year.

It’s clear that the Festival’s “political” slant works well for the organising committee, with sessions on George Pell (including David Marr), Gender (including Gillian Triggs), and Hate (also including Gillian Triggs) all being popular.

The Canberra Writers Festival email also told us the best-selling books at the festival:

  • Capital culture (ed. by Suzanne Kiraly) (I bought this)
  • On disruption (Katharine Murphy) (I have given this as a gift)
  • Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell (Louise Milligan)
  • On patriotism (Paul Daley)
  • Brain changer (Felice Jacka)
  • Unbreakable threads (Emma Adams)
  • Just add love (Irris Makler)
  • On indignation (Don Watson)
  • Plots and prayers (Niki Savva)
  • Leading lines (Lucinda Holdforth)
  • You daughters of freedom (Clare Wright) (I have reviewed)

Hmmm … I haven’t heard of some of these, but it’s interesting, given the signing line I saw, that Exactly isn’t listed here. Given there were different booksellers at different sites – including, the NLA bookshop, Harry Hartog and Dymocks – it’s possible that this list does not concatenate across all the booksellers? Anyhow, it’s also interesting that the little “On…” books published by Melbourne University Press are doing well. I recently posted on Stan Grant’s On identity, from the same series.

As for my purchases, I am way out of step. Besides Capital culture, I bought Brian Castro’s Blindness and rage and Simon Winchester’s Exactly (for Mr Gums). I also bought Brian Castro’s After China during the Festival, but at Muse. And, I already had some of the books I heard discussed, including Nigel Featherstone’s Bodies of men, Karen Viggers’ The orchardist’s daughter, and Tara June Winch’s The yield.

All this is fascinating, but the best thing is that the Festival, now in its fourth year, appears to have done well with good pre-sales and, they say, “significant impromptu attendance”. This augurs well for its continuation. And that, of course, is what we want.

15 thoughts on “Monday Musings on Australian Literature: Canberra Writers Festival 2019 Recap

  1. I definitely would have wanted to attend the Behrouz session, that would have been my top pick. Hopefully I get to attend a writers festival at some point, especially one with interesting topics.

  2. I believe that of that entire lot – meaning, what I’ve read about here – the Simon Winchester (with Richard) would always have been my top pick.
    That statement is about as important as most of the stuff I waffle about; but is almost valid in the context of your post today, ST. 🙂

  3. I would have attended Never Never, although your post on Castro told me a lot of stuff I didn’t know. My problem is I don’t like listening to stuff I disagree with, an example being last night’s Q&A with Lionel Shriver. I didn’t watch it but I got worked up just reading the report.

    • I so wanted to attend that one Bill. I must say that you were uppermost in my mind as I watched last night! As you know I have a more reasonable (😀) view, like Benjamin Law’s, on the subject.

      We do need to listen to what we don’t agree with sometimes, don’t you think? Not that for a moment I would tune into Jones or Bolt, or the ilk. Even I have my limits!

  4. This is fascinating, but I’m going to come at it from a different PoV. I’ve chaired a number of festivals, one with a wildly popular author but mostly with, shall we say, niche authors, as fits my LitFic bent. So (apart from the one with the popular author) my sessions would *never* rate amongst the most popular, and indeed, I would feel mildly disappointed if they did.

    But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t feel the embarrassment of publicly ‘not making the grade’.

    The reason I would feel disappointed if there weren’t any sessions that ‘flunked’, is that I think writers festivals ought to be a bit like the ABC and its charter to cater to a diversity of interests. Hats off, I say to whoever programmed Brian Castro, a niche author if ever there were one, but I also say well done to whoever programmed the popular sessions because festivals need to get ‘bums on sets’ in order to fund the niche.

    • Thanks Lisa, though I’m not sure what your different point of view is, because what you say is pretty much how I feel. Is it because I’ve implied I wanted more LitFic? Perhaps that’s it. I do agree that Festivals need to be diverse, and if I didn’t make that clear, I should have. It’s just that I wanted MORE of my section of that diversity!! (Or, perhaps, I wanted less clashes, because, for example, I missed Charlotte Wood and the panel she was on that included Castro, and I missed Never Never about the Bush.)

      Interestingly, while there were a few free sessions, all the ones I attended I paid for – except that my payment for that niche author Castro was refunded because they found a sponsor for that session!! Interesting, eh?

        • Oh thanks Lisa. I’m a bit obtuse, sometimes. I would hope that most presenters know the score, and that Simon Winchester (particularly with Richard Fidler) is going to outscore Brian Castro, but that that doesn’t mean that they’re not loved for what they do.

  5. Pingback: Canberra Writers Festival 2019 •IRMA GOLD

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