The main attractions at this year's Sydney Writers' Festival

Words: Bethan Small

Festivals: sure they’re great and stuff, and the ‘being big’ thing kinda goes with the territory, but if you lack the time or are too soft to go to everything, here is a handy goal-oriented guide to what you might want to attend at this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival:

...if you’re the kind of person who never, ever puts away their phone: Modified Tweet is a panel discussion on how putting our thoughts out in public view in 140 character form affects how we use language. The talk will be facilitated by Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation Neil James, with Catherine Deveny and Mark Colvin.

...if the thought of a literary festival without the Bard makes you “Howl, howl, howl, howl” (King Lear, Act V Sc. III): The Bell Epoch will see that guy John Bell, from the Bell Shakespeare Company, sharing insights into Shakespeare from the decades he’s spent reading, performing, producing and thinking about his works.

...if the Man’s Best Friend idea appeals to you, Doggie Style is an alternative history of Australian art wherein AGNSW curator Steven Miller proves that major developments in art are actually canine-based. (And yes, internets, there will be pictures of animals.)

...if you think your mind is a sewer: the annual festival highlight and grossout Erotic Fan Fiction shows you how it’s done with readings from the slaveringly lascivious depths of the imaginations and fandoms of writer, performer and all-round storyteller Zoe Norton Lodge, comedian Ben Jenkins, person who is on the radio Tom Ballard and Andrew Denton (for whom we are going to assume you can mentally supply your own mini-bio).

...if you assuage your ever-deepening despair at the shambles of this country’s political rhetoric: Welcome to the Hyperbowl is an analysis and a mockery of some of the best local and international political language gaffes in recent memory. Features Eric Knight and Kathy Lette in conversation with Janine Perrett.

...if you actually bothered with that poorly-fictionalised attempt to psychoanalyse your own youth: So You Think You Can Write gives a roomful of people with manuscripts the chance to be one of ten to get their names drawn, Hunger Games-style, to do a three-minute pitch to a panel of publishing people.

...if, speaking of The Hunger Games, you are still very into speaking about The Hunger Games (maybe because OMG YOU GUYS HAVE YOU READ THEM??!?!!): Her Dark Materials looks at how and why doomy stuff is such an important part of Young Adult fiction. Moderated by publisher Hilary Rogers, with not-always-sunshiny YA novelists Margo Lanagan, Lucy Christopher and Kirsty Eagar will explain how to write dystopian fiction responsibly and successfully.

...if you’ve overdoing it a bit and want to be scared straight via Science: neuroscientist and psychology professor Mark Lewis speaks about his book Memoirs of An Addicted Brain. The book is an account written as an expert in both the brain and as someone with personal drug experiences.

...if you’re worried about the internet: PIPA SOPA (If You Have To Ask...) addresses those pesky bits of proposed legislation regarding our rights and responsibilities as communicators. Social media expert Thomas Tudehope, Copyright Agency lawyer Zoë Rodriguez and media and news savant Jeff Jarvis will host the talk.

...if you want to pick up: let’s not pretend that the idea of meeting and potentially touching cute people is not totally a motivating factor in most instances of Doing A Culture, and SWF should not go thinking it is different. This is an important issue, so here are a range of approaches:

The responsible answer to “What  should I go to if I want to pick up?” is “To things that you are legitimately interested in, because that way you will a) be likely to have clever and insightful things to ask or say about the topic in order to broach communications with hotties in attendance, with whom b) you have at least one thing in common and c) if, at worst,  there are no prospects or you strike out, at least you will be an intellectually engaged person who is Dying Alone.

A slightlier shadier or, let’s call it ‘more strategic’ M.O. is to go to things that are likely to contain people who you might be attracted to. Create an image of your ideal life (or make out) partner and attend the events he, she or they would be into. If you know anything about the topic, great! Ifyou don’t, then you’ll learn something and also be able to ask questions with endearing admissions of your own cluelessness that will dispose babes kindly toward you.

The downright irresponsible way forward is your standard combination of booze, good outfits and the crushing need for approbation or at least basic human contact typical of writers. Just be gentle with them, okay?  

Finally, for those who unironically believe in feelings and stuff and are willing to put in a bit of time, such fine ladies and gentlemen are directed to proceed to Poetry in Cathedral Cave. Poems! Nature! Le sigh! Plus, once you’ve travelled all that way up to Jenolan Caves you’re not going to be the only one who’s a motivated seller.


For more information on The Sydney Writers' Festival, head here.

profile of TheVine