another day at the wharf. #swf2014

The sun was still shining today at the wharf precinct, as the crowds gathered and the buzz increased for the second full day of the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Lots more engaging commentary and exciting new authors to discover. Here’s what I caught:

Coffee and the Paper in The Bar at the End of The Wharf: this morning the Sydney Morning Herald staff were joined by US journalist Jeremy Scahill (“Dirty Wars”) and Australian journo Antony Lowenstein (who was also on yesterday’s panel about faiths. Things got quite feisty was they discussed the American war machine, drone killings and ’embedded’ journalists (described as ‘stenographers’). Politica early in the morning. Prompted me to grab a ticket for Jeremy Scahill’s session tomorrow afternoon.

Adam Johnson “The Orphan Master’s Son” – a book that won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Adam turned out to be a large, gentle, erudite and passionate man. His book takes on the curious task of giving a portrait os what it’s like to live in North Korea. The discussion was absorbing. There’s a North Korean defector here at the festival too – another ticket to pick up…

Caught the free drop-in session over in Pier 2/3 called The Curiosity Lectures, this one old Festival hand Robert Dessaix on “Why I Leave Home.” His musings on travel really resonated — especially the thought that at home we’re slaves of time, and when we travel we can at least have the sensation of slipping away with time, instead of the reverse. I had to stand up (big crowd), but it was worth it.

Amy Tan – her new book is “The Valley of Amazement”, about old Shanghai at the beginning of the 20th century, and the ‘courtesan houses’ of the time. (Hard to believe it’s 25 years since “The Joy Luck Club’ was published).

Then to Australian politics and the fine old statesman Malcolm Fraser being interviewed by Laura Tingle of the AFR (and very well, too). Mr Fraser has a book out called “Dangerous Allies” where he warns that it’s high time Australia made its own foreign policy decisions in its own best interests. Harking back to the high times of politics in the 1970s (when Fraser was PM) inspired me to buy his political memoirs (a hefty tome).

“The Big Read” was a treat of a session with five authors reading from their work:

  • Adam Johnson ‘The Orphan Master’s Son’ (it sounded very creepy)
  • Eimar McBride ‘A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing’ (Joycean prose-poetry, winning prizes though took 7 years to get published)
  • Dara Horn ‘A Guide For The Perplexed’ (about storing information, ranging over multiple time frames)
  • Lian Hearn ‘The Storyteller and his Three Daughters’ (part of a Japanese epic)
  • Alex Miller ‘Coal Creek’ (mesmerising interior monologue – the author got carried away and read on and on. My favourite.

This session also included the awarding of the SMH Best Young Novelists’ Awards – best of luck to them, all creative writing grads.

And finally another award and fellowship presented by the Sydney Theatre Company – The Patrick White Playwrights’ Award & Fellowship. The Fellowship (a year with the STC) went to Angela Betzien and the Award (for an unproduced play) to an excited young man named Chris Summers. Six actors from the STC company then read through the play, entitled ‘King Artur’ – an entertaining hour. Congrats all round.


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