Byron turned on mostly perfect winter weather for the 2014 Byron Bay Writers Festival, attended by thousands of happy festivalgoers revelling in relaxed literature and big ideas at more than 100 overflowing sessions.
Festival Director Edwina Johnson and Chair Chris Hanley consider the appeal and success of the 18th Festival lay in the calibre of the writers and the diversity and depth the Festival Program, so well received by the local and wider community. ‘The whole event ran incredibly smoothly, our volunteers once again doing Byron proud,’ says Hanley.
Ticket sales and audience numbers were up by 20% on last year, so too were book sales across the Festival. There were more than 60,000 individual engagements over the three-day weekend and during the preceding days for Primary and Secondary School Days workshops and feature events, with Saturday a complete sell-out, a first time achievement for this pivotal regional NSW arts event. While strongly supported by the local Northern Rivers community, many attendees travelled to Byron Bay to attend the Festival weekend.
Johnson reports the audience for international guest Jeanette Winterson’s Keynote Address spilled out the back of the marquee for 10 metres. ‘Jeanette’s speech The Stories We Tell captivated the estimated 1000 people at her session and moved many to tears. She received a rousing standing ovation and afterwards, the book signing queue stretched out and around the bookshop.’
Seeing that keynote address was one of UK columnist and author Antony Loewenstein’s Festival highlights, ‘Jeanette Winterson was eloquent, funny and witty. She is a writer who makes listeners love literature.’
Johnson says nearly all of the off-site feature events sold out. ‘We were still being inundated with booking requests for the sold-out Liner Notes as we opened the doors. It was the talk of the Festival on Saturday morning – a brilliant literary cabaret led by the hugely talented Michael Nolan.’
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Finkel found the surroundings astonishing and humbling. ‘Come for the books, stay for the weather’, Finkel says. ‘It was nice to see how thoughtful people are here. It's been great. I’m glad I came.’
Local writer Martin Chatterton enjoyed the Evening with John Safran and Father Bob Maguire held in Lennox Head. ‘It’s terrific to see the Festival spreading its wings and reaching new audiences. This was the best-ever program.'
Clare Wright, winner of the 2014 Stella Prize participated in four festival sessions and says ‘the program was a feat of curatorial creativity and flair.’
The Festival also welcomes many publishing executives. Annette Barlow from Allen & Unwin says 'Byron Bay Writers Festival is truly spectacular. The wonderfully diverse setting gives the Festival every advantage but more exciting this year was the depth and range of authors attending and subjects discussed. From Bob Brown to Missy Higgins to Jeanette Winterson. Mind food indeed!'