The 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival In Focus – Andrew’s Highlights

by |May 8, 2015

Can you hear that?

Pages being briskly bookmarked, notepads scribbled on frantically, publicists sweating over author schedules…

The Sydney Writer’s Festival is nearly here!

And because I’m getting all excited, I’ve picked out some of my highlights for the 2015 edition, take a gander. For more details head to


2015 Opening Address

Who: Mohsin Hamid

What: Ours is an era of growing uncertainty and incessant conflict. We are merging with the machines we have created and are ever connected. Our screens are filled with images of breathtaking violence: beheadings, immolations, bombings and missile strikes. The pace of migration and economic disruption is accelerating. Tribalism, nationalism and sectarian chauvinism are on the rise. Humanity’s traditional sources of solace – family, community and religion – are being disrupted. How then are we to live? And what can fiction do to help?

Why: One of the most innovative novelists alive, having Mohsin Hamid on our shores is a big deal. A man who doesn’t just address the big issues, he deals exclusively in them.

When: Tuesday, May 19 2015, 6:30-7:30pm.

Where: Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly Sydney Theatre), 22  Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $45/$25



Who: James Bradley

What: Clade, the new novel from award-winning novelist, poet and critic, James Bradley, spans three generations, reaching into the future to ask how a changing planet might alter the way we live and love in decades to come. The Saturday Paper has described it as ‘that rarest of novels: one that stares down its harrowing beginning to find a sense of peace and even of wonder, while being true to itself’.

Why: James Bradley is one of the most important figures in Australian literature today, crossing every medium with aplomb. Always open, insightful and humble, this will be a standout.

When: Wednesday, May 20 2015, 6:30-7:30pm.

Where: Margaret Martin Library, Randwick, Level 1, Royal Randwick Shopping Centre, Belmore Road, RandwickFree


Who: Rebecca Vaughan

What: 1923: The War is over. While Clarissa Dalloway prepares a party in Westminster, Septimus Smith is diagnosed with shell-shock, their memories and dreams magically intertwining with those of 15 other disparate souls, this hot blue day in June. Conjuring the hopes and regrets of middle- and upper-class London, this critically-acclaimed adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s celebrated map of hearts, minds and memories offers a compellingly feminine response to the aftermath of the First World War. Written and directed by Elton Townend Jones.

Why: Based on one of the finest novels of the 20th century, the reviews for Dalloway overseas have been tremendous. A must see.

When: Wednesday, May 20 2015, 8-9:30pm.

Where: Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst, $36/$25


Murdoch’s Misdemeanors

Who: Nick Davies with Paul Barry

What: Investigative journalist Nick Davies broke the story of the News of the World hacking scandal. Now he’s written the inside story in Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch. As exciting as a fictional thriller, but shockingly true, Hack Attack details what happened when truth caught up with power. Full of juicy revelations and drawing on exclusive interviews, the book blows the lid off a dirty chapter in journalism. Who better to pry out the details than Paul Barry, who joins Nick in conversation.

Why: Nick Davies is a volcano of journalistic integrity. As a reporter for The Guardian, he was responsible for uncovering the News of the World phone hacking affair, including the revelations of hacking into the mobile phone voicemail of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

When: Thursday, May 21 2015, 10-11am.

Where: Pier 2/3 Main Stage, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $20/$14

The Art of Belonging

Who: Hugh Mackay

What: Do we need communities? Or do communities need us? In The Art of Belonging Hugh Mackay argues that the answer to both questions is yes. This is the beautiful symmetry of the human condition. One of the country’s most trusted social researchers, Hugh delves into the antisocial behaviours enabled and encouraged by technology, and wonders whether there’s a better way to live our modern lives. Can we learn how to nurture our communities again? Hugh will be introduced by Peter Collins.

Why: One of Australia’s freshest thinkers, Hugh Mackay is a gem. His views on community and social behaviour in the suburbs will be utterly enthralling.

When: Thursday, May 21 2015, 10-11am.

Where: Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly Sydney Theatre), 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $25/$20

Big Little Lies

Who: Liane Moriarty

What: Every so often there’s a Cinderella story in publishing. Liane Moriarty seemingly appeared from nowhere to deliver not one, but two New York Times bestsellers. Her latest, Big Little Lies, went straight to number one and now she has Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon optioning her novel, The Husband’s Secret. Liane opens up to Meredith Jaffe about her taste for ‘suburban noir’ and what it’s like to have struck a chord with readers worldwide.

Why: If this event was in New York, she’d sell out Carnegie Hall. Up close and personal with a literary juggernaut, and she’s Australian!

When: Thursday, May 21 2015, 1:30-2:30pm.

Where: Pier 2/3 The Loft, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $14

How Can We Write About Darkness?

Who: Helen Garner

What: As the author of The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation and her latest, This House of Grief, Helen Garner is no stranger to real stories of humanity’s darker side. In this rare and illuminating talk, Helen shares a few of the many sources that have inspired her non-fiction writing, from crime-scene photo archives to the poetry of Charles Reznikoff and the writings of Janet Malcolm. Helen speaks to Cath Keenan following the talk. Don’t miss it.

Why: Rarely does Helen Garner utter a word that isn’t carefully considered and dripping in wisdom and insight. Any chance to see her live should be snapped up.

When: Thursday, May 21 2015, 8:30-9:30pm.

Where: City Recital Hall Angel Place, Angel Place, Sydney, $40/$25


Secrets from the Bookshop

Who: Brooke Davis, Evie Wyld, Krissy Kneen

What: Ever wondered what goes on behind the neatly stacked shelves of your favourite bookshop? Catch up on some good old literary gossip and behind-the-scenes chit chat with author/booksellers Evie Wyld, Brooke Davis and Krissy Kneen. When they’re not penning the novels we love, they’re casting a critical eye over artful book displays and trying to decipher what a customer means when they say, ‘do you have a book, I think its cover is blue?’. A must-see session for curious bibliophiles everywhere.

Why: A must for anyone who has ever dreamt of working in a bookshop, or is lucky enough to already do so.

When: Friday, May 22 2015, 10:30-11:30am.

Where: The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4/5 Hickson Rd, The RocksFree

Hello, Beautiful!

Who: Hannie Rayson, Caroline Baum

What: In the tradition of David Sedaris and Spalding Gray, Hannie Rayson takes to the boards to share stories from her life. Andrew Bolt warmly describes Hannie’s work as ‘a smug vomit of hate’. This is a taste of her laugh-out-loud hilarious new memoir, Hello Beautiful!. Followed by a conversation with Caroline Baum.

Why: Hannie and Caroline are great friends, I’ve seen first hand their rapport. This night will be fantastic, guaranteed.

When: Friday, May 22 2015, 6-7pm.

Where: Eternity Playhouse, 39 Burton St, Darlinghurst, $20/$14

pac_2808_picStories That Defined a Decade

Who: Christina Lamb, Asne Seierstad, Nick Davies, Mark Colvin

What: Meet the writers who unearthed the human stories behind the decade’s most defining headlines so far. Åsne Seierstad traced the disturbing psychological history of Norway’s most infamous mass murderer. Veteran Middle East correspondent Christina Lamb brought Malala Yousafzai’s harrowing and inspirational story to life. Nick Davies went head-to-head with the world’s biggest media mogul when he broke the News of the World hacking scandal. These writers delved beyond clickbait, followed their obsession at all costs, and changed the way we look at the world. They speak to ABC’s Mark Colvin.

Why: Perhaps my highlight of all the highlights, a conversation between three of the world’s most-respected journalists, chatting about the stories that have shaped our world.

When: Friday, May 22 2015, 6:30-7:30pm..

Where: City Recital Hall Angel Place, Angel Place, Sydney, $40/$25



Who: Helen Razer, Bernard Keane, Benjamin Law

What: Just how did everything get so dumb? As serious public debate takes a nosedive and idiocy claims ascendancy, two alarmed allies join forces to, well, complain bitterly about the state of things. Join author, broadcaster and professional rabble-rouser Helen Razer and Crikey’s political editor and commentator Bernard Keane as they discuss their smart, infuriating and frankly rude new book, A Short History of Stupid, with Benjamin Law. Where does stupid come from, who’s spreading it, and how do we stop it?

Why: Razer, Keane and Law, three stars of the festival, taking potshots at society (and in all likelihood, eachother). What’s not to love!

When: Saturday, May 23 2015, 10-11am.

Where: Pier 2/3 The Loft, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $14


Who: Steve Toltz, Caroline Baum

What: Australian Steve Toltz burst onto the international scene in 2008 with his acclaimed A Fraction of the Whole, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Now he’s back with Quicksand. This is a novel about risks that takes risks. It’s funny, dark, affirming and compelling on every page, and confirms Steve as one of our most original and insightful novelists. Join him as he talks about finding inspiration in all the wrong places with Caroline Baum.

Why: Steve Toltz remains Australia’s most intriguing literary figure. The one time telemarketer, security guard and private investigator nearly won The Man Booker Prize in 2008 for A Fraction of the Whole, and then disappeared. He returned triumphantly this year with Quicksand. I can’t wait to hear his thoughts on…well…everything.

When: Saturday, May 23 2015, 11:30-12:30pm.

Where: Pier 2/3 Main Stage, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $20/$14

Shaun Micallef’s America

Who: Shaun Micallef, Zoe Norton Lodge

What: Comedian and satirist Shaun Micallef takes a look at the ‘alt-history of the United States’ in his new book The President’s Desk. It’s the story of America as seen through the eyes of its most powerful piece of furniture, and the 25 men who have sat at it so far. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even doubt every word of this unique nudie run through American history, but you’ll love every minute of Shaun’s talk, introduced by Zoe Norton Lodge.

Why: Shaun Micallef. Seriously, what are you waiting for?

When: Saturday, May 23 2015, 11:30-12:30pm.

Where: Pier 2/3 The Loft, Pier 2/3, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $14


Coffee and Papers with The Sydney Morning Herald

Who: Christina Lamb, Judith Whelan

What: For the Festival’s first session of the day, join Judith Whelan, news director of The Sydney Morning Herald, SMH journalists and SWF special guest Christina Lamb, author of Farewell Kabul, to hear their take on what’s making headlines today and the changing nature of journalism.

Why: Just a lazy morning having a skinny cap with one of the world’s most respected journalists. Not a bad way to start a day.

When: Sunday, May 24 2015, 9-10am.

Where: The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4/5 Hickson Rd, The RocksFree

We are What We Hide

Who: Sonya Harnett, Kari Gislason, Malcolm Knox, Jill Eddington

What: In Malcolm Knox’s audacious new novel, The Wonder Lover, a man travels from city to city visiting his three separate families, who know nothing about each other. In Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys, the Jensons seem like a perfect family, but something sinister glints beneath the father’s kind eyes. Kári Gíslason’s The Ash Burner tells of a boy whose life is marked by silences, including the unspoken absence of his mother. These writers all use fiction to pierce the suburban veneer and reveal the discomforting truths underneath. They speak with Jill Eddington.

Why: Sonya Hartnett’s The Golden Boys is longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin award, while Malcolm Knox’s The Wonder Lover will likely make the list next year. Kári Gíslason’s The Ash Burner is undoubtedly one of the best novels of 2015 so far. Seeing these three authors in conversation, for free? Priceless.

When: Sunday, May 24 2015, 10-11am.

Where: Sydney Dance 1, Pier 4/5, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, Walsh BayFree

douglas-coupland1Writing that Defines Modern Culture

Who: Douglas Coupland, Michael Williams

What: Douglas Coupland coined the term Generation X, and is arguably the voice of modern popular culture, defining it as much as reflecting it through his art and many books. A man of manifold opinions, Douglas is also a prolific visual artist and is now living in Paris as Google’s first Artist in Residence. He is also a columnist for the Financial Times of London. Douglas speaks to Michael Williams about his vision of all our futures.

Why: Nearly half a million twitter users wait on tenterhooks for the next 140 character prophesy from Douglas Coupland. Why wait?

When: Sunday, May 24 2015, 11:30-12:30pm.

Where: Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly Sydney Theatre), 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $25/$20

grid-cell-3974-1418831963-82015 Closing Address

Who: Helen Macdonald

What: Helen Macdonald, winner of the Costa Book of the Year and Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for H is for Hawk, delivers the 2015 Closing Address on nature’s role in teaching us how to live.

Rich with anecdote and reflection, weaving autobiography with historical and literary meditation, Helen’s address explores the many ways we’ve used natural history to tell stories about ourselves, our homes and nations, and how nature lets us speak things we cannot otherwise say. In this time of ecological crisis, might we learn to treasure nature not as a mirror or a place of refuge or escape, but as something to be loved because it is resolutely inhuman, because it is full of things that are not like us?

Why: Perhaps the most talked about book of last year, H is for Hawk has spawned an aviary of imitators. Can’t wait to hear the brilliant Helen MacDonald close the festival.

When: Sunday, May 24 2015, 6-7pm.

Where: Roslyn Packer Theatre (formerly Sydney Theatre), 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay, $38/$20

Don’t have your tickets booked for the Sydney Writer’s Festival?

Well go on, before it’s too late!

Go to for all the details


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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

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