The man sitting next to me introduces himself as Michael Robotham. Someone stops to talk to David Malouf by the side of the harbour. Kerry O’Brien walks by. This could only be Sydney Writers Festival.
But the writers aren’t the only stars. We are here for the Visiting International Publishers (VIPs, indeed). The main game is two days of speed dating between these visitors and Australian publishers and agents hoping to reach beyond our shores.
The event opens on Wednesday with a series of panels about the state of publishing across the globe. Each VIP seems to open by saying their market is ‘much the same’ as the last, before presenting us with something completely different. The Australian sense of humour translates well in Slovenia, where libraries are king. Koreans do not read for pleasure, but will buy Liane Moriarty when it’s framed as self-help. A newborn mobile publisher is hoping to capture the ‘one device’ market of India, delivering serialised books by politicians and adult film stars to smartphones in carefully timed instalments (just in time for the news cycle? Or at 10pm each night?).
In the afternoon, the focus turns inwards but the content is no less stimulating. Sandra Phillips of the First Nations Australia Writers Network challenges all publishers to include at least one First Nations writer on their list every year – not because we should, but because there’s so much wonderful work (Dark Emu, of course, winning Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards on the Monday night). A roundtable on Australian writers festivals, including the directors of the Sydney event, sparks fiery discussion about platforms for Australian writers. Our independent bookshops – looking at you, Readings – come up again and again.
And all to the backdrop of proposed changes to the Australian publishing industry and angst about where the arts sit in this election campaign.
There is certainly a lot to be said.
And there is time for the Writers Festival as well, to discuss Kate Tempest’s electrifying opening address (and the ensuing media storm). To see our authors, Sydney local Jane Jose and New Caledonian visitor Jean-François Vernay, take to the stage to share their insightful books with new audiences. And for a sticky cinnamon scroll from the festival coffee stall (or maybe two).
The Sydney sun is warming, but so is the conversation. Or there is certainly enough to be said.