Richard Flanagan: Love and War (The Narrow Road to the Deep North)

The memory of the Burma Railway has a deeply etched place in my family story. I want to hear Richard discussing this vivid and scary work.


Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Bon Vivant, Warmonger

With Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Ah . . . That favourite son of Abruzzo, Gabrielle D’Annunzio: sex, drugs and soft furnishings. With a bit of sabre-rattling pre-fascist nationalism. Wonderful stuff!


Exceptional Television

Rake, Redfern Now, The L Word. A cross comparison of the contemporary TV series and the novel with Pete Duncan, Steven McGregor, A.M. Homes. Apart from being a co-conspirator on Rake, Pete was best man at my wedding, and I know for a fact that the boy can talk.


The Art of Indignation

Something is happening to debate in this country. Somewhere it was appropriated by evil forces and moronified down to bilateral finger jabbing and calling of rude names. Gabriel Sherman’s excellent biography of Roger Ailes may help with some insights here, but I’d be very interested to see these folk discuss the mysterious case of the missing rational debate. Oh, I’m getting all hot under the collar just thinking about it! 


Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries

Where does she come from? How does she do it? And only about 13 years old! Shouldn’t she be at One Direction concerts screaming and fainting? No, she’s busy writing Man Booker Prize-winning novels in New Zealand…

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In the lead-up to the Festival, we’re asking a range of people in Sydney to offer their picks from the Festival program. Here is Benjamin Law’s must-see list.

Amy Tan: The Valley of Amazement
There was a period in my life where I read nothing else but Amy Tan. She was the first Asian writer towards whom I felt any sense of kinship or connection, and I still adore her work immensely. Everyone loves Tan’s fiction, but she’s such a sublime essayist and speaker too. It’s going to be surreal to see her in person without just staring at her like an idiot, with my mouth gaping open, just saying, “WOW, YOU’RE AMY TAN.”

What’s Normal Anyway?
This’ll be great. Natasha Mitchell – who’s such a brilliant interviewer – interviewing two of the big stars of the SWF (A.M. Homes and Andrew Solomon) alongside Robert Hoge and Jo Case, two Australians who have such incredible stories of being different, on one of my favourite topics.

Lally Katz: Looking for Guidance
Hands down, Lally Katz is one of Australia’s best writers in any goddamn genre. Her work is so damn deft, clever and utterly one-of-a-kind, that when we’re all gone, I’m certain new plays will be referred to as having a Katzian or Lally-esque quality. I’d love to know how her brain works, and I’m stoked that there’s an entire session dedicated to discovering exactly that.

True Crimes: John Safran and Michaela McGuire
I read John Safran’s Murder in Mississippi earlier this year and I still can’t stop talking about it. The premise – that a white supremacist might have murdered a black man, with whom he was having sex – is batshit insane, and Safran digs in so memorably. And Michaela McGuire is one of my favourite Australian non-fiction writers, period. Her book Last Bets will have only just been released in time for SWF, and if it’s even half as good as her Penguin essay (on the murder of Jill Meagher), I’m going to be riveted.

Sarah Blasko and Brendan Cowell: On Writing, Music and Everything in Between
Sarah Blasko’s been one of my favourite songwriters since her debut record, and Brendan Cowell – whether he’s acting, writing fiction, theatre or television – never fails to blow me away. Plus: two of the most physically attractive people on the Sydney Writers Festival program! In the same room! It’s going to take all my willpower not to scream from the audience, “Make a baby already!” (Sorry.)


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Last week we were treated to an hour in the company of Alexander McCall Smith at City Recital Hall Angel Place. Listen to the sound recording of the event as this master storyteller, author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, takes you on a journey between Scotland, Botswana, the UK and the Australian outback with a great deal of good cheer along the way. In this podcast, Alexander introduces his new, standalone novel, The Forever Girl. Alexander is introduced by Kate Evans.

Proudly supported by The University of Sydney.

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Join us for a salon-style evening and sparkling wine with Mireille Guiliano ‘the high priestess of French lady wisdom’.

Mireille is the bestselling French author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, and most recently French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. As former president and CEO of Veuve Clicquot, Inc. (LVMH), she is ‘an ambassador of France and its art of living’. Mireille will discuss work/life equilibrium, gastronomy, luxury, lifestyle, and more.

An event not to be missed for lovers of literature, style and all Francophiles.

Presented by Sydney Writers’ Festival at Doltone House, Hyde Park.

Where: Doltone House, Hyde Park, 3/181 Elizabeth St
When: 6pm, Friday 7 February
Tickets: $45 Adult, $40 Concession


Five lessons We Learned From Mireille Guiliano’s Latest Book, French Women Don’t Get FaceliftsInstyle Magazine


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Looking for ideas for what to read this summer? Here are a few recommendations from the SWF team…

Charis Holt, Programming Coordinator

Summer is my favourite time of year. Not only for the mangos, cherries and trips to the beach, but because it’s the time of year for indulgent reading. A time when I finally get to one of those books on my bedside table that I have been promising to read and, best of all, a time to re-read! This summer I cannot wait to start Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. I’ll also be dusting off the covers of my Harry Potter books to relive the magic of seven years at Hogwarts.


Jemma Birrell, Artistic Director

This summer along with ocean swims and lying in parks, why not try a short story collection or two. I think short stories are having a renaissance. Over the past few years there have been some incredibly exciting collections. The sly, dry stories of Lydia Davis, Australian writer Josephine Rowe (last Festival’s writer in residence) whose stories are still making waves around the world, the brilliant Lorrie Moore’sBark, which comes out this March, Etgar Keret (try absolutely anything of his, I particularly recommend The Nimrod Flipout or Suddenly a Knock at the Door), and the gobsmackingly thrilling George Saunders with Pastoralia and the more recentTenth of December, which has to be one of the most-loved and talked-about collections out in recent times.


Ben Strout, Executive Director

Friends gave me a copy of Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 as a gift and it’s a typically entertaining read. Bryson draws portraits of almost every popular (and unpopular) icon of the era—Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and Calvin Coolidge, to name a few—and laces their stories together over the course of one monumental summer in US history. Don’t get dissuaded by any questions over whether it’s a perfect history: Bryson captures your attention with the amazing confluence of big names doing big things. As it happens, it’s the summer my mother was born, so I’ve been keen to know more.

In terms of some good fiction, I am not supposed to talk about the book that’s moved me most in the past few months — an expansive novel that is at once devastating and uplifting, a boy’s own adventure and yet a journey of everyman. We’re hoping the author will come to the Festival next May and then you’ll all be introduced to another great book to read. Until then, in our house we’ve all loved Hannah Kent’s beautifully atmospheric Burial Rites.


Ainslie Lenehan, Head of Marketing

James Wood (The New Yorker), one of the world’s most admired literary critics, came to the Festival this May. I saw his great conversation ‘Why Criticism Matters’ with Susan Wyndham, which you can watch here if you like. When I heard about his ‘five page rave’ of praise for Rachel Kusher’s novel The Flamethrowers I was intrigued and had to find out more about this novel. Now that I have, The Flamethrowers is on top of my to-read list for these holidays.

The novel is narrated by motorbike riding Reno, a young woman out of art school, hoping to be an artist and looking for life experience. Apparently The Flamethrowers is an exploration of the feminine mystique, the fake, the terrorist, which appeals to me. It is a big novel and moves from the first world war to the New York art scene in the 70s.


Natasha Younger, Administrator

I just finished reading the first Cemetery of Forgotten Books book ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon…once I was pulled into the tale I was reading as I walked to and from the ferry, as I ate lunch, as soon as I got home and every spare moment that I could in order connect with the characters and that world.
My summer reading continues with the next two books from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven, I am so looking forward to more time with the Sempere’s and musing on life and time and discovering the puzzle of the story.


Ashlea Wallington, Partnership Manager

This Christmas I am on a mission to scour every bookshop in Sydney and Melbourne to find The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, apparently perfect for those who loved The Shadow of the Wind. I’ll also be burying my head intoLongbourn. I loved the Austen event at this year’s Festival and can’t wait to read the perspective of the maid in Pride and Prejudice as told by Jo Baker. The other book on my reading list is A House Somewhere, a compilation of essays by prominent authors and travel writers about setting up a home abroad. It’s the best way to travel the world without leaving your chair.

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New Yorker staff writer, Claudia Roth Pierpont, is being celebrated this month for her new book about Philip Roth, and I’m really excited to read it. But I can’t imagine how it could be even better than her collection of her essays about female writers, all originally published in the magazine. It’s one of my favourite essay collections, full of gossip and education and history and judgment and wisdom. She looks into the lives of Gertrude Stein, Ayn Rand, Margaret Mitchell, Hannah Arendt, Mae West and others, with an attitude that is never too tender, never too forgiving, and never too harsh. Speaking of Anais Nin, who was as well known for her stories as for being the lover of Henry Miller, she tells us about her appearances on the college circuit in the 19070s, where she counselled against a kind of feminism that was a “war on men,” saying that rather “women should concentrate… on learning ‘to seduce, to attract their men into working for their liberation.” Details like this make the book endlessly fascinating. I have pushed Passionate Minds on almost everyone I know. Now I’m pushing it on you.

Sheila Heti

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