May was packed full of exciting book events, a number linked to the Sydney Writers’ Festival. My SWF week began with the evening announcement of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards at the Mitchell Library. It was a great opportunity to catch up with people and meet new authors.
The other awards evening I attended was the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA). This was a glittering event, particularly this year when we were asked to wear a splash of ruby red to celebrate the 15th awards dinner.
We were spoiled by having Casey Bennetto (creator of Keating the Musical) again as MC. He does an amazing job writing songs about those who present the awards and delivers these as mini-performances. Award presenters included international guests David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks), Michael Connolly (American writer of crime fiction and detective novels, best know for those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch), Anthony Horowitz (Sherlock Holmes and James Bond original novels, the Alex Rider teen series, Foyle’s War and Midsummer Murders) and Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk), who also gave the closing address of the SWF.
2014 Miles Franklin winner, Evie Wyld (All the Birds, Singing) also had her own song and Casey Bennetto wished that he had written one for Marcus Zusak (The Book Thief). He ad-libbed something on the spot, incorporating ‘John Cusack’ to rhyme with ‘Zusak’. Zusak presented his former editor, Celia Jellett from Omnibus Books, Scholastic, with the Pixie O’Harris Award for service to Australian children’s books.
It was lovely to meet Josephine Moon (The Tea Chest) and Maxine Beneba Clark, who won the Literary Fiction Book of the Year for Foreign Soil, and I spied legends, Sonya Hartnett (Golden Boys) and Morris Gleitzman (Loyal Creatures) at the next table.
Some other award winners were Judith Rossell, who is snapping up awards, including the Indies, for Withering-by-Sea; Tim Low for Where Song Began: Australia’s Birds and How They Changed the World (Tim was so surprised, he was dumb-struck); and Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen for Tea and Sugar Christmas. Boomerang Books was shortlisted for Online Retailer of the Year.
Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton won ‘Book of the Year: Younger Children’ for The 52-Storey Treehouse and this also won overall ‘Book of the Year’, selected from the winners of each category. Another well-deserved scoop for children’s books.
Andy Griffiths was also a star at the SWF, signing books at the head of an enormous queue for, essentially, a whole day.
Because we are big fans of the Canadian TV series Orphan Black, we went to a screenwriters’ panel at the SWF, where Orphan Black writer, Lynne Coady, was speaking. She looks quite like the multi-role playing star of the show, Tatiana Maslany. Lynne got the conversation to a deeper level by confiding her fear of working as part of a screen-writing team. As an introvert who had been writing literary fiction alone in her basement she was worried how her voice would be heard in a group of, presumably, loud voices. Her vulnerability lit a spark in the panel’s discussion.
Another highlight was hearing three eminent poets, David Malouf, Les Murray (Waiting for the Past) and Ben Okri read and speak about poetry. Moderator, poet/singer-songwriter Kate Fagan enhanced the session.
Another enthusiastic moderator was Davina Bell (The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade – see my interview here) who chaired four YA authors in ‘Keeping it Real: Realistic Issues in Teen Fiction’. Authors included international Laurie Halse Anderson (The Impossible Knife of Memory), who intrigued the audience by knitting throughout the session, and Australian Melina Marchetta (Looking for Alibrandi, On the Jellicoe Road), to whom homage was deservedly paid.