BOOK PARADISE: Ubud Writers' Festival director Janet de Neefe.
BOOK PARADISE: Ubud Writers' Festival director Janet de Neefe. Contributed

Ubud writers’ festival a favourite with Byron literati

THE Byron Bay Writers' Festival may be over for another year, but literary lovers and book tragics need not despair. The Ubud Writers' and Readers Festival in Bali celebrates its 10th anniversary in October with many Byron Shire residents expected to attend.

Byron Bay journalist Jann Burmester recently spent time with festival director and founder Janet de Neefe in Ubud.

BORN out of tragedy, the Ubud Writers' and Readers' Festival will this year celebrate its 10th anniversary - a triumph for a small community once struggling to attract visitors in the aftermath of the devastating Bali bombings.

From the darkness of the days and weeks following the 2002 terrorist bombings, the festival has emerged as a shining light on Bali's cultural calendar, attracting more than 120 writers from around the world and an audience which grows by more than 25% each year.

For its founder and director, Janet de Neefe, it's been a labour of love, but not without its challenges.

"Almost 10 years down the track and this year's festival is without a major sponsor," she said.

"It's a bit daunting putting together a huge literary event without a big injection of funds, but we have such great community support, that all the hard work is worth it."

Janet and her Balinese husband Ketut Suardana personally fund much of the festival, with their two Ubud restaurants - Casa Luna and Indus - hosting many of the literary lunches, workshops and panels.

"When I first started the festival, there were some people who were a bit sceptical of my motives," Janet said. "They thought it was just a money-making scheme for us, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I wanted to give something back to a community and an island reeling after the bombings.

"I've always been a keen reader and writer, so the idea of a writers' festival took shape."

Janet said the festival had emerged into a literary tool, chiselling away at the negative effects of the bombings.

This year's festival, from October 11-15, promises an "incredible program" with "plenty of surprises".

"As always there'll be an interesting and diverse line-up of writers, both local and international, with Lionel Shriver, Anne Summers, Sebastian Faulks, David Vann, Tony Wheeler, Michael Leunig, Julian Burnside, Deepika Shetty, Dewi Lestari and Goenawan Mohamad among those who have confirmed," Janet said.

"There'll be workshops and events and literary lunches in the most spectacular locations that will take your breath away."

"The theme for the festival is Through Darkness to Light, echoing the theme of the first event in 2003. It's like we've come full circle and that through adversity comes strength and success and we are very excited to present what should be one of the best festivals ever," Janet said.


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