Former PM Bob Hawke happily poses for the cameras with the popular and sharp-witted Kathy Lette at the festival on Saturday. Mr Hawke later joined his wife, author, Blanche d’Alpuget on stage.
Former PM Bob Hawke happily poses for the cameras with the popular and sharp-witted Kathy Lette at the festival on Saturday. Mr Hawke later joined his wife, author, Blanche d’Alpuget on stage.

Festival 'one of the best'

She said she wanted to go out on a high and after last weekend’s record-breaking Byron Bay Writers Festival, Jeni Caffin had her wish.

Three days of glorious sunshine; record crowds; a surprise visit by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke; the hilarious Kathy Lette; an impromptu performance by 2006 Australian Idol winner Damien Leith and a who’s who of the literary world, all combined to make the 2010 festival one of the best ever.

And as the outgoing festival director, Jeni couldn’t be happier.

“The four years I have spent as director have been an absolute joy,” Jeni said at the opening night last Thursday.
“I have had this big shiny toy that I can play with, to throw up in the air and see where it lands.

“This is the going to be the damn best festival we’ve ever had and I want to savour every minute.”

And for the thousands of festivalgoers who enjoyed three days of amazing marquee sessions, food and feature events, it was indeed ‘the best festival ever’.

Held back at its original site at the former Byron Bay Beach Resort, Friday, Saturday and Sunday drew record crowds.

Friday’s program saw packed marquees for many of the sessions including the keynote conversation with Kerry O’Brien from the ABC’s 730 Report and American war correspondent Megan Stack.

There was standing-room only for ‘Bodice ripping: writing sex and intimacy’ with the very popular and hilarious ‘queen of the quip and one-liners’ Kathy Lette, who drew massive crowds throughout the weekend.

Humour and laughs were on the menu on Saturday, with the 9.15am session, ‘What Women Want: Is it still OK to Need’, followed by ‘On The Road Again: Tall Travel Tales’, the very popular and funny former manager of the Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead, Sam Cutler, and the hugely amusing A J (Sandy) Mackinnon regaling the crowd with their hilarious travel stories.

With Blanche d’Alpuget scheduled to speak about the book she had written on her husband, former PM Bob Hawke, on Saturday afternoon, crowds were treated to a surprise visit by Bob who, much to the audience’s delight, joined his wife on stage.

 Standout sessions on Sunday included a panel discussion on ‘Fathers’ which concluded with Damien Leith singing ‘Danny Boy’ to a very appreciative and emotional crowd; a discussion on the ‘Journalists We Let Into Our Homes’ featuring Mike Carlton, Steve Cannane, Jane Hutcheon and Juanita Phillips, and the hugely talented Los Angeles-born author Bret Easton Ellis, who spoke to presenter Simon Marnie about his latest novel, ‘Imperial Bedrooms’.

It’s the first time that Easton Ellis has ever attended a writers festival anywhere in the world.

“It is real coup for Byron Bay to get him here,” Jeni said. “And he has opened up a whole new market for us of under-30s.”

Jeni said she had received amazing feedback from the festival.

“It’s very gratifying to know that people loved it, but the reality that I am handing it over to a new director is starting to sink in,” she said.

“All weekend I was so excited and so hyped but at 6pm last night (Sunday) when I was stacking chairs it started to hit me that this was my last festival.

“But it’s really fantastic that I am ending on such a high and there’s a sense of relief that nothing fell over.”

Jeni said she managed to catch a part of every session during the weekend and her standouts included Alex Miller, Kathy Lette, Bret Easton Ellis, John Doyle, Tony Martin, Kim Traill, Ali Cobby Eckerman, Shamini Flint and Megan Stack.

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