Ogling your literary heroes will be made easy at Sydney Writers’ Festival, which kicks off on Monday, May 19 and runs until Sunday, May 25. With folks like Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, Irvine Welsh and 400 more talking words this month, we thought we’d make your lives a little easier. So here’s a guide (of sorts) to SWF. And, while we’re at it, let’s get to know some awesome writerly people.

 

A.H. CAYLEY: writer, co-host and creator of Backchat on FBi 94.5FM, writer and performer for A Rational Fear, and curator and host of Confession Booth at Giant Dwarf.

AH Cayley

Your favourite first line, and why?

I can never go past the first line from Lolita: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” Firstly, because as a former student of linguistics I can never pass up a good reference to acoustic phonetics. But secondly, because it sets up the entire book so exquisitely. From the very start, we see the story from the intense perspective of Humbert Humbert, the ultimate unreliable narrator. Despite his evilness, we are immediately and irrevocably under his charm and desire.

What excites you about storytelling today?

I think this is a generation that needs storytelling more than any other, because we basically have no future. Climate change threatens our very existence but we apparently (particularly on the basis of the 2013 election) can’t take strong action on it until the Boomers die. By then it will be too late. On top of that, there are men in power now claiming one’s right to be a soul-sucking bigot should be respected. Meanwhile the average life expectancy for an Indigenous man is only 69.1 years. We need more than ever to tell our stories while we still have a chance, to share our history while history still exists.

What do you see (or hope to see) in the future of publishing – be it radio, print, or online?

I think publishing will continue in whatever form is most popular and most profitable, and while I adore the scent of an old book more than I do any lover, I welcome the era of sustainable literature, and the story as essence above all else. As a radio presenter and producer, I think radio stories are now – so many decades on – coming into their own. The immediacy of radio is something else – to be able to broadcast right into someone’s home or car (or through headphones, right into their fucking brain) is a powerful and privileged position to hold.

Which event are you looking forward to most?

Is it poor form if I say Festival Club on Thursday, May 22? I’m reading that night, sure, but more importantly it’s a night curated by my very dear friend and colleague Eddie Sharp, who always puts on fantastic events. Sydney Story Factory – teaching children the power of storytelling, organised by my Confession Booth partner Matt Roden – is a powerful and valuable organisation, and The Chaser’s Empty Vessel is the kind of shit-talking satire we need right now.

Bits of writerly wisdom you would give to your younger self?

Shut up: you don’t know everything. Believe in yourself: you know everything.

Appearing at: Erotic Fan Fiction at Festival Club on Thursday, May 22.

More: @ahcayley | ahcayley.com | Backchat on FBi 94.5, Saturdays at 11am | Confession Booth at Giant Dwarf

 

SAM COONEY: writer, university lecturer, and editor-in-chief of The Lifted Brow, a publishing company which produces a print magazine every two months, a digital magazine every two weeks, and new and interesting writing and artwork on its website just about every day.

Sam Cooney

Your favourite first line, and why?

Don’t have one! Some of my favourite books have begun slowly and/or unmemorably, while many ultimately disappointing literary works can get going with a bang. I love a first line that reads as though the story began a long time before you were let in.

What excites you about storytelling today?

People using new technology to tell stories. Why write a novel when you can make a video game? This is the kind of question all writers should be constantly asking themselves. If they’re wanting to publish a book because they grew up reading books, they are – in some respects – living in the past.

What do you see (or hope to see) in the future of publishing – be it radio, print, or online?

Online publishers realising that big slabs of paragraphed text are antithetical to the standard digital experience in which a reader is consciously doing several tasks, and thus the publishing of longreads takes care and savvy.

Readers being given more access to the process of book and magazine making, especially in regards to editorial work, so that the written word is viewed less as an end product and more as a collaborative creation.

Bits of writerly wisdom you would give to your younger self?

Read more, and harder. With every year there are more responsibilities and distractions that interfere with long bouts of reading. Borrow books, steal books, but more importantly: read all the books.

Which event are you looking forward to most?

The event that will be the best of the festival is ‘Three Jerks – in which a seedy triad from Western Sydney’s best writers group, Sweatshop, deliver a performance that necessarily subverts the privilege and point of view of the standard SWF ticket-holder.

Appearing at: Mixtape Memoirs at the Festival Club on Friday, May 23, and hosting a ‘Getting Published’ workshop on Saturday, May 24. (Also on Friday, June 4 for another Mixtape Memoirs event at the Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne).

More: @samuelcooney | theliftedbrow.com | thejumbuckisalmostextinct.com

 

BEN JENKINS: I’m a writer who lives in Sydney. I co-created Story Club with a mate at uni, and now we do it at Giant Dwarf theatre and on ABC2. I’m also a writer and presenter on The Checkout, where my job primarily involves dressing in embarrassing costumes to make a point about consumer affairs.

Ben Jenkins

Your favourite first line, and why?

It mightn’t be my favourite, but, “To begin at the beginning…” from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood is the first that comes to mind. It’s really pretty but also kind of silly – so, that’s nice.

What excites you about storytelling today?

I came into storytelling from a stand-up background, so I get really excited when someone who wouldn’t ever dream of doing comedy completely kills it in the storytelling format. I think there’s something freeing and safe about it for people.

What do you see (or hope to see) in the future of publishing – be it radio, print, or online?

People getting paid more often and more money for their writing.

Bits of writerly wisdom you would give to your younger self? 

Stop writing that. You’re just rewriting The Catcher In The Rye and it’s terrible.

Which event are you looking forward to most?

I want to hear Vince Gilligan talk so bad. I’m also pretty keen to hear Malcolm Fraser. The Festival Club nights are always a lot of boozy fun, too.

Appearing at: Story Club at Festival Club on Saturday, May 24.

More: @bencjenkins | storyclub.com.au

 

Sydney Writers’ Festival runs from May 19-25. For program details and tickets, head to swf.org.au