The Quest for Literary Gold: Maps and Spades at the Ready at Sydney Writer’s Festival 2015

By Madeleine Manglaras

As all current and past university students would know, it’s only when you have multiple assignment deadlines looming that you decide the best way to avoid the blinking cursor on the blank page is to escape interstate for ten days.

The lure was Sydney Writers Festival, held between 18 May and 23 May, where over ten days, writers, readers and creatives alike immerse themselves in words, people and ideas, pursuing the collective quest of uncovering literary gold. With event locations all over the state, from Bondi Beach and Circular Quay to the Blue Mountains, it was impossible to escape the festival jubilations. They were in the theatre, at the bar and on the air.

While some people might imagine writers’ festivals to involve old scholars on plush floral sofas sipping Earl Grey and quoting Dickens, the Sydney Writers Festival knocks such a notion off its proverbial walking frame. In reality, the festival couldn’t be any more diverse in its elements and its reception. Festival events come in the form of panels, interviews, presentations, performances and workshops, with topics on culture, history, politics, feminism, the environment and mental health, just to skim the surface.

There is something for every age and every interest. The ‘True Crime: Morality, Money and Entertainment’ panel tackled the salaciousness of crime writing and the ethical issues of morality and truth. John Pickrell gave a presentation, ‘On the Problems of Jurassic Park’, about the reluctance of Hollywood filmmakers to reflect recent palaeontology discoveries. The special guests of ‘Neurosis and Diagnosis: Characters and their Psychology’ discussed the psychological states of authors and their protagonists.

The sheer multiplicity of festival content unveils the Sydney Writers’ Festival as not only a festival of writers, but also a festival of ideas. The liberal, thrilling and sometimes unnerving approach it takes to address issues—individual or global—promote exactly the kind of discussions we need to have to improve not only the worlds in our writing, but also the worlds in our realities.


“…motivation to write can start with ‘finding something interesting to tell and an interesting way in which to tell it’.”

In a workshop with Nick Earls titled ‘Character Building’, he stated that the motivation to write can start with ‘finding something interesting to tell and an interesting way in which to tell it’. Writers’ festivals can deliver the message in a bottle you need to set sail in search of the story only you can tell; and there are festivals throughout the year all over Australia to tempt you with adventure. No disrespect to formal education—but go on, I dare you—request that extension.


The Sydney Writers Festival runs annually from 18 May to 23 May.


Madeleine Manglaras is a volunteer at the SA Writers Centre, in her final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Creative Communication and currently writing her first full length novel. She comes across as relatively sociable although most of her friends are either feline or fictional.

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