A Writers’ Festival is (finally) coming to the beaches
Over three days in March, 50 authors will appear in panels, book launches, poetry readings and literary discussions in Manly’s first-ever Writers’ Festival.
Booker Prize winner (and Manly local), Thomas Keneally AO, will open the festival with a line up including debut authors, award-winning journalists, Olympic medal winners, the 2023 Walkley Book Award winner, Antony Loewenstein, Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, Sam Vincent, 16-time Walkley Award winner, Nick McKenzie, and the 2023 recipient of the NSW Historical Society’s Annual Citation, Emeritus Professor John Maynard of Newcastle University.
In even better news, the program is packed with local authors, including Tracy Hall, Summer Land, Lisa Gallate, Amy Hutton, Lucy Lever, Dr Sarah McKay, Ingrid J Adams, Jill Valentine, Michele Seminara, Zeina Issa, Luke Fischer and more.
We have Balgowlah Heights resident and Festival Founder, Bonita Mersiades, to thank.
“I started up the FWF when it occurred to me that authors, who have put a lot of time and effort into researching and writing their book, don’t get to talk about their work very much,” Bonita tells Manly Observer.
“When I was in the midst of FWF 2023, during the time of the Women’s World Cup, I realised we were missing a writers’ festival in Manly’s cultural line up.
“Manly isn’t just a holiday destination point with a beach and a ferry. There is a whole cultural life here and it was missing a literary event.”
She says that the theme, the power of storytelling, is deliberately broad.
“I love reading, and I love reading different genres, and I know, from my conversations with people, that everyone has their own preferred genre or two,” Bonita explains.
“So, I wanted to create a program that was diverse enough to cater to everyone’s preferences.”
And it is just that – fiction genres include everything from romance to contemporary fiction to crime to historical fiction and non-fiction genres include sport, parenting, international relations, politics and biographies. There is also a school program which includes five children and young adult authors.
“The school program will include presentations to local schools, as well as, workshops catered to small groups,” Bonita says.
If that sounds like a lot to pack into three days, Bonita has squeezed in one more main attraction.
As part of the festival, there will be three book launches.
“To make this a regular event on the Manly cultural calendar, we need the community’s support by buying tickets to the festival,” Bonita adds.
While tickets will go on sale to the public on Saturday, 27 January 2024, there is an opportunity to get early priority access by purchasing the Festival Friends package, which will be available until the 25 January.
Besides priority booking, the package (at $49 for individuals) provides a 10 per cent discount to sessions, a complimentary ticket to a pre-festival breakfast, an exclusive complimentary ticket to the Author Meet-Up on Saturday evening and more.
Author Spotlight: Jill Valentine
The Northern Beaches resident has spent two decades in the investment banking industry as a Communications and PR executive. While it has always been Jill’s dream to write a novel, it was only when she left a job in 2022 that she had the time and space to go for it.
“I thought, if not now, then when?” she tells us.
“It’s a book for women about women and it’s related to my professional experience in investment banking, which is quite male dominant.”
The novel delves into themes of self-worth, identity and friendship. It follows three strong female characters as they support each other and try to take down the scheming, controlling men in their lives.
When she’d finished the novel, Jill met Bonita while walking her dog.
“I believe things happen for a reason. After a couple of weeks, I got up the courage to tell Bonita that I’d written a book and after she heard more about it, she loved it and wanted to publish it,” Jill recalls.
Besides the launch, Jill will also be on a panel, Wonder Women, which will include two other female authors discussing the importance of strong female characters. She will also be on a panel about kindness with Catherine Fox AM.
Beyond her journey from aspiring writer to launching at a Writers’ Festival, Jill uncovered something truly special on the Northern Beaches.
“As a writer, I found that there is a huge local community of writers and authors who support each other, attend each other’s literary events, who follow and promote each other’s work on social media and are incredibly generous with their advice to debut authors like myself,” she says.
“There are also multiple book clubs, who I think will love the idea of writers’ festival in our backyard.”
Besides her own sessions, Jill is looking forward to vibrant panel discussions from a diverse range of authors with varying experience and expertise.
“This festival really needs to have the community’s support behind it to make sure that it’s not a one-hit wonder,” she adds.
“Bums on seats will lead it to being a permanent fixture on Manly’s cultural calendar.”