Why I loved the Northern Beaches Readers Festival SO MUCH

By Valerie Khoo

I loved the Northern Beaches Readers Festival for SO MANY reasons. And if this year's event is anything to go by, I suggest putting next year's dates in your diary now. The name of the festival may sound parochial (and, I agree, it does), but I believe it's one of the best festivals in the country. Here's why …

1: The program

It's not easy to program a line-up of authors and topics that just hits the mark. But the organisers did it. I’ve previously curated major festivals, and it's very challenging to create a program that both appeals to a wide audience while catering to the niche interests of die-hard fans. The Northern Beaches Readers festival had a mixture of uber-successful authors – hello Michael Robotham, Candice Fox, Judy Nunn, Kate Forsyth, Pamela Hart and more – as well as other thoroughly entertaining and mesmerising writers who made the festival a dynamic and fascinating couple of days.

When the director of the festival, Sandie Docker, first told me her vision for a readers festival focused on commercial fiction, I loved the concept immediately. Despite various false starts (that pesky pandemic), it went off without a hitch this year. And it's a testament to Sandie and her incredible team for developing an agenda where there was always a session you really wanted to go to.

That might sound odd. But, seriously, I've been to festivals that have featured fabulous sessions followed by many others where I would rather have watched grass grow. This was not one of those festivals! The program was so well considered that there wasn't a single moment of “dead” time.

2: The authors and facilitators brought their A-game – and then some

It goes without saying that clever authors bring their A-game to public appearances. After all, it's in their interests to do so – and they sell more books as a result. So this comment goes out to the facilitators!

Full disclosure: I was one of the facilitators, but this is not about me. Specifically, I watched the following facilitators/MCs in action: Claudine Tinellis (Talking Aussie Books podcast), Cassie Hamer (her latest book is The Truth About Faking It), Sandie Docker (her latest book is The Wattle Island Book Club), Michael Robotham (crime and thriller author). I attended many sessions, all with different facilitators, and I was so impressed by the skill and preparation each brought to their sessions.

I say this with some degree of authority because I have been to countless festivals and I can assure you that not all facilitators are as capable of creating the great conversation and insights that flowed from the stage. It's a testament to the organisers' choice of facilitators, which added an extra dose of magic to the event.

3: The vibe

There's something about the laid back vibe of the Northern Beaches of Sydney that added a bit of sparkle to the festival. Fans, readers and aspiring writers could easily connect with their favourite authors and publishers. And, quite frankly, if you're an aspiring author who didn't make it to the festival, it's a shame – because you missed out.

The Northern Beaches Readers Festival is ideal for making connections. I witnessed “desk drawer writers” make real connections with their favourite writers, aspiring authors having lunch with bestselling authors, wannabe authors obtain business cards from publishers, and students securing mentoring meetups with established authors who were just keen to help others in the industry. Not going to lie, it was a special experience.

4: The vision

Director of the festival, Sandie Docker, is a wonderful author (The Banksia Bay Beach Shack, The Cottage at Rosella Cove and more) and was described by author Cassie Hamer (The End of Cuthbert Close, After the Party) as a visionary. And Sandie clearly is. I remember when she first brought up the idea of a Northern Beaches Readers Festival. We were having a glass of wine at Joanne Nell's book launch for The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker. Fast forward several years and Sandie and her team – Rosemary Puddy, Claudine Tinellis, Cassie Hamer, Michelle Parsons, Anna Loder and their army of hard-working volunteers – turned that idea into a successful reality. Sandie already has visions for a bigger and better event in 2023, taking over even more of Avalon Beach.

5: The parking

This may sound facetious, but it's not. There is a meme going around and I don't know where it originated, but it goes something like this: “You know you're in Sydney when a great parking spot moves you to tears.” If you don't live in Sydney, you will simply not understand. But if you DO live in Sydney, you'll get it.

The thing about Avalon Beach is that, even though it's in Sydney, it feels like a whole other world. A magical and mythical place where all-day parking gods shine upon locals and visitors alike. The fact that you can park smack bang near the festival for free – and for the whole event – is something that can bring a Sydneysider to tears. I'm not even joking.

To be honest, I could go on about how much I loved this festival, but I'm going to leave it there. If you are not planning to attend in 2023, you're bonkers. That is all.



Author bio

Valerie Khoo is the CEO of the Australian Writers' Centre and host of the top-rating podcast So you want to be a writer. She is also a mentor to creatives and writing tutor.

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