Starstruck, awestruck and other fun adjectives

10 Aug

Friday 5th August – The Byron Bay Writers’ Festival (& hero worship)

Here is an example of the amazing nature of coincidence. For most of last week Malcolm and Linda were at a training conference in Perth, so I was home alone. I was still slightly traumatised from Phil making me watch Paranormal Activity a couple of months ago, and was sleeping with the TV on to cover up any scary demon-noises that I may or may not have been hearing in the dead of night. Whilst drifting off to sleep late on Sunday night I suddenly saw the face of Louis de Bernieres – my favourite author EVER and one of my absolute heroes – appear on the TV screen. It turned out he would be appearing at a writers’ festival in Byron Bay on Friday, and if I hadn’t a) been home alone, b) watched Paranormal activity and been too scared to sleep without the TV on and c) drank too much coffee and stayed up too late I would never have known! Needless to say, I bought a ticket.

After a lovely drive down highway 1 into New South Wales, I arrived at the festival, which was happening in a great big open field in the sunshine. There were seven or eight massive tents with various events and talks happening in them throughout the day, as well as a food tent, a bookshop and a huge amount of grassy space available to just sit in the sun and read or doze. There was a beautiful lake round the back where people were eating lazy picnic breakfasts. Byron Bay is where all the hippies live, so the festival was full of multicoloured dreadlocks, tie-dye shirts, odd piercings, a hint of marijuana and an overall feeling of warm-and-fuzzy tranquillity and love for your fellow man. I met several absolutely wonderful people at various points and chatted about all sorts of things, but I actually enjoyed being there on my own as I could potter about freely and not worry about what other people wanted to do.

The gorgeous lake at North Byron (just round the back of the festival)

I went to a talk on the brilliance of cookery books, a hilarious discussion about the importance of embarassment in modern comedy which was half stand-up show and half comedy bickering, and a talk about the relationships between road trips and creativity. I also ate a fantastic meat pie. At 1:30pm I managed to get a decent seat in the main tent, and sat buzzing with excitement while I waited for Louis de Bernieres to arrive.

When he did arrive I was EVEN MORE excited. He is such a gentle giant! During the interview he spoke about travelling, music, his literary influences – I can’t believe I never realised the similarities between him and Thomas Hardy! – the impossibility of happy endings, his fight to get equal custody of his children following his divorce (very sad) and how it feels to have your books turned into films. Turns out they did offer him the chance to write the script for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but he was busy doing other things and didn’t have time – therefore the slight ruining of it by Hollywood was out of his control. A film of Birds Without Wings is currently in the pipeline, which should be excellent. He also brought on, as a special guest, Koko the dog, aka the star of the his latest book-to-film conversion, Red Dog (more on this later). The Aussies were loving it because it’s an Australian film set in Australia with Australians in it, and that doesn’t happen very often!

It’s hard to put into words how I felt during the hour I spent listening to him talk. Louis de Bernieres’ work has had a profound formative effect on me as a person: my belief that virtually no one in this world is truly, irredeemably evil; my belief that every single person, however ordinary, has an extraordinary story to tell; my desire to make the best of every situation even when everything’s going to shit; my view of the world as a bewitchingly mysterious yet deeply rational place; a great deal of this is attributable to the influence of his books. Watching this person who I’ve idolised for approximately half my life talk on stage a few metres in front of me was a very strange experience, but incredible nonetheless. He’s such a nice bloke!

Afterwards, I headed over to the book signing area with legs like jelly. He signed my copy of “The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts”, posed for a picture and gave me a big hug. He said something charming and I actually BLUSHED. I swear I have never been so close to swooning with admiration in my entire life! Unfortunately all the clever and eloquent things I had planned to say to him fell out of my brain, so I never did get to thank him for writing such amazing books!

Me & Louis de Bernieres

After having a sit down and recovering proper function in my legs, I had a wander round the other tents and listened to a very interesting talk by some crime writers about how they structure their stories – some of them actually go underground with various minor criminals just to get an understanding of how they do things! The festival also had a sculpture exhibition on, so I looked at those too. There were some really interesting things and some rather odd things:

Heart sculpture made from straw

Sand sculpture - it's sad to think it will all just blow away

A dress made entirely with pages from books - I want one!

Grass made from glass

Another sculpture involved burying books around the place

No idea what this was supposed to be or mean, but it involved a penis, three breasts, a belly button and a mouth, and span around sinisterly in its cage

By the time I’d had a look at all the sculptures (I spent a good 20 minutes trying to work out what the hell that last one was) everything was winding down, so I hopped back in the car and drove home. Definitely one of the best days out I’ve ever had – one of these days I might start getting creative and writing stories again. Maybe.

Saturday 6th August – Springbrook: Natural Bridge & Numinbah Valley

On Saturday I went on a trip into the hinterland with Malcolm and Linda. We went to see the Natural Bridge, which is one of the iconic sights you see plastered all over Queensland tourism brochures. Quite deservedly so as it turns out, because it is very pretty:

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge

We had a picnic in the woods, and made friends with a skinny scrub turkey who was desperate to be fed. He ended up getting most of our sandwiches and the oranges we’d brought, before a bigger, fatter scrub turkey came and chased him off. The poor skinny one followed us all the way back to the car!

On the way home we took a detour up a scary mountain road in order to try and see the view over the Numinbah valley. Unfortunately Australia is violently opposed to the chopping down of trees so the view was hidden pretty much the entire way up! Even when we got to the top the only places with good views were peoples’ back gardens! We did manage to find one spot with a view over Advancetown lake, but nowhere could we see unobstructed the knockout panoramic views of the Gold Coast and the Pacific Ocean that we knew were there *sigh*

View over Advancetown Lake

On Saturday night I went to Pasha’s for Turkish food with Michael and Sally. It’s a very cool restaurant, with low-down cushiony seats and a real belly dancer! We had an absolutely fantastic meal and accidentally polished off a bottle of wine. One thing I’ve still not got used to in Australia is the fact that you bring your own wine to a restaurant but they charge you $6 to undo the screw top! Michael and Sally gave me some lovely going-away presents, which I will treasure forever 🙂

Sunday 7th August – Springbrook: Twin Falls & Gobsmacking Views

After our mini-bushwalking adventure to see the Natural Bridge, we decided to do a proper bushwalking trek the following day, this time to Twin Falls and the Springbrook Plateau. First, however, we drove out to the “best of all” lookout on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, which has views over Mount Warning (an extinct volcano) and the caldera it created when it exploded some time in the distant past. After a brief stroll through the woods and an encounter with some very old Antarctic pine trees which made noises like Ents (I got quite excited) we made it to the lookout, and the view definitely didn’t disappoint even if it was cloudy in New South Wales!

"Best of all" lookout view of Mount Warning and the caldera

Next came the drive back into Queensland and the trek downhill to Twin Falls: the waterfalls really were lovely, even if they did make the path treacherously slippery!

Rainbow Falls (I came on a rainbowless day)

Twin Falls (due to a lack of rain only one of them was working!)

One thing that did ruin the walk slightly was the presence of around fifteen kids on the walk with their parents. They literally spent the ENTIRE TIME screaming and shouting: we tried to laugh it off at first but within about ten minutes we were wishing snakebites and quicksand upon them for destroying the rainforest atmosphere so completely. Eventually we managed to overtake them only to catch up with the only thing worse than a horde of screaming children… that’s right, THE FRENCH. We managed to overtake them too and couldn’t help exchanging the traditional “garlic-munching surrender-monkeys” jibes as soon as we were out of earshot. I’m pretty sure the Frenchies will have been muttering similar ritual insults to each other too once we were out of the way; something along the lines of  “ah, we hate ze fucking English, zey are such deecks wiz zeir roast beef”. We’re all good friends at the end of the day, but why is it so much fun to mock the French? Answers on a postcard please.

Anyway, once we had escaped the devil children and the Frogs, the rainforest walk was indescribably beautiful. Everything was just so… green. There’s no other word for it!

Green trees and red Australian earth

Once we had walked around the bottom part of the circuit, we had to do an uphill climb to get back to the lookout at the top. We were warned by a sign about the dangers of the “stinging trees” along the path: it appears that in this country there is no living thing you can trust! We all got a bit hot and sweaty – Australian “winter” my arse – but were rewarded when we finally reached the top of the cliff! We could see all the way to the ocean!

View from Canyon lookout - the climb was definitely worth it!

After our 3 hour trek we had a well-earned sit down at the Gourmet Galah – I had lavender ice-cream which was yummy. Little did I know how sore my bum would be the next day due to an excess of bushwalking.

Red Dog

On Sunday night, after going to Ichiban Boshi in Southport for officially the best bowl of noodles I’ve ever had, we went to see Red Dog. It’s a film based on a wonderful book by Louis de Bernieres about the life of the legendary Red Dog (aka the Pildara Wanderer) who hitch-hiked around northern Western Australia in the 1970s and has a statue erected in his honour in the town of Dampiers where he lived. It’s a bit of a tearjerker but it’s also full of joy and very funny. Plus, it’s a true story and has a very cute doggy in it. I can’t recommend it enough, it’s a heartfelt independently produced film which will tell you more than I ever could about what Australia is like!

(One small point: as always seems to happen with screen adaptations of Louis de Bernieres’ books, they have given it an almost offensively unnecessary Hollywood-style ending – I am however willing to forgive this minor indiscretion as apart from the last three minutes or so the entire film is totally excellent!)

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One Response to “Starstruck, awestruck and other fun adjectives”

  1. luxury car rental Philadelphia August 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Yay pretty things

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