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Festival season is coming

Victoria’s lit fest line-up outlasts footy season

Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan and Danielle Binks at the 2017 Melbourne Writers Festival. Photo: Ian Laking @ihlaking

Melbourne is a festival city. In fact, this City of Literature is almost one continuous lit fest from April through to November. From the startup spec fic Speculate in late April to SheKilda, the city and surrounding suburbs are full of writers, readers, industry professionals – you name it, they’ll be there.

Throw in the conferences, outer suburbs and regional areas and you could spend most weekends in a perpetual lit fest. I’ve included a list of the key festivals at the end of this blog. Any I’ve missed? Let me know!

I’ve been to a few – Melbourne Writers Festival, Emerging Writers’ Festival (which includes the National Writers Conference), Word for Word, Castlemaine Children’s Literary Festival, and Melbourne’s Independent Publishing Conference and CYA in Brisbane, which aren’t technically festivals, but are along the same lines.

On that – what IS a festival?

A festival is a collection of events that draws together a group of people with similar interests – reading, writing, fishing, Nordic walking. Conferences are more formal and usually involve a series of single speakers; festivals can include panel discussions, facilitated discussions, book launches, entertaining game show-type events, pitching sessions, dinners, drinks, open mic sessions, writing groups, masterclasses – anything goes.

With such a range of festivals around, how do you choose? Or, you may be asking, why bother in the first place?


This is often the first thing to consider. We all wish it wasn’t, but festivals can add up. A few sessions and a masterclass or two can cost hundreds. Throw in travel and accommodation (which I often am) and the dollars keep ticking over.

Many festivals, especially regionals and large events such as the Emerging Writers’ Festival, include free events. They want to get the community involved, or are conscious that their target audience might be tight on funds. I recommend setting a budget, then looking through the entire program, marking what you MUST see, what you WANT to see, and what you’re interested in, then prioritise from there. And look for multi-session tickets that offer a discount for a bulk-buy. They can offer substantial savings.

Don't have any of the dollars? Read on…

Insight and inspiration

I love hearing about the work of other writers – how they started; how they were published; how, where and when they work; amazing highs and mistakes they've learnt from. The more I hear the more it becomes apparent that no one path is right; that each publishing experience is as unique as the books produced and the only common thread is perseverance. But the opportunity to hear why authors made certain creative decisions, or why a publisher chose a manuscript, or what a writer did when he disagreed with his editor – amazing. You can even ask questions! And those moments of, “She can’t write until she’s had three coffees? Me too!” and “He has to set an alarm so he doesn’t work through school pick-up? Same!” – they’re like join-the-dots that make me feel connected.

A few years ago I won a multi-session pass to a festival. To use up the pass I attended sessions with writers I wouldn’t have otherwise seen – I didn’t know their work, or wasn’t a fan of their genre. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone introduced me to new writers, new passions and new books that put a huge dent in my budget. Festivals can be a taster. No idea who or what the session is? You have nothing to lose – especially if it’s free.


Meet new people. Get new ideas. Gain inspiration. Many of my strongest memories of festivals is talking writing and books with friends, or their friends. And you’ll always have something to talk about – you’re there because you share a common interest. You can compare notes about the session you’ve seen, or fill one another in on what you’ve missed. For me, the city-based festivals offer a chance to meet mates from social media in real life.

Get involved

Want to attend the festival for free? Volunteer. Most festivals rely on vollies to operate. Tasks include artist liaison, checking tickets, providing information, or acting as a guide. You might not get every session you want and you do have to work for it, but volunteering is a great way to be immersed in a festival. You not only get to see it, but you get experience in the industry and you might meet your fave author or the person who ends up publishing your work. In a few years, when you’re on a panel, you can say, “Actually, it was while I was working as a volunteer at this event, in this very room that…”

By the way – don’t pitch to agents or publishers at these events (unless it’s a pitching session). Just don’t. It will not go in your favour.

Get on stage

The Spirit of Punk is a series of open mic nights for writers. You bring something short you’ve written, or can pen something on the fly. I’m proud to say I read one of my pieces out at the first event, held during the Emerging Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago. All the work others read was awesome, and people liked mine! The experience was not as frightening as I thought it would be, and I’ve since read work at other similar events.

If you’ve got a particular area of interest you can apply to be in a panel, or facilitate a panel. Many festivals want published authors, but if you’re a fan ef-fic-ionado, have a particular academic angle or skill set, give it a go. It’s good pitching practice. Emerging Writers’ Festival, for example, is for and features emerging writers: most panellists are up-and-coming. It’s a great way to get involved and see festivals from a different perspective. In general, artist callouts happen not long after the previous festival was held, or email the festival directly and ask – or pitch your idea.


Many festivals are yet to confirm their dates for this year. If no date is specified, it was not available at the time of publication. Please refer to individual websites for the most up-to-date information. All dates are 2018.

Melbourne and metro areas


28 April

This year is the first! Organised by the team from The Morning Bell podcast, this spec fic festival has a stellar line-up of Aussie spec fic authors and industry pros. Held at Gasworks in Albert Park.



Run by Monash Libraries, this south-east suburbs festival includes writing contest and a range of events.


8-11 June

Huge. HUGE. I’ve not been, but everyone I know who has raves about it – there’s costumes, and spec fic and sci fi. This year will be Continuum’s 14th.

Willy Lit Fest

16-17 June

Held in Williamstown, this fest in the inner west draws big names and big crowds.

Emerging Writers’ Festival

19-29 June

At various venues across the CBD, this festival incorporates the National Writers Conference and includes anything and everything. It’s a great mix of published pros and up-and-comers, and has a stack of free events.

Glen Eira Storytelling Festival

21 June to 8 July

The program will be released in May. Held in the City of Glen Eira south-east of Melbourne, the festival includes a range of different activities and author talks.

Melbourne Writers Festival

24 August to 2 September The state’s – if not the country’s – biggest writing festivals. MWF includes panels, social events and masterclasses across all genres. Held in central Melbourne, the festival also hosts other events throughout the year.

Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival

Late August

This festival showcases the talents of writers from Melbourne’s Jewish community and beyond.


Late September

Held at the magnificent State Library of Victoria, this is a feast of all things zine. Right behind SheKilda with best name.



Run by Sisters in Crime, this event – held in St Kilda – wins Best Festival Name EVER. The focus is on women and crime writing.

Sports Writers Festival

Early November

This festival originated in Melbourne, melding the city’s two great claim as the Literary and Sports capital of Australia, and also holds events in Sydney.

Independent Publishing Conference

Mid November

I attended this conference, run by the Small Press Network, last year for work. The conference includes days for industry and the public.

untitled Literary Festival

Mid November

Authors and activities in the City of Stonnington, in the south-eastern suburbs.

Brimbank Writers and Readers Festival


Another library-based festival, Brimbank runs over a couple of weeks and caters for a wide range of interests in Melbourne’s north-west.


Clunes Booktown

5-6 May

Clunes is an internationally recognised Booktown. This festival has everything from author talks for second-hand book sales. Accommodation can be scarce, so book early.

Queenscliffe Literary Festival

Early May

This small festival attracts some big names and rising talent, and explores engaging topics.

Moorabool Festival of Stories

Late May

Including the Peter Carey short Story Award, this small festival is run by a passionate writing group and library.

Woodend Winter Arts Fesitval

8-11 June

Combining literature, arts and music, Woodend says it’s “a world-class showcase of vibrant, traditional and thought-provoking performances and events in the heart of one of Victoria’s best food and wine regions”.

Apollo Bay Writers Festival

28-30 July

Competitions, writers, writing groups, and the wild Great Ocean Road coast during winter.

Words in Winter

Early to mid August

This festival runs in the Central Highlands towns of Daylesford, Trentham, Newstead, Clunes, Maryborough and Creswick, with each having its own program and focus.

Bendigo Writers Festival

10-12 August

One of the biggest regional fests, Bendigo, in the goldfields region, has a reputation for engaging speakers from Australia and overseas.

Ex Libris Port Fairy

Early September

After taking the year off in 2017 to make some changes to “focus, funding and marketing,”Ex Libris is expected to come back stronger. The south-west Victorian town has a strong arts vibe – it also hosts the famous Port Fairy Folk Festival.

Castlemaine Children’s Literature Festival

Late September

This small town is a hotbed of writing creativity. This festival is mainly for kids, but keep an eye out for some big names giving workshops.

Newstead Short Story Tattoo

Early October

A focus on short stories, music, performance and live readings.

Coal Creek Literary Festival

Early October

In South Gippland, this festival features local writers and authors of stories set in the region.

Ballarat Writers’ Festival

Late October

2017 was the first for this festival, run by Ballarat Writers. It included a mix of authors from across all genres, events for kids, and workshops.

Word for Word Geelong

Mid November

This is a relatively young festival – it was started by Deakin University a few years ago and is now run by the Geelong libraries. Last year the festival included events across the region. It’s focus is non-fiction, and it includes authors and workshops for writers.

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