INTERVIEW: Katherine Dorrington, program manager of the Perth Writers Festival

With the Perth Writers Festival just around the corner (21-24 February), Bookseller+Publisher spoke to program manager Katherine Dorrington about the festival’s highlights, its focus on literary writing, politics and journalism, and her favourite sessions.

What do you anticipate will be the highlights of this year’s Perth Writers Festival?
There are almost too many to mention, but I’ll give it my best shot! Without a doubt my number one highlight would be Margaret Atwood. She is such an influential writer and brilliant storyteller. I’m also really looking forward to hearing China Miéville speak. I’m a huge fan of his writing and I’ve never had the opportunity to hear him live.

I think Kevin Powers will be a big hit with our audiences. His book The Yellow Birds (Hodder) was on numerous ‘best of’ lists for 2012, and I’m looking forward to hearing him speak about his remarkable novel. Lawrence Norfolk is also high on my ‘must see’ list; his brilliant depiction of 17th-century England, John Saturnall’s Feast (Bloomsbury), astonished me with the amount of historical research he undertook.

The other major highlight for me is a series of events called ‘Out of the Box’, which focuses on television drama as serious form of storytelling rivalling cinema and literature.

What sessions or which authors do you think will attract the big crowds?
Margaret Atwood, China Miéville, Anna Funder and Phillip Adams are the authors I think will attract the biggest crowds, but I also think some of our events such as the Poets VS Novelists Debate, The Stella Prize Trivia Night, and the Family Day will also be really popular.

What about your personal picks? Which authors are you most looking forward to hearing talk about their work?
From our international line-up I loved Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars (Headline), so I’m really looking forward to hearing him speak, and also Steven Poole whose new book, You Aren’t What You Eat (Scribe), should generate lots of debate, which is always great for a festival. I’m really excited about our opening address, On Art and Politics with Ahdaf Soueif—it’s a great way to start a writers’ festival and epitomises what the festival is about, the place where storytelling and art inform and examine real life. The other international author I’ll be making sure I’m in the front row to listen to is Edward St Aubyn as I find his prose very polished and witty.

Australian authors I’m keen to listen to include Andrew Croome, Graeme Simsion, Benjamin Law, Anna Funder and Michelle de Kretser among many others.

What is the theme or inspiration for this year’s festival?
This year some of the threads running throughout the festival include a return and focus on literary writing with authors such as Edward St Aubyn, James Meek, Michelle de Kretser, Kevin Powers and Anna Funder. There is also a strong focus on politics and journalism with writers such as David Marr, Laura Tingle, Maxine McKew, James Button, Phillip Adams, David Uren, Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis. I’m also interested in exploring the changing nature of the modern soldier with Chris Masters, Kevin Powers and Major General John Cantwell.

Australian literature is often dominated by the Eastern states. How do you plan to highlight talent from the West?
To be honest I don’t think of it in those terms. We have a wealth of talent here in the West that includes authors who are recognised internationally as well as nationally. I would imagine that most book lovers appreciate good writing no matter where it’s from. However, I’d like to highlight just one key partnership we have with writingWA and Wines of Western Australia. This year we are featuring a number of WA writers in an event called ‘A Glass of Wine and a Good Book’, involving two of life’s great pleasures, reading a book and drinking wine!

Will the festival be using digital programming to reach audiences online?
While we are very active online in the way we interact with our audience, we don’t have any specific digital programming planned for this year. However, the festival is planning on employing a digital producer for 2014 and I think there could be some exciting developments in this area for future festivals.

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