The art of survival. The Byron Bay Writers Festival


Sometimes people are thrown unwittingly into circumstances which will transform their lives. And then there are those who actively seek a life pushed to the edge. The Byron Bay Writers’ Festival brings together a group of writers whose work explores the tenuous, life-affirming theme of survival.
Sophie Cunningham‘s Warning has taken her through the archives, and into the lives, of survivors of Cyclone Tracy, a natural disaster that lurks in the psyche of a generation of Australians. Niromi de Soyza‘s memoir Tamil Tigress recounts her terrifying story as a teenage militant in Sri Lanka’s civil war, and Denise Leith, with her novel What Remains, explores the adrenalin fuelled career of a war correspondent.

Cunningham’s book Warning, on Cyclone Tracy and other extreme weather events and tragedies, charts the various survival responses in a community in a natural disaster. During her research into Cyclone Tracy she discovered that the death toll count for the 1974 cyclone was incomplete, with many Aboriginal people and ‘hippies’ not included in the final count, leaving her to question the extent of the human toll of the disaster.

In a stunning story of survival, de Soyza recounts the day-to-day experiences as one of the Tamil Tiger’s first female guerrilla fighters at the tender age of just seventeen. While most teenagers were embarking on a journey of self discovery, this young woman was facing some of humanity’s cruellest realities, engaging in face to face combat, enduring illness, starvation and a life on the run.

War is penned from another angle in Leith’s novel, What Remains, this time ostensibly as an impartial observer: a war correspondent. Leith’s work of fiction follows a foreign correspondent through the warzones of the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, South Africa, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya and Iraq, and explores the choices people make to position themselves in circumstances where a fight for survival defines who they are.

Our writers come together at this year’s Festival to share their tales of the fight for survival, and hard-won lessons on how to be better prepared, adapt and even thrive after disaster.

Widely regarded as one of Australia’s premier literary events, the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival takes place from 3-5 August. For further information visit or call the booking hotline on 1300 368 552.