Life throws up any number of surprises, doesn't it? I walked into a bar full of people last night and it was almost silent. (That's not the surprise.) Everyone was watching two big-screen televisions on the walls. The Olympics, you're thinking, but you'd be wrong: they were watching a live interview with Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors and Sellevision. (That's not the surprise, either.)
What was surprising (to me anyway) was that Burroughs was being interviewed from inside a small two-man geodesic tent. And the tent was in the bar. The only way the audience could enjoy the interview, therefore, was either to climb into the tent with him (hardly practical given there was already a camera and interviewer in there with him) or watch the TV screens.
Apparently I can expect similar tent-related discoveries all this week in this bar, which happens to be the Festival Club of this year's Melbourne Writers' Festival, which officially opened yesterday.
The annual MWF is one of three major literary festivals held in Australia that regularly attract more than 30,000 book lovers (the other two are the annual Sydney Writers' Festival and the biennial Adelaide Writers' Week). If you're an international publisher, you can actually obtain funding from the Australia Council to attend the Sydney or Adelaide events, but not so the Melbourne one - yet.
MWF is only one reason to make a visit to my home town if you're in the book business. Melbourne has also just become the world's second UNESCO City of Literature (after Edinburgh). No-one really seems to know what this means (you can read UNESCO's criteria here), except that it does affirm what Melburnians have always known - that their city is Australia's cultural capital, with more bookshops per capita than anywhere else in the country, and a thriving independent publishing scene (which includes publishers such as Text Publishing, Black Inc., Hardie Grant, Hinkler Books and Scribe Publications).
Getting the nod from UNESCO has almost made us forget that Sydney was the Australian city chosen to appear on the board of the 'world edition' of Monopoly.