Byron Bay Writers Festival

By Adam Norris

Following two years of Covid cancellations, the Byron Writers Festival is back again in a whole new location. The North Byron Parklands (also home to Splendour in the Grass) will see some of the brightest names in Australian literature light up three days of conversations and events from 26 to 28 August, and we’re more than a little thrilled to be chatting with nationally-loved broadcaster Indira Naidoo ahead of her festival appearances.

Indira’s latest book, The Space Between The Stars, is a moving reflection on the tragic suicide of her younger sister, and of the unexpected connections with the natural world that helped shape a path through grief. Writing began while her grief was still fresh, and is a very poignant and personal process that is uncovered.

“I think that six weeks into the death of someone so close to you, you’re not really thinking clearly about a lot of things,” Indira said. “There’s a lot of intense emotion and shock, and you’re very overwhelmed. And now, in hindsight I can look back on that period and realise that what I did is what most artists would do. They draw upon their art. Because in the end, in our darkest hours, it’s our art, and its in the way our art can help us express and heal us and help us navigate these difficult times, that’s what we’re drawn to.

“I didn’t – especially not in the early stages – think, if I write this it will make me feel better.

But I had a compulsion to write, and I just hope that was going to be something that made sense of what was [happening].”

One of the insights of the book, and one that seems straightforward but is something largely take for granted, is that there is a wide and complex world around us all the time.

When Indira’s sister passed away, it was at the height of the pandemic and outside movement was limited. Yet exploring the nearby Botanic Gardens led Indira to start transforming her grief into gratitude.

“That’s definitely where I found myself,” Indira explained. “All those interactions with nature, the fragility and unknowingness that so many nature creatures live with everyday.

There were [creatures] I spent a day with who only live for six or seven days. They don’t know that when they’re born. They don’t know how many days they’ve got, just like us. But I had, as I say in the book, 48 years with my sister, but I still felt that wasn’t enough, I felt we should have grown old together and had grandchildren, there was so much more to do.

But really, 48 years is a long time from the point of view of an ant!

“I like that idea that nature kept changing my perspective. And rather than felt robbed, I felt gratitude that I’d had so much time. I came out of the experience not only feeling an appreciation of my sister and who she was – and she was just so unique and so much fun – but also this sense that what an adventure I’d already had, and could have. [Even with] restrictions, look at all the adventures I could have. And again, it’s perspective.

“You can approach everything with gratitude or bitterness. It’s our choice. The same thing can happen to two people, and one can walk away thinking how much they have learned, they’ve been reminded about how important this is, and how lucky they are. And the other can just focus on loss and deprivation and sadness and grief. It’s our choice, how we approach it, and I wanted to be someone that chose to come away from this feeling gratitude.”

Indira appears three times at the Byron Writers Festival – On Stillness (Friday 26 August) with Paul Callaghan, Christine Jackman, and Anne Maria Nicholson; Stars and Phosphorescence (Sat 27 August) with Julia Baird; and Soul Food: The Companionship of Gardens (Sunday 28 August) with Costa Georgiadas and Matthew Evans.

WHAT 2022 Byron Writers Festival
WHERE North Byron Parklands
WHEN 26 – 28 August