Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival attendees are in for a very different experience this year.
And instead of being dispersed across multiple venues around town, most sessions will be held over the river at the Showground.
The main pavilion hall, which has a new improved sound system, will be the smallest venue, accommodating an audience of about 80 with spacing between groups.
Two big marquees will shelter up to 130 and 180 people respectively, while providing plenty of healthy fresh air through their open sides.
There will be also be refreshments and entertainment on site, creating a strong festival feel, said committee co-chair Adam Norris.
“We’ve never had a festival consolidated in one place before,” he said. “People will still be able to wander back and forth into town, of course, but we’ll also have a lot of food vans, coffee carts, tables and chairs for them at the Showground.
“And we’re going to be operating a bar there, which I’m excited about because we can have different author-named cocktails, so you can order the Hemingway or the Capote, for example.”
This year there will be fewer authors – about 38 – but more of them will be big names.
And there will be multiple opportunities to hear them speak, so festivalgoers won’t need to make as many agonising choices.
“Last year for the cancelled festival we were looking at about 59 authors, because we had more venues up our sleeve in the heart of town,” Adam said.
“But because of the need to relocate to the Showground and pull everything together into one space and keep all of the COVID plans in action, we thought, well we can’t have quite the same number of authors, so we’ll get fewer and kick up the quality a little!”
As the audience capacity for each session will be smaller, the program will include similar but not identical ‘repeat’ events.
“If you miss out on seeing an author you’re dead keen to see on the Saturday, you’ll get a chance to see a similar panel the following day,” Adam said.
“There’ll be a slightly different theme and a different moderator. I think with the new interviewer, the conversation will inevitably go down different paths.”
To preserve some of the whole-of-town excitement the festival usually generates, and to encourage visitors to cross the bridge and spend money in town, the main street will be be decorated with literary themes as usual, and the library will be open for free author talks.
There may also be some pop-up events happening at cafes.
Announcements about the author line-up and the Schools Program and Poetry Slam will begin next week.
Organisers are keen to hear from people willing to swell the ranks of volunteers, as more will be needed for COVID marshalling and cleaning duties this year.
And as the housing crisis has changed the availability of accommodation in the area, they’re looking for more locals willing to lend their granny flat, cabin or self-contained studio space to a visiting author.
“In return you’ll get to go along to a couple of sessions and have our undying gratitude,” Adam said.