This is an important film, for many reasons. The scene where the men are discussing whether it would be justifiable to violate their ancient (pre-Islamic) code of honour and commitment to protection of guests, by betraying Bin Laden to the Americans, is very insightful. If only all of this had been understood better, earlier, we might have reached a satisfactory conclusion in that region by now. (Remember, Bin Laden used to be a 'good guy'. He worked with the Americans to supply Stinger missiles to the Afghans, and helped to drive out the damned Commies.)
WEDNESDAY 5 AUGUST
Then, John Parche introduces himself and subjects me to such an onslaught of friendliness that I am completely decimated by it. Never in all my years of business (and now literary) travel has the owner of a hotel given me such a friendly welcome. Coming from London, I am woefully ill-equipped to deal with Australian friendliness, but this assault at the Bryon at Byron Bay is the most devastating attack yet. Searching deep inside my soul, I reach the inevitable and insightful conclusion: I don't have anywhere near enough friendliness inside me to fight back with -- I am a shallow, superficial, ego-centric and self-absorbed person, compared to these people. They'd better give me a nice room.
My first event is on the schools' day of the Festival. I am hosted by the famous writer Colin Bowles, who is actually three writers:
After 25 minutes ...
After 50 minutes ...
After 75 minutes ...
My signing queue is quite good. A middle-aged Malaysian woman asks me to sign a copy for her daughter.
In the evening, I am a participant in the Writers' Cabaret, in a crowded nightclub. Since when was I a stand-up comedian? Since I started saying 'Yes' to everything. Screw it, just do it.
Sandy Gandhi is the very distinguished compère.
I notice an Astonishingly Beautiful Woman in the audience. I can't take my eyes off her. Centre aisle seat, next to a grey haired woman. No man with her. I would so love to meet her.
Every time I enter the bookshop, someone asks me to sign a book. I keep casually wandering in there.
There's a Festival closing party at The Rails in Byron Bay. It's bittersweet. I'm hungry and eat hot chips.
In a surreal moment, the Astonishingly Beautiful Woman emerges from the crowd and comes up to me, and then she sits with me for a little while, and we talk, and I try not to drown in her eyes, until she says she has to go; her parents are leaving and she's with them -- she's visiting from Melbourne. (Okay, stop what you're thinking. She was a grown-up. Grown-ups can have parents too, you know. She was almost thirty.) She says she'll e-mail me and blurs back into the crowd like a mirage -- an oasis of beauty in the barren desert of life. The birds stop singing and the sun stops shining (which you'd expect this late at night, anyway.)
(When is the Melbourne Literary Festival? Who's the Director?)
Meet a guitar-playing Geordie sitting on a rock, who takes this photo.
Finally make it into the legendary town of Byron Bay ... The hippies found it and the yuppies bought it.
In Byron Bay, a woman looks at me, smiles, and points me out to her friend. Obviously, two cultured attendees of literary festivals.