YA Ambassador Catriona Feeney, aka Little Book Owl, gives her personal take on this year's Sydney Writers' Festival — from the most invigorating talks she heard to what it was like to moderate a panel for the first time. 

It is bittersweet. This year's Sydney Writers' Festival was incredible — it has topped all of my festival experiences by far — but now I have to wait another long year. I managed to squeeze in 13 sessions (one of which I facilitated), and while I would love to go into detail about what I enjoyed and learned from each, I’ll just be sharing some of the highlights so that we aren't here for hours.

I'll start at the very beginning with the 2017 Opening Night, where for the first time the Festival had three authors taking the stage, rather than one. Brit Bennett, Anne Enright and George Saunders each delivered really powerful and engaging addresses on this year’s theme: refuge. I haven't attended any previous addresses, but I thought it was a great idea having multiple authors to discuss some of the differing experiences of refuge.

The main highlight of the festival for me was, of course, the Young Adult program. With the expansion of All Day YA, the Sydney Writers’ Festival took over the Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. Ten events were hosted throughout the day, with five events running parallel across two theatres. If I had a Time Turner, I would have gone to all ten, but alas, I am not a part of the wizarding world (yet, I still hold out hope). Here are some highlights of my All Day YA day:

Introducing the whole day — it was nerve-wracking and exciting, but such an honour to act as the Young Adult Ambassador for the Sydney Writers' Festival.

Discussing misconceptions about Australian Young Adult fiction and the exciting new anthology on the Love Oz YA Anthology: Begin End Begin panel.

Hosting the Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series panel — this was my first time facilitating a panel and, again, it was nerve-wracking but I had a lot of fun. I hope the authors did too!

"I don't write to speak back, I write to explore those issues unapologetically." — Erin Gough on the More Than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction panel.

Amie Kaufman sharing some of the horrifying and sexist messages people have sent to her in response to Illuminae, during Defying Expectations: How do Female Writers Defy Stereotypes. And these weren't just short tweets, people spent a lot of time writing out emails!

TeenCon 2017 concluded All Day YA with a bang. A great opportunity to hear about exciting new/upcoming book releases, alongside fun activities and games to win prize packs.

I think it's safe to say that Bill Hayes in conversation with Stephen Metcalf about Insomniac City was the best session I have ever been to. The discussion was absolutely delightful. I clung to every word about New York City, Oliver Sacks and the life Bill and Oliver shared. It was a really moving experience.

The final event I was able to attend was the Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing panel. It was such a privilege to be able to hear Elaine Welteroth, Durga Chew-Bose, Brit Bennett and Yassmin Abdel-Magied share so many of their personal experiences in a truly powerful and insightful conversation: "I live in a country where my race walks in [to a room] before I do." — Elaine Welteroth

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Sydney Writers' Festival and was blown away by the sessions hosted this year. To top it all off, the weekend of the Festival also marked the start of VIVID 2017, making for a truly memorable experience. I would like to extend my gratitude to each of the SWF staff, volunteers, authors, publicists and publishers, interviewers, sponsors and everyone else involved, for all of their hard work.

— Catriona Feeney, YA Ambassador