ben law and gene smith melbourne writers' festival

Virtual Melbourne Writers’ Festival features queer romance and apocalyptic sci-fi

This year’s Melbourne Writers’ Festival is more accessible than ever, with sessions online and a pay-what-you-can model for tickets.

The last-minute logistical changes forced by the COVID-19 pandemic were “quite heartbreaking” after months of effort organising the festival, said associate director Gene Smith.

However, a mammoth effort by organisers has seen more than a hundred Australian and international writers featured in the exciting online program.

As well as live virtual events, this year’s festival incorporates podcasts, interviews, and written content.

A number of LGBTIQ writers feature in the lineup, including Australia’s own Benjamin Law, who will appear with sister Michelle Law and writer and broadcaster Jess McGuire in a special online Take It From Me panel tonight.

Viewers can submit their relationship conundrums to be answered during the live discussion.

Also among the festival’s LGBTIQ guests is Casey McQuiston, author of Red, White & Royal Blue.

The novel is a “frothy, gorgeous, gay romantic comedy” that sees the son of the US president falling in love with the prince of England.

“It’s a really great read, if what you’re looking for is an escape with a book that will elicit joy,” said Smith.

Red, White & Royal Blue has gone viral after “striking a chord” with readers around the world, and McQuiston has teased that a second novel is forthcoming.

A special episode of the Dramageddon speculative fiction podcast, featuring Candy Bowers and Nevo Zisin, imagines a future in which only queer people have survived the climate apocalypse.

The podcast will be available from this Saturday morning.

Festival session tickets are available at whatever price festivalgoers wish to pay – and Smith said organisers have been pleasantly surprised at how much many people have paid.

“We decided early that we didn’t want to lock anyone out of the festival, especially this year when a lot of people are doing it tough,” said Smith.

“The majority of the program is free to access on demand, and the rest is through a pay-what-you-can system, with people able to register for free if they wish or take the option to add a purchase price to their order.

“We’ve been blown away by the number of people who have opted to pay for tickets.”

Smith said the organisers had been thrilled with how many people had chosen to contribute payments to the festival.

“People in this city love us, and this year of all years, it’s really wonderful to be reminded of that,” he said.

The Melbourne Writers’ Festival kicked off last week and continues through to Sunday.

Tickets for the digital sessions are available online now.

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