‘‘I was considering how we could capture people’s attention at this time, a time when there is so much competing for people’s attention as they bunkered down.”

In his case it was books: ‘‘I was reading a lot at that time and finding a lot of comfort and escape and they were also giving me the opportunity to find some sense of priority as well.’’

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Smith is also curious to hear from writers about what’s capturing their attention. ‘‘The theme invites other questions too. Who are we giving our attention to, why are we giving them that attention, how we are connecting with each other and our environment, and are we doing that meaningfully and if not why not, and what strategies can we put in place to make those connections more meaningful? All that will be explored in the festival.’’

The tough decision to cancel the original festival and shift it online was taken in late April, but ‘‘many of the artists we had attached to the original program will be appearing in the digital version’’.

Smith has introduced a pay-what-you-can-afford policy for this year’s festival. Fortunately, because of sponsors and its audience, MWF is in a good financial position.

‘‘Institutions are doing it tough so are people, particularly in the arts community. So people will be able to access the program free if that is what they wish to do. But we are urging – really encouraging – people with the means to purchase a ticket to the sessions they want go.’’

While the focus this year is the online festival, Smith says conversations about next year’s festival will begin in earnest in September when McGuire, who was previously director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, takes up the reins.

‘‘Hopefully by then we’ll have a better idea of the lay of the land and a better understanding of what might be possible next year.’’

Melbourne Writers Festival will take place from August 7-16. For more information visit mwf.com.au



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