This year’s Melbourne Writers Festival represents something of a changing of the guard, with Shona Barrett stepping up to the role of CEO and Marieke Hardy joining the team as artistic director. Hardy’s vision is a more theatrical, unconventional take on the standard festival fare, and the program – based on the theme ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ – certainly delivers. With that in mind, here are our picks for some of the most unconventional events.

Literary Tattoos

Saturday 25, Sunday 26, Saturday 1, Sunday 2. Mission to Seafarers Dome.

If another literary festival has an onsite tattoo parlour, we haven’t heard about it. Leslie Rice and his team from LDF Tattoo will be setting up shop in the stunning Mission to Seafarers and operating over both weekends of the festival. Rice is an award-winning tattoo artist who specialises in portraiture and realism, so you can get a perfect replica of your favourite book to have with you always. You won’t be able to read it, though – unless you get all the words tattooed as well, which might be a little more than you bargained for.

Contact to discuss times, designs and pricing.


Saturday 25, Sunday 26, Saturday 1, Sunday 2. Melbourne General Cemetery.

Vanitas leans heavily on the ‘death’ side of ‘A Matter of Life and Death’, with this interactive tour of Melbourne General Cemetery. Bring your smart phone and some headphones, download the Vanitas app and take your time exploring the cemetery in this immersive blend of documentary, story and musings that explore transience and the certainty of death. This is a self-directed experience, so show up when you like with two hours to spare and let yourself absorb the cemetery’s atmosphere, heightened by gorgeous music and a pressing understanding of our own mortality.

Pet Remembrance Ceremony

10 a.m. Sunday 2. Animal Church at 524 Flinders.

One of the festival’s new off-site locations, Animal Church will be hosting a variety of animal-themed events, exploring their place in our lives and our writing. Wrap up the ten days of thought by joining in remembrance of pets loved and lost in a ceremony led by Caroline Higgins, a pet funeral director. MWF invites festival-goers to submit photos of their own passed pets to be included in the service, so everyone can appreciate how dang cute they were. If you’re still around in the afternoon, check out Farewell Old Friend for a riotous singalong that celebrates and farewells our lost companions, led by Henry Wagons and Emilie Zoey Baker.

The Melbourne Writers Festival runs from August 24 to September 2 at venues across Melbourne. The full 2018 program can be viewed here.

Georgia Coldebella is an editorial intern at Going Down Swinging and a volunteer at the Melbourne Writers Festival. She writes reviews, comics and short stories, usually about identity, fairy tales and the restorative powers of coffee.

Photograph by Magenta Sheridan.