Let’s get straight into it, folks.
Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed emerging writers were ear-to-ear in the Yarra Room for Crashing and Bashing and Smashing Through, a panel about how to get that desired start in getting published, despite some pretty ominous fog in the morning. Kathryn Heyman kept her advice short and sweet: Write a good book. Know what your character wants. Read Aristotle’s Poetics. Make contact with an agent. Humble Chris Morphew talked about his strange sideways tilt at writing success, having started ghostwriting for Hardie Grant Egmont’s ‘Zac Power’ series. Note to nerds: it’s ok to like dinosaurs and spaceships if you can write. Sarah Ayoub counselled the audience to call themselves writers, and Bel Schenk, artistic director of Express Media, suggested that under-25s take full advantage of the funding/support opportunities available and make time to write. It was a down-to-earth session with accessible advice given by all panellists.
Out of the Mouths of Babes was an interesting breadth panel featuring speechwriter Rhod Ellis Jones, comedy writer Adam Rozenbachs and ghostwriters Melita Granger and Matt Davies, all discussing what it’s like to put their words in other people’s mouths. Aspiring ghostwriters beware. Melita edited (read: rewrote) a YA novel whose author was later extensively garlanded, though Matt took care to note that ghostwriting is ‘just a writing job’, for which fame and glory is not always sought or needed. Well, if you were writing the equivalent of ‘Property by Paris Hilton: Being Rich is Hot!’ you might be reticent too.
After the break, I thought it might be good to vary my literary food intake, so I popped in to see Sammy J discuss his 1999 show, which he’s about to take to Edinburgh. Amusing demographic information: audience 90% female, with definite mid-20s and early-50s age group clusters. Sammy recommended Robert McKee’s Story for assistance with narrative. We all hoped there would be a song, and there were two: one from 1999, entitled (and I paraphrase) ‘I believe that there’s a chance you don’t detest me’ and a new one. Lovely.
Maddie and I popped across to Page Parlour, the renamed zine/panellists’ market. I bought her a copy of Stop, Drop and Roll for her birthday, and she bought quite a few other tidbits. I was on a strict no-acquisitions diet. Call me if you want a picture of my stacks of crap as evidence of a reason why.
Finally (for me) The Best Ways Forward. Steven Amsterdam, of Things We Didn’t See Coming fame, had a very interesting path to being published. Being the son of a literary agent, having sent out rejection slips at the age of 16(!), and having worked for Random House (‘one of the biggest English-language publishers in the universe’) weren’t enough of a kickstart for Steven. Hey now. He found that workshopping with a cadre of 3 very different writers was the most beneficial thing for his writing. He also recommended the Zoetrope Virtual Studio for workshopping shorter pieces. Also, controversially, Steven recommended RMIT writing courses for their focus on producing work over Melbourne University courses (too much literary theory).
Rijn Collins credited her participation in the feminist punk zine world for jump-starting her writing confidence and success, and considered writing a key aspect of her re-emergence into society after suffering from agoraphobia. Rijn recommended Red Bubble, an online writing community, and local writers’ centres for support and resources.
Stu Hatton, who teaches writing at Deakin University, spoke movingly about being mentored by the late Dorothy Porter. Their friendship arose from one of the ASA-run mentorships and spanned craft, life and street-smarts advice. Pooja Mittal, one of the festival’s Ambassadors (roving, approachable experts, a lovely idea) was one of those irrepressible writers who would leave school to write a poem, forcing her bemused mum to send her right back to school when she would show up at the front door. She encouraged young writers to detach ego from art, and to welcome criticism, because anyone can be a mentor if you let them.
I had to skip off to book club after that. I had an amazing time at EWF. It was my first foray into Melbourne Town Hall as well as my first time at the festival, so I was pretty chuffed about sighting the infamous Miss Moomba portraits (think this hair). There was a palpable sense of excited, collaborative learning in the building over the weekend, and I think the team are to be congratulated on an inspiring week-and-a-bit. I wish I’d had more time to actually talk to more people, but such is life. I wonder if there’s a way of harnessing this energy in a sustained way over the whole year?
If you haven’t been to EWF before, and you are an aspiring writer looking for inspiration or advice, I’d say try it next year for a pretty spot-on bunch of events. Good times and claps.