Archive for May, 2009

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.

The Emerging Writers’ Festival has been such a fun, nice experience. I know — ‘fun’? ‘Nice’? Have I learned nothing? But it has been both fun and nice. There’s nothing I like more than hanging out in a building with hundreds of other people who like things that I like. I just need to organise a Feminist Ice-Cream Lovers Convention and my life will be sorted.

Wednesday night, after I finished running the City Library Creative Writing workshop, I went down to the Empress with Maddie for The Serious Business of Being Funny with Josh Earl, Sammy J and Claire Hooper. I think having festival sessions in a pub is a great idea; I consider being able to eat crispy wedges with aioli, sweet chilli and sour cream (yes, three condiments) during any activity a plus. Maddie knows Josh, and he greeted us by asking, ‘So you’re here to see my first ever show, are you?’ Turns out all the comedians were bravely revisiting their first ever comedy shows. It was as awkward as expected, with Claire Hooper mentioning that she wore pigtails and a homemade Australian flag t-shirt at every show in her first year of performing. Josh’s set involved some cringetastic break-up material and very questionable song lyrics wherein someone is punched with a part of the anatomy that is usually reserved for other functions. Sammy J’s set was remarkably hilarious for a first outing, and included a musical tribute to Flagstaff station. Afterwards there was a little bit of chat about techniques and because I’m not a comedy writer I drifted in and out a bit, but people seemed to be having a good time.

Joke of the night went to Sammy J with this pearler: ‘I baked humble pie, but I must have got the recipe wrong because it was awesome.’ Yes, I’m a nerd.

Thursday night was the only one of Angela Meyer‘s 15 Minutes of Fame mini-launches I managed to get to. Tiggy Johnson spoke about her short story collection, Svetlana or Otherwise, and Hoa Pham spruiked the Asian-Australian journal Peril, whose next issue is themed ‘Why Are People So Unkind?’ Jenny Blackford was launching her historical novel about slaves and pythia, the Greek priestesses at Delphi, and Helen Ross read from her fun book of children’s poetry.

Phew. And then there was today.

After picking up our treasure-laden showbags (Overland and The Big Issue and The Griffith Review and Wet Ink, oh my — I took photos but no bluetooth on this laptop, alas), Maddie and I caught the very end of the Seven Enviable Lines session, where Kathryn Heyman was encouraging a packed room to get it wrong, play and be ludicrous in writing.

Just Write Dammit featured Tiggy Johnson, Victoria Carless, Andrew Hutchinson and PD Martin. I don’t identify as a writer (see Peril‘s interview with Nam Le on this), though I seek to engage with the written word in many ways. But it is easier to relate to the dilemmas and processes of people just embarking on their writing careers than it is to relate to, say, Helen Garner. Andrew Hutchinson: very funnily, head in hands, ‘What if my publisher finds out that I can’t write?’ The tools in the authors’ arsenals were quite varied: Hutchinson, Chekhov-like, likes to write between midnight and 4am, while PD Martin likes the hellish writing boot camp of the ’10k day’. Note: when I Googled Victoria Carless, I turned up a news story about her entitled ‘Carless whispers’. Gold.

The packed Furious Horses session proved the cult appeal of Christopher Currie’s masochistic but evidently very useful story-a-day blog. I say ‘evidently useful’ because he reports that the exercise gave him army-like discipline with writing, and his novel manuscript has now been picked up by Text Publishing. I’ve never seen such a question-to-audience-member ratio. The audience were enthralled. I particularly liked his tip of using Wikipedia random articles as inspiration.

Truth and Honesty in Writing was a really well curated panel. Dale Campisi was an interactive, lively chair for Lisa Dempster, Krissy Kneen, David Mence and Scott-Patrick Campbell. Loved Campbell’s Henrik Vibskov pants. David Mence stole the show with his down-the-rabbit-hole experience of honouring truth to History (with a capital H), the play as a medium, and himself while researching and writing the story of Victoria’s first large-scale massacre of Aborigines.

Then, The Revolution Will be Downloaded, where Angela Meyer took this picture of the audience to reveal the power of Twitter. (I was outside the camera’s embrace, thankfully.) I was feeling a bit faint, since my cold-bloodedness made me feel over-warm in a room where most people still had their coats on. Yes, I’m a lizard. So I felt a bit woozy during this panel. But great to see three engaged, enthusiastic, female culture-vultures on this panel, including Angela, Hoa and freelance writereditorbloggerpublicspeaker Rachel Hills, who encouraged emerging writers to have a consolidated online presence to make it easy for potential employers and like-minded people to find them. Not forgetting James Stuart, whose interactive poem-world The Homeless Gods defies definition, which is both liberating and frustrating, I imagine.

The Pitch came last, with editors from near and far (well, mostly near) basically begging fledgling wordsmiths to please please read the submission guidelines. Oh, except for Trespass Magazine, which doesn’t have any submission guidelines at all. But also to please please submit. Some baby journals were represented, like Stop, Drop and Roll, some of the old guard, like Meanjin and Overland, and some unexpected publications, like Tango, baby of City Library Street Press-beloved Bernard Caleo.

Check out the time of this post, people. That is dedicated literary event blogging. If you made it to the end, or anywhere even near the middle of this post, I congratulate you. Now I am going to drink chrysanthemum tea, peruse Etsy for handmade perfume, and listen to Veckatimest yet another time. Then bed, because back to Melbourne Town Hall tomorrow morning for round two, and Fitzroy for book club afterwards.

The Slap is getting made into a TV series.

Melbourne University Festival of Ideas’ Saturday June 20 programming is titled ‘Writers, Poets and Novels in Times of Change’. Register now or forever hold your peace.

May 28, 2009

Serves me right for reading Yahoo News:

Granny’s forgotten lotto ticket nets $2m
The 73-year-old, who has not been named, recently came across the unregistered ticket in an envelope of other unchecked tickets in a dressing table draw.

Yes, she participated in the annual 73-year-olds’ Dressing Table Draw! Put your unchecked lottery tickets in the dressing table, and see what you get!

I’m not really a crotchety editor. I am sweet and nice.

And now you know what kinds of news story take my fancy.

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This is a picture of the people who run the Last Tuesday Society, which is a performance event that uh, is on every last Tuesday of the month. I went there last night. Sorry for stealing the picture, guys. I referenced you, though — it’s not like I claimed that was my delicate cat face-painting work. Is that Vegemite in the cocktail glass? Anyway, if you have been wondering where in hell you can see a woman wearing a pink mouse jumpsuit costume segue between old pop standards, followed by a room-embracing Flashdance, then wonder no more. Where, you ask? Oh, at the Last Tuesday Society, I thought that was pretty clear.

Moving on. I am guest-running a creative writing workshop at the City Library tonight. It’s for people who have never written before, it’s for people who write every day, it’s for people who like to sit in warm rooms for free and it starts at 6pm. Come one and all! I will also probably be engaged in some kind of Emerging Writers’ Festival attendance throughout this week, as you should be too.

Hi dudes (‘dudes’ being considered a non-gender-specific term). I have had a busy weekend — I have a freelance proofreading job on, my friends made goulash and apple pie for me on Saturday night, I am working on a review for lip magazine, and am trying to get at least halfway through The Adventures of Augie March by Sunday.

Plus, I might have slipped a disc on Thursday, so it has been taking me about 20 minutes (plus the customary 30-minute snooze) to get out of bed in the morning, a tragedy that is not without humorous touches. Particularly hilarious is that the trigger event was a sneeze. Luckily I have a friend who has broken a rib by sneezing, so I don’t feel quite so poorly about my body’s weakness. It could happen to you! Brace your core muscles when sneezing in future.

Despite my injury I went to ‘The First Word’ on Friday night, the opening event of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. It was fantastic. Dan Giovannoni’s play kicked it off — an astounding, two-person story in which the ties between memory, writing and performance were headily articulated. Josephine Rowe and Maxine Clark’s performances were mesmerising. I almost lost my bubbly during The List Operators’ short set; they’re a comedy duo somewhat like a psychoanalytic theory-loving Howard Moon and a 5-year-old on Berocca. (Note to EWF: it was kind of hard to find out who these performers were.) Then, the Call to Arms by Shane McCarthy who, between various Red Bull-induced references to masturbation and being a geek, insisted that writing is a job which is misjudged by everyone, because it’s bloody hard work and not everyone can do it.

The Hypothetical panel after the break brought Jason Steger, Michael Williams, Angela Meyer, PiO, Sandy Grant, Toni Jordan and Justin Heazlewood together to discuss Melbourne’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature. The sanguine, quick-witted Williams and an ever elegant and engaged Steger made this panel for me, along with an indignant PiO who demanded inclusionist accountability from Williams’ new home, the Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. I think of Williams as a rather capable and energetic chap, so I hope that his suggested community-Centre dialogue eventuates.

PiO also touched on something interesting when he asked Toni Jordan why all the writers coming out of writing courses wrote the same. Her response was to reveal the range of plots currently being fleshed out by her students, which he deflected by saying ‘But do they all start with capital letters and end with full stops?’ To which she had to concede, yes. It wasn’t the right forum for an in-depth conversation on the topic, but there’s something to be said about the burgeoning demand for writerly tertiary education. You only have to look to the United States to be curious about the impact of institutional teaching of literature. Of course, I don’t necessarily think that pushing the boundaries of writing can solely be done through interrogating its formal aspects, as I think PiO is fond of doing. Language is a code we all have to wrench into closer semblance of the things we mean to say, and playing with grammar and punctuation is only one way of doing that.

[Edit: I have no trouble with novels beginning with capital letters and ending with full stops. I love prescriptive punctuation rules, for the most part. And I have never, to my knowledge, read a novel produced by someone coming out of an Australian writing course, and as such, I have few views on whether their graduates give good write or not. See Toni Jordan's further views in comments below.]

I will be attending various other EWF events this week, too. Let me know if you are!

In other news: Is it OK to run an illegal library from my book locker? Hell yes, you are awesome. From lip mag.

And this will be interesting: the new editor of The Monthly is 23 years old. Can’t wait to see what Gideon Haigh has to say about this. What I like most about this article is that the first paragraph says Naparstek’s ‘Facebook friends include the popular Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton’. Can’t wait to see the 4pm addendum: ‘Naparstek’s Facebook friends also include his fourth-grade nemesis, and now good chum, Bobby Jenkins, and the four-piece Brooklyn indie rock band, Grizzly Bear.’ Love newspapers’ online content.

May 20, 2009

I went to Cutler & Co last night. Absolutely took my breath away. Sweet, professional staff and so-mindblowing-there-just-isn’t-a-perfect-adjective-for-it food. Have I diluted the potential impact of my description of the food by using the ol’ excessive-hyphens manoeuvre? Yes, perhaps. But it’s worth getting past my flaws to go to that restaurant, people, if you live in Melbourne. It will also cost you the equivalent of about 8 normal-day lunches, but UNHHHH vanilla bean ice cream sandwich with salted caramel sauce and chocolate parfait, so worth it. UNHHHH also, I had slow cooked roasted duck with sour cherries, turnip, pear and boudin noir and look, some drool just came out of my mouth.

Another thing that is mindblowing, and surprisingly appropriate for discussion on this blog is The Adventures of Augie March. I love it, you guys. It’s that savant-worthy prose that seems just to gush from orifices rather than prosaically being peppered onto paper with a pen. Gives me the shivers and I only wish for it to last forever. It’s got 500+ pages, so that wish has legs.