Oh my god. Is that…Benjamin Law, Christopher Currie and Dion Kagan? Do I look okay? I feel nervous. What if they don’t like my poetry? Maybe I should buy them a ginger beer at the National Young Writers’ Festival. I’m pretty sure that’s how you make friends — buy them stuff? Maybe I should buy them copies of the new Dan Brown book. Or do you think they already have it? Shit.
Benjamin Law is another one of those crafty Brisbane critters. If you read The Monthly, The Big Issue or frankie, then you probably know who he is. Back in 2007, Ben did an interview with Tori Amos where he put her own song titles to her instead of questions. I stole his idea. (Photo via.)
‘Facing the Dole with Dignity’
As a young writer, government welfare is both your enemy and your friend. In some ways you need it (rent, bills, basic sanitation) and in other ways, it will hurt you (bureacracy, humiliation, forgetting you exist). It’s basically an abusive lover. You’ll keep coming back for more, and you can’t ever leave, because it holds all the money.
If you miss a week filling out the relevant forms, you’re back to cooking raw vegan food without gas. So funnily enough, at the festival this year, I’m involved in an event called “Wriron Chef”, where three writers —including myself — will be going to go head-to-head in an Iron Chef/MasterChef challenge. Rumour has it that the only heating implement we’ll have on hand is a kettle. Everything that can’t be steeped in hot water will have to be raw. I think it’s symbolic and representative of our artistic and financial backgrounds, really.
‘A Gay Old Time’
This is exactly what you’ll have if you come to the National Young Writers Festival. Don’t be put off by mainstream literary festivals where it’s polite, civilised and predominantly caters to over-50s. Come to a festival where young people come onto their panels half-inebriated and still manage to talk politics over the screaming of hecklers. Now that’s culture, folks.
‘Books I Should Have Read By Now’
Don’t come to NYWF worrying whether you’ve read the right books or not. Folks who talk at the festival vary between foreign correspondents with degrees in politics, to people who’ve made zines inspired by Sweet Valley High.
‘A Long Way from Rome’
Newcastle is exactly 16,307 kilometres from Rome. There’s a fun fact.
Christopher Currie is a furious horse, vicious cycle and fierce fictionist. He’s your new favourite novelist (only you don’t know it yet). I originally put this picture up as a joke. But then I was struck by the noble velocity of this warm-blooded mammal — though it bears very little resemblance to Chris at all — and there we have it. (Photo via.)
Have you been to NYWF before? What do newcomers have to look forward to?
I have been twice. Once when I was a thoroughly scared 16 year-old, and the second time two years ago. The highlight of my first visit was the potential awesomeness of irreverant slogan-based T-shirts and the knowledge that I could survive on couscous and ginger beer for an entire long weekend. My second trip taught me that the next wave of Australian creative artists are as good as anywhere you’ll find in the world.
What wisdom will you be bestowing upon ‘national young writers’?
I’ll be teaching people how to write real quick (Krazy Currie’s Speed-Writing Workshop), opening your eyes to the new generation of literary journals (Sweet Staple High), showing you possibly the world’s worst book covers (BOOKFAIL), and giving you the skinny on how to turn small-time success into your magnum opus (Writing the BIG One).
What are you wearing to the Great Gatsby Party?
A white dress, which I will weigh down like a silver idol against the singing breeze of the fans.
I’m scared of Dion Kagan. He’s the editor’s editor: professional, friendly, thoughtful; one part carrot, one part stick. I edged as close to him as I could bear, and asked him what he was up to at NYWF. (Photo via.)
Do you, Dion Kagan, feel irritated, as I do, that the National Young Writers’ Festival is not called the National Young Extremely Good-looking Editors’ Festival?
I do have my moments, but I’m gradually learning that part of the editor’s role is to cultivate a certain degree of humility. Sure, I’m sexy, I’m cute, I’m popular to boot, but I’m not gonna write a song about it.
I do think the work of editors is, like writing, a form or artistry, particularly in the curatorial and commissioning roles. But it’s an art that mostly occurs behind-the-scenes, like directing or dramaturgy. When its time for the show to go on, the editor should take a seat in the darkest, most anonymous corner of the auditorium and try to appraise their work from a critical distance. But of course, you’re still entitled to go out and get ridiculously pissed afterwards.
On a more personal note, I would actually hate to go to a festival of exclusively extremely good-looking people. Not that I have a problem with good-looking people. Some of my friends are extremely good-looking.
So you’ll be wearing your publisher/editor hat? What wisdom have you for the masses?
Indeed I will be, though I’ll also be dishing out advice to struggling artists in relationships with other struggling artists, and facilitating a panel on queer literature.
As an editor, I’ve mostly worked mostly in small, independent publishing contexts, and the general vibe between editors and writers in that world is extremely positive and friendly. It can also be quite casual, and what can get a little tricky at times are the moments when casual descends into unprofessional. I’m not talking about proof reading emails or addressing them ‘dear Sir Dr Editor Dion Kagan’, just the fundamentals: sticking to your deadline (unless you’ve negotiated a flexible one), signing and sending your copyright on time and delivering work that is publishable. When you agree to produce a piece of writing for a publication, no matter how small, there’s a formality to that agreement, and you need to come up with the goods. Being talented and brilliant and extremely good-looking are all wonderful things. But being reliable is equally crucial.
Think of Sylvia and Ted, Henry and June, Gwyneth and Chris: isn’t going out with another creative person just super?
Oh how it is! Unless you’re both neurotic, penniless, depressed and prone to self-medicating. I’m all of those things at times, but in my better moments, I can be supportive, understanding, and, I hope, an inspiration to my partner. He’s a playwright and works in the theatre. I used to think that world was all ideas and inspiration and glamorous opening nights, and I still do, to some extent. But I’ve also realised that it involves shitloads of drudgery and often thankless and extremely hard work.
I know it sounds naff, but it can be so goddamn hard to get along in the creative universe, so I do think it helps to be in a relationship with someone who gets the difficulties and the unconventionalities of the lifestyle, whether they’re an artist or not.