Posts Tagged ‘festivals’

So, I’m all kinds of delighted (and a bit shy) about announcing my involvement in Format Festival’s Academy of Words. The Adelaide festival has a fine history of supporting Adelaide’s keen artistic folk by putting on lots of free events, and I’ll be there from 12-14 March. Hopefully those dates won’t coincide with a heatwave, though precedent suggests they will. I’m presenting two events. The first is an Editorial Agony Aunts session, which I’m co-hosting with my one-time interviewee, Dion Kagan. It’s going to be intimate, confessional and hopefully a little bit uplifting. However, Dion and I are both firm believers in failure as key to success and if, by that credo, we depress our faithful attendees too much, we’ll buy them a drink after the session.

The other event is the soon-to-be-famous Literary Friction extravaganza. Hosted by Angela Meyer and yours truly (both wearing slinky dresses and sensible shoes), it promises (well, it promised me) to be a shitfight between festival guests desperate to prove that they are the literary champions of the world (…or, the room). If you love trivia, and if you ‘just love books LOL’, then this is the seedy Saturday night for you. Sensitive, well-read folk only, please.

So, a bit of cheeky crowdsourcing. For those of you who are interested in ‘getting into publishing’, what are you most interested in finding out? And what is the most obscure literary trivia question I could ask that you would get right?

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.

I like hanging out in an area that has its own lighthouse. Aireys Inlet is uncommonly beautiful, and the broad shore beneath its cliffs seems blue and oily at dusk. There’s a little croaking marsh full of frogs and birds, too.

I was in Aireys for its Festival of Words. God love a festival where you can buy lemon slice as a snack. Shane Maloney showed a suitable deprecation of his role as keynote speaker. Did you know that he was once a PR manager for the Boy Scouts? Yes, he had a uniform. He was well received by the crowd during his reading from Something Fishy, one of his Murray Whelan books. They clucked delightedly at his description of a holiday house in Lorne, from the drive down the Great Ocean Road to the half-read Peter Carey novels.

On Sunday, we went for a literary lunch at recently reopened a la Grecque, my favourite coastal restaurant. (Saying ‘my favourite coastal restaurant’ gives the impression that you are a regular frequenter of such establishments, and I stand by this impression, though I make no assertions as to its truth.) Had a listen to Allan Campion, of Campion and Curtis, have a chat about his foodie trajectory. He started off as a cook on a naval ship, and it was in far-flung countries where he first learned about exotic produce. As the publication of The Foodies’ Diary would bear out, Campion is a great supporter of seasonal foods.

I wish I had some pictures, but Meanjin does, and Sophie Cunningham has written a bit on the surprising capacity smaller festivals have to sell books.

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February 19, 2009

(Picture from the Writers at the Convent)

Rosé and whisky on Friday night made it difficult for me to wake up in time for the 9 am start on Saturday. But I did make it, and with time to spare — I picked up 7 books and a pretty gold and black dress from a garage sale on the way.

The Abbotsford Convent, for those unfamiliar with it, is an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric location. It had plenty of venues for the sessions and lots of open spaces for attendees to lounge around in between sessions. Large enough to accommodate bucketloads of people, but cohesive enough to foster a sense of community, it’s an ideal location for a writers festival. I loved spending the day there, and I think everyone else felt the same.

My volunteer shift was short and painless. Actually, it was frighteningly enjoyable. Even though historical fiction is not my usual literary fare, I was entertained by Jenny Pattrick, Claire Thomas and Anthony Neill’s discussion entitled Plundering the Past. The way Thomas described the evolution of a single fact — the crushed form of lapis lazuli was used in Renaissance-era Venice to create ultramarine pigment — into her novel, Fugitive Blue, put me in mind of a bloodhound’s singular focus. Her delight in the ‘perverse integrity’ of deliberate, minute research was palpable in her and the other authors’ stories. I was beginning to see how easy it would be to get sucked into chasing history around.

Jenny Pattrick’s first book, The Denniston Rose, was published when Pattrick was 60. No mean feat. It’s now a bestseller with sequels, etc, etc. The origins of her novel were quite similar to those of Thomas’, and she described the ‘accidental’ stumbling on something that fascinated her. In her case, it was a deserted coal mining town upon a plateau on the west coast of New Zealand. For Pattrick, research came first before narrative and characters could develop. That makes sense to me. I don’t think I would want to begin fantasising about potential plot points only to be cut off by cold hard facts. (Not that it stops some people. I won’t offer any examples but I’m sure we’re all thinking of the same person.)

Anthony O’Neill is a fingers-in-lots-of-historical-pies guy, who has written books set in Edinburgh in the 1860s and 9th century Baghdad, just for starters. A self-proclaimed neurotic researcher who worrited and worrited about a reader finding a flaw, O’Neill’s chat reminded me of a story Ian McEwan once told about his novel Saturday, in which he describes characters looking up at a particular constellation at a particular geographical location at a particular time of year. Well, he received a letter from a reader telling him that it was impossible for that event to have happened. Tell that one to the people at the New Yorker, McEwan.

I was stoked to be able to attend the Peter Singer on Poverty session. His new book, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty is an exhortatory text that frames global poverty as a problem which can be tackled effectively through individual action. This conclusion arises from the simple premise that there is a lot of suffering in the world which doesn’t have to exist. Singer used a parable of sorts to illustrate the circumstances of generosity as the usually stand: Imagine a baby drowning in a pond. You are wearing expensive new shoes. Do you rescue the baby and forego the cost of the shoes? If so, why is visibility/immediacy so influential on our willingness to make monetary sacrifices? The talk is available to see at SlowTV.

After Peter Singer, I was off the hook volunteer-wise, so I took myself off to the Convent Bakery for a complimentary (but roof-of-the-mouth-chafing) salami and pesto baguette and pineapple juice. Mmm. Next!

Charmaine O’Brien is a name I’m familiar with, as a bit of a food tragic in food-tragic Melbourne. In her Culinary Capital session, I discovered that she is also in charge of the Red Cross’ commercial food donation distribution so I suspect she has been very busy. Her new book, Flavours of Melbourne, is a food-centric book discussing Melbourne and its changing citizens, from Melbourne’s first brewer John Mills, possibly responsible for the death of 16 people (he used water from the Yarra River, which was both the main source of water for the city but also the resting place for sewage), to African migrants bringing cuisine from that continent. Loved hearing about the “Fat for England” campaign run in Australia, in which Australians were encouraged to save the fat from their meals, convey it to depots in town from where it was aggregated and sent to England. That was probably responsible for some bad stomachs too. Lovely session, though I always feel talking about food should be accompanied by the consumption of food.

Finally, and I was admittedly nodding off in the heat by this stage, Stephan Faris’ Foreign Correspondent session at 4pm. Some technical problems and Faris’ propensity for facing away from the microphone made it a little difficult to follow. But reading Eric Campbell’s Absurdistan in 2007 and Ryszard Kapuscinski’s In the Shadow of the Sun this summer made me fascinated with the chanceful profession of the foreign correspondent. He told of receiving bribes from government officials after Ministry of Information press meetings about journalistic standards in Nigeria, reporting on the depopulation of Sudan in 2003 and the lack of support by traditional healers for antiretrovirals in Uganda. I liked his observation that he is always struck by the similarities between different countries, but that it is part of his job to draw out the differences. Faris also featured in a session about global warming.

And that’s it! Oh, and I bought a copy of Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind at the Reader’s Feast festival bookshop, because I love evolutionary psychology books. I didn’t attend anything on Sunday, because my schedule took me to Barwon Heads, which was wonderful. But where was Diver Dan?