The first thing I noticed when I entered The Deakin Edge last night was the mini book stall. The second thing I noticed was the sizeable crowd of VIPs. While it prrrrrrobably would have been in your interest for me to mingle and get the pre-extravaganza gossip, my knotted stomach and clenched throat were too busy reminding me that I was standing in a room full of people, so, in the true spirit of a socially-stunted writer, I hurriedly secured a seat in preparation for the main event.
Mary Masters, Chair of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Board, did a splendid job as emcee (stepping in for Justin Heazlewood) of The Emerging Writer’s Festival Opening Night Extravaganza.
Word nerd and literary wrangler, Telia Nevile, didn’t just start with a bang, but a seriously hilarious head bangin’ tune – ‘Apostrophe Apocalypse’. I was so captivated by the fierce grammar-raging death metal tones emanating from such a tiny frame, that I failed to focus on the words that were
spoken sung raged (if she reads this blog she’ll undoubtedly find a range of poor grammar/punctuation to rage about. Yes, Telia, this is all for your benefit. You’re welcome). Ever the eclectic artist, Telia moved into her loogie-filled haiku, ‘Love is a head cold’. After musing that ‘when words are not enough, sometimes you have to resort to interpretive dance’, Telia closed her set with an interpretative dance number, ‘The Damp Patch Where My Love Once Was’.
Maxine Clarke, winner of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (VPLA) for Foreign Soil, gave a brief yet passionate speech about her experience with EWF and the VPLA. Maxine was truly inspiring with her honesty, as she spoke of initially being intimidated by how different her manuscript was from the previous winning entry, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simpson. Maxine said that the VPLA ‘really opened up every door possible’, as she went on to secure a three-book deal with Hachette and a grant from Australia Council. She also paid tribute to EWF, which she has been involved with since 2008, for providing writers with the opportunity to connect with other writers and industry professionals.
Minister of the Arts, the Hon Heidi Victoria MP, spoke of the importance of The Emerging Writers’ Festival, and other Victorian art festivals, as advocates, incubators and promoters of writers. She spoke of the ‘abundance of raw and as-yet undiscovered’ Victorian artists before announcing the implementation of a Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office, which will live within the Wheeler Centre, but will be a separate organisation. More information about the announcement can be found here. Focusing back on the VPLA, Hon Heidi noted that there were 113 submissions this year. The audience obliged her request for a drumroll by stamping their feet, and she announced and introduced the winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, Miles Allinson. You can read about Miles and the shortlisted entries at The Wheeler Centre.
Miles accepted the award for Fever of Animals and said possibly the most tweeted quote of the night: ‘I was always sceptical of literary awards … having never won one’. He talked about his unease with the winners/losers culture of awards, as it goes against the nature of writing – an art form that complicates simplistic and false logic. Miles found being short-listed more rewarding than winning, but went on to say that awards and nominations offer compliments to writers who spend years in solitary poverty. He emphasised that it took six years to complete Fever of Animals, and that the act of writing was much stranger, quieter and more solitary than events like tonight suggest.
Professor Rae Frances presented the winners of the 2014 Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. Before announcing the winners, she highlighted the importance of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and of having an award to encourage younger writers at a time when soul-destroying, discouraging thoughts can lead a writer to think they have no future. Emily Riches from the University of NSW was announced as the overall prize winner for her work, ‘Unfruitful’, with Leah McIntosh winning the award for the highest-placed Monash student for her work, ‘The Wading Pool’. It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t enough time for Emily and Leah to speak, but no doubt they’ll feature in many festivals to come.
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle paid tribute to the ‘agonising endeavour of writing’ and thanked Miles Allinson for the six years of work that went into Fever of Animals. Expressing pride in the vibrant Victorian literary community, he revealed that three new libraries are opening in 2014, including one at the Docklands, and was thrilled to announce the creation of the Melbourne UNESCO City of Literature Office (I was hoping he’d go into more detail about how the office would differ to what The Wheeler Centre and its inhabitants offer, but I guess we’ll all have to wait and see. Mary Masters did say after his speech that the office will open connections and collaborations with other UNESCO City of Literature offices around the world.)
Festival Director and CEO, Sam Twyford-Moore, described The Emerging Writers’ Festival as an event that reveals and celebrates new talents poised to be literary stars, with 250 writers taking part in 100 events over 11 days. Sam stressed the importance of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, ‘at a point when (emerging artists) are likely to give up, to stop them from giving up’. He urged everyone in attendance that ‘there is no supporter as strong as you. You are the festival and this festival is you … we’re just here to get you going’ and to ‘turn these days into the story you want to tell’.
Derrick Brown closed the Opening Night Extravaganza with his keynote address. He started off by saying ‘The first poem I’m going to do tonight is very good. I wrote it with my mind, and then with my body’. He noted that writers aren’t that social, and aren’t that good at chatting with each other, before telling the audience to turn to the person next to them and say, ‘nice face’. He then commenced reciting a poem in which he offered advice to his younger self, the emerging writer. It was filled with such gems as ‘floss once in a while; you can rule the world’, ‘pretend you love hardship’ and ‘the crazies have the power; the crazies have all the power; you must out-craze the crazies’. For this blogger, who took far too long to write her first EWF blogging partner post, the following advice from Derrick Brown was the most profound: ‘Don’t worry about being good, just begin’.
I hope you’re all as stoked about the EWF14 as I am. I’ll be at The Pitch, Festival Icebreaker, Kill Your Darlings: Highbrow vs Lowbrow and No Lights, No Literature tonight. My mission, aside from attending these marvellous events, is to be an active participant (and, you know, talk to people instead of bolting from the room). Watch this space.