‘When others around us rise up, we rise up.’ Lessons learnt and inspiration gained from The Emerging Writers’ Festival


‘It’s easier to write a bad first draft and make it better than to face a blank page.’  Krissy Kneen, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

Getting retrenched from my job could have been a soul-destroying experience, but instead I viewed it as an opportunity to become active in the Melbourne literary scene again. I joined Twitter. I started a blog. I got tickets for some of the free Emerging Writers’ Festival events. A friend recommended I answer the call-out for the EWF blogging partners. I was only new to the blogging scene, but I applied anyway. I’m sure the EWF crew would have known a bunch of bloggers who they could have called upon to write blogs for the festival, but they took a chance on me, and I’m thankful.

‘You’re only going to do better if you write.’  Martin McKenzie-Murray, Emerging Q&A

The Opening Night Extravaganza blew my mind. Maxine Beneba Clarke told everyone that it took her 7-10 years to write Foreign Soil, Miles Allinson revealed that it took him 6 years to write his manuscript, and The Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, paid tribute to the ‘agonising endeavour of writing’. The fact that it took years for these authors to finish their work wasn’t surprising. That they were open and honest about it was. Some writers may have found these sentiments confronting, but it gave me a sense of relief. The Emerging Writers’ Festival completely dispelled the notion of the effortless ‘overnight success’. These writers work hard.

‘The only way you can surprise a reader is to surprise yourself.’ – Alec Patric, The Art of the Short Story

It was inspiring to watch the ‘You Are Here’ panel, as audience members flung their hands up and took to the stage to praise the ‘beautiful love-in’ environment of the festival, share the grief of letting go of a manuscript, celebrate the success of being the ‘pick of the week’ in The Age, or give a shout-out to their literary crushes. Before I had the chance to assemble the eleventy-million dot-points as to why it wasn’t a good idea, I took to the stage to be part of the last panel. My introduction as one of the four blogging partners was met with loud cheers from the ridiculously supportive audience. So, what did I do to capitalise on this rare opportunity? I announced that I had an intense fear of public speaking.

‘Write from the soul.’ – Hannah Kent, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

I returned to my seat and shakily packed my things. I looked up to see someone approach me. She introduced herself as Meghan Brewster, one of the official blogging partners. It was really nice to meet her. We bumped into each other again at the Emerging Q&A session, and headed to Night of the Living Novellas together. It was just as inspiring to talk with other emerging artists, as it was to listen to the panellists. It was pretty amazing to be in the same room as other emerging artists.

‘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.’ – Sam Twyford-Moore, Opening Night Extravaganza

I learned a lot from The Emerging Writers’ Festival. I am more determined to get my novel-length manuscript where I want it to be, but this time I will make a point to celebrate the achievements at the end of each day, and to accept the difficulties as part of, rather than an inhibitor of, the process. I spent breaks in between panels jotting down (somewhat illegible) notes of short story ideas. Sam Twyford-Moore passionately conveyed the importance of The Emerging Writers’ Festival as an event for emerging writers ‘at a point when they are likely to give up, to stop them from giving up’.

When others around us rise up, we rise up.’  Maxine Beneba Clarke, The 5×5 Rules of Writing

I’m not giving up. I have the EWF crew and my fellow emerging artists to thank for that.

Emerging Writers’ Festival Highlights – Emerging Q&A

Dion Kagan, Celeste Liddle, Bhakthi Puvanethiran, Abe Nouk and Martin McKenzie-Murray

What are the moral responsibilities of writers? Should they self-promote on social media? How do you know if you’re any good at writing? Chaired by Bhakthi Puvanethiran, the Emerging Writers’ Festival Emerging Q&A panel, which included Dion KaganCeleste LiddleMartin McKenzie-Murray and Abe Nouk, answered all the questions thrown at them by the audience. Here are a few highlights.

What are your thoughts on ‘trigger warnings’?

Indigenous politics and women’s rights forms the basis of Celestes’ work. She started her website in order to create a safe space for people to share their trauma. Celeste believes trigger warnings can end up silencing these people.

Dion believes trigger warnings can be stifling, and that confrontational narratives and images are part of the discourse.

Martin says he writes about sensitive issues as eloquently and truthfully as possible. He believes trigger warnings conflate writing with political advocacy.

How do you deal with the pressure to earn an income as a writer, while growing your craft?

Martin believes writing is not capital intensive. ‘If you have the desire, you’ll do it’. Martin rattled off jobs he has taken to supplement his income, including McDonald’s, back-packers and the Premiers Office. He said, ‘I wrote all the time and I improved all the time’. It took him at least 10 years to hone his skills.

Celeste was picked up by Fairfax 6 weeks after starting her blog. She still doesn’t know where she will end up, but this is all part of growing as a writer.

Abe urged everyone to keep writing and nurturing their craft. ‘Writing will eventually reward you’.

What do you wish Australian writers would stop doing?

Dion wishes writers would stop writing opinion pieces where they present themselves as editorial in knee-jerk positions.

Martin prefaced his response by saying no one should not do anything – ‘you’re only going to do better if you write’. He dislikes ‘cookie cutter columns’ and believes there is an aggregate fixated on pop culture. He urged writers to ‘write something a little more deeply than what’s on HBO this week’.

Abe believes artists can be caught up with trying to have a perfect voice. He said ‘do your sanity justice. Do your life justice. Be you’ and accept that imperfections make your story.

Celeste wished writers would stop being concerned with self-preservation. ‘Don’t feel you have to be answerable to everyone for everything you write’.

Bhakthi pointed out that it took Miles Allinson, winner of the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, 6-7 years to complete his manuscript. ‘There’s nothing wrong with crafting’.

Would you still write if you knew no one would ever read your work?

Abe said he comes from a tribe where stories are recited verbally. He believes ‘when you write, you’ve written into infinity’.

For Dion, writing is about having a conversation, so he writes with the intent to be read.

Martin finds writing to be a ‘deeply infallible compulsion’.

Celeste wants people to read her blog. She wants to claim a space for feminist indigenous thought.

Should social media play a major part in emerging authors? Is there more of an onus on the writer to promote themselves?

Abe believes blogs allows readers to get a sense of who the writer is and what the writer likes. All writers should ask themselves who they write for, so they can clearly communicate their message.

Martin feels pressure to self-promote. He only created a blog and joined Twitter two years ago. In online publishing, content is king. Martin urged writers to practice and refine their writing – ‘you’ll find an audience if you’re good’.

Dion warned writers against getting lost in the vortex of social media and self-promotion, and to put their work first.

How do you know if you’re getting better?

Martin said ‘if you read a lot, you’ll internalise the rhythms that work’.

Celeste knew she was getting better when indigenous women who read her blog started to write and get their opinions out there.

Dion proclaimed that he is deeply stuck in the prestige of performance. He lives and breathes for the praise of other people. He knows he’s getting better when he makes readers feel something. He said the ‘cringe test’ is also a good indicator.


Emerging Writers’ Festival Highlights – ‘Me-Me-Me + My Memoir’

‘A very weird thing happened when I wrote this book – I forgot that anybody would read it.’ – Liam Pieper

Memoir is not a comprehensive story of a life, but a collection of memories that have had a significant impact on the writer. So, how does one go about crafting a memoir? As part of the National Writers’ Conference at the Emerging Writers’ Festival, Benjamin Law sat down with Liam Pieper, Luke Ryan and Lorelei Vashti to chat about crafting and publishing their memoirs, The Feelgood Hit of the YearA Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo and Dress Memory. Here are a few highlights from the session.

How do you frame a memoir?

Liam describes his book as ‘a family trying to survive my adventures’. Liam found crafting his memoir was akin to looking at a magic eye trick – ‘you stare at it long enough and see the thread’.

Lorelei’s stories came from the dresses she picked. She found the process easy, ‘because I carry these memories with me every day’. Each garment triggered flashes of powerful and emotional memories of her life.

Did Luke feel it was inevitable that he’d write about cancer?

‘Say what you will about cancer, but it offers a very clear editorial structure’, Luke joked. After handing his manuscript in to his editor, he received feedback that the manuscript needed ‘more cancer’. He responded by including ‘way too much cancer’ in the second draft. The editorial process helped Luke come to terms with ‘the fact that this is the story I have to tell’. He grew to appreciate the universality of his story, that ‘so much of your life is common’ that other people can relate to.

How did you get a book deal?

Lorelei originally wrote one short story every Friday for six months on her blog, Dress Memory. Her blog caught the attention of her publisher.

Liam described securing a publishing deal with Penguin as ‘an accident’. He went to the launch of Penguin Specials and met the editor.

The Lifted Brow asked Luke to write a non-fiction article. He later featured the article on his blog. This caught the attention of his publisher.

As much as memoirs are about ourselves, they involve respecting other people as well. What are the ground rules for writing a memoir?

Luke wanted to use the real names of people from his childhood. In the end, he only changed the names of two people, both of whom were sexual encounters.

All of names of people were changed by the final draft of Liam’s memoir, except for three. Penguin did a legal check prior to publication. However, Fairfax requested additional clearance before publishing an excerpt. Liam had to get a note from his mother that confirmed she smoked marijuana.

Lorelei described the process as ‘mental gymnastics’. She respected the fact that ‘these people didn’t ask to be in a book’. Lorelei was so concerned with ensuring the privacy of people in her memoir was respected, that she even changed the door colour of a share-house.

What was most difficult about writing a memoir?

Luke said ‘finding the angle that will resonate with people beyond you is very hard’. It has been two years since he first signed the publishing contract.

Lorelei thought it would only take six months to write her memoir, but in the end it took three years. She said ‘the structure was all important’. Once the structure clicked, after two years, the writing flowed. She urged anyone in the midst of writing their memoir not to be hard on themselves.

Liam found the biggest challenge was to not be boring. ‘Everyone will feel lonely or lost – the trick is to find the universal in the idiosyncratic experience’.

Did you find writing your memoirs difficult, or was it therapeutic?

Luke had already been telling his story on stage as part of his stand-up comedy routines. He found writing was a way of taking control of the narrative.

Liam found the research therapeutic, as he had difficult conversations with people from his past.

Lorelei found framing past relationships in a way that tells the story, even if it wasn’t the full story, difficult.

‘Trilogies, Trilogies, Trilogies’ at the Emerging Writers’ Festival

Resisting the urge to devote  the session to talking about Back to the Future, this trio chatted enthusiastically about trilogies

Resisting the urge to devote the session to Back to the Future, this trio of authors chatted enthusiastically about trilogies

‘Even if you evolve the story, you can leave the character imperfect.’ – Nicholas J. Johnson.

Nicholas J. Johnson chatted with Aime Kaufman and  David Henley about their love of trilogies, and what they think makes for a captivating trilogy, as part of the National Writers’ Conference at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Here are a few highlights.

How do you plan a trilogy?

Aime and Meagan Spooner co-authored The Starbound Trilogy.  All three books have different stories, but none could happen without the other. Thorough world-building helped with planning the series. Aime lists the Legend series by Marie Lu as her favourite trilogy, as ‘it answers all the questions it poses’.

Nicholas wrote Chasing The Ace as a stand-alone novel. He signed a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster, with an option for a third. The second book will be stand-alone, with a character from Chasing The Ace appearing in both books.

David said the secret to creating a successful subsequent book is to save events that happen to the world after the story ends. He described his Pierre Jnr trilogy as ‘a celtic knot’.

How do you avoid middle-book syndrome?

Nicholas listed The Matrix and The Hunger Games as examples of titles that suffered middle-book syndrome, as he said no one cared what happened by the time The Matrix Reloaded ended, and Catching Fire was not distinguishable from The Hunger Games.

Aime believes all writers should ask themselves what the absolute climax of the series is, and to relentlessly question themselves. Aime created a whole new set of characters and conflicts in her second book.

David said writers should raise the stakes with each book.

What do you do if your publisher is only interested in one book, and not the whole trilogy?

Aime recommends telling your agent at the outset if you are planning a trilogy, so that you have the right to publish sequels elsewhere if the publisher is only interested in one book. You can consider self-publishing, but must be mindful about how difficult self-publishing in. Importantly, set up a website and keep in contact with your readership.

David suggested authors need to carefully consider their story arch.

Nicholas recommended asking yourself if your work is really suitable for a trilogy, or whether it is better off as a standalone novel.

How do you prevent subsequent books from sounding too similar?

While Nicholas’ trilogy have the same characters, each book is narrated by a different character and set in a different city.

David avoids the general hero structure and keeps the plot unravelling.

Nicholas suggested if your character ends up back at the same place at the end, then you will end up repeating yourself in the subsequent book.

How do you make sure your character keeps developing in subsequent books?

Aime noted that each time you develop the characters and plot, the scale of the story should evolve.

Nicholas advised against putting a bow on the character at the end of the first book. ‘Even if you evolve the story, you can leave the character imperfect’.

Effective Online Marketing for Writers – Highlights from Digital Writers’ Masterclass

Connor and Nathan listen as Anne gets all excited about vertical marketing

Connor Tomas O’Brien sat down with Nathan Farrugia and Anne Treasure to chat about effective online marketing for writers, as part of the Digital Writers’ Masterclass session, ‘Vertical Marketing, Online Presence, and Dino-Erotica’.

Anne, former Digital Marketing Executive at Momentum, spoke about how writers can achieve vertical marketing (i.e. marketing to a particular niche). She suggested writers can best market themselves by identifying a community of interest to write into, listing Goodreads and Readsocial as examples of vibrant global literary communities. Anne urged writers to maintain an active presence on social media, and ensure they use a consistent voice across all the various platforms. Anne created a slideshow about vertical marketing, which can be found here.

Nathan is a bestselling techno-thriller author who signed with Momentum after (to quote from his EWF bio) ‘inadvertently stalking his publisher on Twitter’. Nathan believes readers will judge the professionalism and quality your work by the appearance of your website. He said writers need to ask themselves the following two questions when setting up a website and/or blog:

Who are you? 

What are you writing (what is your content)?

Nathan recommended keeping your website photo-centric, clean and uncluttered. He urged writers to carefully consider what appears ‘above the fold’ (before you scroll down your webpage). He listed Chris Allen and Matthew Riley as authors who have effective websites. He also noted that blogs can be just as effective as websites, listing the website of Momentum author Kylie Scott as an example of a strong and clear self-marketer. Nathan created a slideshow to illustrate effective author websites, which can find the slide show here.

‘Start Me Up’ – Sustainable Digital Media Businesses

Connor Thomas O’Brien with Rohan Workman and Steph Harmon

Connor Tomas O’Brien with Rohan Workman and Steph Harmon

This afternoon session of Digital Writers’ Masterclass, hosted by Connor Tomas O’Brien, featured Steph Harmon, Managing Editor of Junkee, and Rohan Workman, Manager of the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) in discussion about sustainable digital media businesses.

Rohan observed that television networks are starting to realise how important it is for journalists to have a personal brand, as the majority now have their own Twitter accounts to create an interactive and real-time experiences. Rohan noted that bloggers are powerhouses in their own right, with seventeen-year-old girls with a passion for fashion sitting in the front row of high-end runway shows. ‘If you have a passion for a particular topic, and you can offer better than what’s already out there, then get involved’. Ultimately, the power is now with the consumer, as it is really up to them to see and select what they want.

Steph agreed, adding that major media suppliers are facing audience problems – users used to go to the homepage of a newspaper to look for news, but now newspapers have to find users. She noted, at Junkee “we don’t publish content for our audience, we publish it for our audience’s friends’. Steph offered the following advice for those seeking to set up their own site:

  1. Fill the gap (What is different about what you are creating? How is it new? Junkee aims for quality over quantity.)
  2. Invest in tech
  3. Learn how to internet (Strategize for articles that go viral—milk it! Be aware of what draws users to your site, but be wary of exploiting it too much. ‘The job of an editor is to make sure there’s a balance of click baits and quality articles, otherwise you’ll sabotage your own site’. There needs to be a pay-off for click bait.)
  4. Learn how to money (If you only have one person join you when you start up your company, make sure it’s sales. Junkee had four major advertisers signed up prior to the launch.)

A few highlights from audience question time:

Is curation the end of serendipity?

Rohan said articles will still fall your way, but from a different method (social media).

How much of the Junkee content is researched?

The in-house editorial team capitalise on viral web content. Junkee pay freelancers to research original works.

What funding opportunities are there in Melbourne?

Rohan suggested Lean Startup (http://theleanstartup.com/) and to attend Silicon Beach (http://siliconbeachaustralia.org/) networking events.

Does a particular word length get the most clicks?

Steph found that opinion pieces, around 800 words, do really well.

If you’re just starting out, how can you pay contributors?

Steph recommends giving the writers something back – mentor them to make sure they’re aware of what you’re getting out of their work.

Highlights from #EWF14: ‘Binary Code? Gender, Words, and Digital Spaces’

Just so we’re clear, Katie, Leena and Connor are not greasing me off, they’re just listening intently to an audience question. If they knew in advance the quality of my photography skills, they probably would’ve greased me off. …Maybe they’re psychic … maybe they were greasing me off…

Just so we’re clear – Connor, Katie and Leena are not greasing me off, they’re just listening intently to an audience question. If they knew in advance the quality of my photography skills, they probably would’ve greased me off. …Maybe they’re psychic … maybe they are greasing me off…

A highlight of the ‘Digital Writer’s Masterclass’ was the afternoon session, ‘Binary Code? Gender, Words, and Digital Spaces’, featuring gaming journalist Katie Williams, and Leena van Deventer, game developer and writer. The session was hosted by Connor Tomas O’Brien, co-director of the Digital Writers’ Festival.

An experienced journalist, Katie experienced what she calls ‘well-meaning sexism’ from PR reps at a major gaming convention. The reps either assumed she was only there to talk about “female” mind games (she cites Facebook games like Animal farm as examples) or they assumed she was an assistant, before then offering to show her how to play a game. After the event, she wrote an article about the experience, which resulted in hate mail from male gamers. It also resulted in positive feedback from female gamers who had experienced similar prejudices.

Leena noted that only 8.7% of the gaming industry in Australia is made up of women. By comparison, women occupy 19% of mining positions. Connor asked Leena and Katie what opportunities there were for female game developers, and what was deterring women from entering the industry. Leena and Katie both agreed that the AAA games primarily consisted of hyper-masculine characters (citing the Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty series as a few examples). Leena mentioned that L.A. Noir is the most AAA rated game to be made in Australia, but it was still yet another game that relegated women to roles of murder victims or temptresses. She believes there is still hope for the gaming industry, as AAA narratives are starting to be held accountable, with the help of a vibrant social media community, so not all AAA games are ‘Shooty Bang, Son of Shooty Bang and Shooty Bang’s Revenge’. Katie and Leena agree that Australian indie game communities offer women the greatest opportunity to get involved and experiment with different games.