‘Men Overboard: Blokes, Wimps and Mates’ at The Wheeler Centre

Clementine Ford, Benjamin Law, Jennifer Granger and Ben Birchall discuss masculinity.

Clementine Ford, Benjamin Law, Jennifer Granger and Ben Birchall discuss masculinity

Last night I went to ‘Men Overboard: Blokes, Wimps and Mates’ at The Wheeler Centre. The focus of the panel was to ask what it means to be a male in the 21st century. Clementine Ford chaired the panel. She opened the evening by suggesting that masculinity in today’s society equates once again with physical strength. She invited her fellow panellists to discuss what they perceive to be the current ideals of masculinity and whether today’s society has taken a step forwards or backwards. Clementine ended her brief introduction by quipping about her position as emcee by paraphrasing Tony Abbot – ‘there are at least three men in my family so I am qualified to lead them’.

BLawBenjamin Law referred to his collection of personal essays, The Family Law, to discuss his experience of masculinity anxieties he had growing up, which he said were primarily about his physicality. He jokingly referred to himself as an ‘Asian hybrid man-child thingy’, as he has full lips and developed a deep voice and a complete lack of forearm hair. Benjamin commented that ‘Gay Australia’ is ‘incredibly white and ‘people would never suspect you could be a racial minority and gay’. He argued that the problem with any questions of masculinity is that ‘how we present as masculine or feminine is always someone else’s business’.

Granger

Jennifer Granger referred to her book Feminine Lost – Why Most Women are Male to argue that men and women are made up of both masculine and feminine qualities, and the combination of masculine and feminine features determines how we interact with the world. She believes what happens to women will have a corresponding effect on men, and vice versa. She described the emergence of what she sees as a ‘highly feminine man’, who doesn’t enjoy confrontation, has difficulty facing decisions and is receptive (but does not initiate). Jennifer believes there is a masculine and feminine role in every heterosexual relationship and a ‘butch’ and ‘feminine’ role in every homosexual relationship.  She also categorised the ‘macho man’ as ‘almost Neanderthal’, and the ‘pseudo-masculine’ as a man nursing wounds from unfairness of loss of privilege after the rise of the powerful woman.

Ben Birchall used a slideshow in his presentation, which he titled ‘masculinity 2.0’.

Ben's slide show featured a photograph of his son wearing a dress, which he used to illustrate the need for children to be free to explore their own identity

Ben’s slide show featured a photograph of his son wearing a dress, which he used to illustrate the need for children to be free to explore their own identity

He quipped that he is part of the problem, as he identifies as ‘a masculine man’. Ben believes there currently is a nostalgic view of masculinity, of 1970’s moustached, beer-swigging Dennis Lilly to compensate for the previously idealised super-buffed and preened David Beckham world. Mateship is paramount in this nostalgic masculinity, which involves sport and a ‘fetishism’ of ‘male time’ away from women.  Ben suggests this type of masculinity is just as rigid as its predecessor. Fatherhood ‘allows you to play a masculine role’, prompting Ben to explore what masculinity means to him and to ask himself how he can raise a good son. Ben believes masculinity is an impossible archetype. He said 1 in 8 men suffer depression, men are twice as likely to self-medicate, and 80 percent of suicides are men. Ben believes ‘manhood is too hard to define’, and if men were ‘concentrating less on being better men, it might free them to be better people’.

PEggyClementine suggested the unforeseen side effects of feminism is the perceived sense of emasculation and resulting blame on women. Referring to School Girls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap by Peggy Orenstein as a reference point, Clementine argued that some men perceive equality as a loss, as legislation that empowered men and restricted women has been removed. Ben Birchall acknowledged the many inequalities that women still face, but also argued that men are disadvantaged in health services. Jennifer commented that we have lived in a patriarchy for over 4,000 years, so any change will be gradual.

Clementine questioned Jennifer’s binaries of masculine and feminine. Clementine argued that notions of masculine and feminine are socially created, saying ‘I don’t think those things are gendered’. Jennifer argued that masculine and feminine are internal in all of us. Ben Birchall commented that masculine and feminine binaries are alive and well on social media (and sell products to consumers). He later commented that Unilever owns Dove (who have the highly successful ‘Real Beauty’ campaign) and Lynx (with campaigns where masses of scantily clad women are drawn to a male after he sprays the deodorant). Also countering Jennifer’s belief that men possess both masculine and feminine qualities, Benjamin Law argued that grizzly, macho guys resent being told they can’t be what they are. An audience member later asked Jennifer what research methodology she used to support her masculine/feminine theory, particularly in relation to the butch/feminine in homosexuality, and Jennifer responded by referencing biblical archetypes.

Raising concerns about the nostalgic masculine man of Ben Birchall’s presentation, Clementine said celebrating ideals of masculinity with the mythology of mateship between men only, freezes women out. Benjamin Law commented on his upbringing in Queensland, which he described as a ‘concentrated version of Australia’. He said growing up ‘you have to decide what sort of man you want to be’, and he was fortunate enough to know he was gay at a young age (he came out at 17). Benjamin Law argued that Jennifer’s categorisations of ‘butch’ and ‘feminine’ homosexuals is heteronormative, and that any notions of feminine or masculine roles are constantly negotiated and changing internally, regardless of sexuality.

An audience member commented that there are numerous campaigns on raising young girls to challenge stereotypes (the Always #LikeAGirl campaign is a brilliant example).

She asked whether there are similar campaigns for men. Clementine mentioned an up-coming documentary, The Mask You Live In, which explores how the phrase “man up” is the worst two words you can say to a male, as it asks them to sacrifice their emotional side. More info on the documentary can be found here.

 

Event: John Marsden at The Wheeler Centre

DSC04739‘To be honest is a revolutionary act.’ – John Marsden

One of my all-time favourite formidable female protagonists is Ellie Linton from Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden. She’s loyal, proactive, proud, brave and, importantly, fallible. The more I think about the Tomorrow series, the more I’m tempted to reach over to my bookshelf and start re-reading the first book, but that would make for a slightly non-existent blog post, so the book will stay on the shelf … for now.

Last night I went to The Wheeler Centre to see John and Lefa Singleton-Norton, the Creative Producer of Express Media, launch the 2014 John Marsden/Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers (writers under the age of 25 are eligible to enter. You can read more about the prize here while I lament about my age). Lefa introduced John as an author who has sold over 3 million books and has been short-listed for every children’s and young adult prize in Australia. The Patron of Express Media, John has shown his passion for young writers through his involvement with the organisation, as well as personally funding the prize. This year Hachette Australia are also sponsoring the prize, along with support from Arts Victoria, Australia Council and The Wheeler Centre. Here are a few highlights from the session.

When you wrote the Tomorrow series did you have a sense of the enduring readership?

John originally planned to only write one book, but when he came close to finishing the manuscript he realised there was still a lot more to tell. He started writing the second book the day after he finished the first. He felt a sense of momentum when writing the books, saying ‘it all took a life of its own’. The readership grew beyond young adult – a 78-year old woman came to North Rockhampton Library after he had written the fourth book and told him she wanted to him to finish the series so she could read the whole story before she died.

Are parallels between the political climate when you wrote the series, and now?

While writing the Tomorrow series, John felt Australians gave no thought to national security. Since then, he says there has been an ‘artificial frenzy’ of people depersonalised, de-classed and marketed as a threat to Australia. John ‘lost any feeling of pride’ after the Tampa incident. Now, when he sees an Australian flag flying, he wonders what crime is being committed.

John rejects nationalism, pointing out that Australia is rarely mentioned in the series. He did not want Tomorrow, When the War Began to be a book about Australians resisting foreigners, he wanted it to be a book about young people being tested.

The appeal of the Tomorrow series lies in how teenagers deal with being put in exceptional circumstances

John says war is a really powerful vehicle in literature. It gives ‘licence to add extra intensity to every interchange’. The Tomorrow series was the first time he had put characters through a test of physical courage. He enjoyed writing the action scenes – he wrote them quickly, but felt exhausted afterwards.

John is most proud of Checkers and So Much to Tell You, as while ‘not much happens’, the characters reflect on past events.

How did your collaboration with Shaun Tan, The Rabbits, come about?

John came up with the concept of The Rabbits while he was driving home from the airport and looking out at the landscape. He thought about vast spaces of land getting overrun by humans. ‘It’s kind of like a skin disease, in a way,’ he says. John says ‘rabbits are a good metaphor for how humans have invaded and contaminated Australia’.

The Australian bush is a constant presence/character in your work

John says there are ‘tiny, delightful discourses to be made in the bush’. He is currently writing an adult book, which is due for release later this year. It tells the story of a 12-year old street kid from London who decides to commit a crime so he can become a convict and be sent to Australia. Writing from the perspective of a foreigner allows John to look at the Australian landscape from a different perspective.

Your first book, So Much to Tell You, was released to a very narrow young adult market—

John believes Judy Blume opened up the young adult market in the United States. He enjoys writing from the perspective of a teenager because teenagers allow for a more radical and colloquial voice. John initially found it hard trying to write for adults, as he found it ‘hard to break free from the sense of being judged for every word’. He eventually came to the realisation that ‘we all have poetic licence, if we care to use it’.

There is an ongoing battle about writing the way teenagers talk—

Some of the language John used in So Much to Tell You was censored by his publisher. He was told he wasn’t allowed to have a character say ‘fucking homework’, and despite arguments back and forth with his publisher about it, he eventually conceded. He didn’t realise until after the book was published, that the publisher, rather than just deleting the expletive, replaced it, so the dialogue read ‘damned homework’, which made the dialogue sound more artificial.

The young adult market is huge now—

John has stopped reading young adult for himself. He does, however, read novels to his children. He says the Percy Jackson series is the first series since Harry Potter that his children have been engaged in. John found Harry Potter to be ‘one of the most sublime reading experiences of my life’ and his kids lived and breathed every moment of the series. The best children’s books are the ones that adults can love as much as kids.

Why are adults drawn to young adult fiction?

John believes adults are drawn to young adult fiction for ‘the worst possible reasons’. He says there is too much immaturity in our society, and too many adults haven’t grown up. Towards the end of the session, John clarified his point by saying he doesn’t believe adults shouldn’t enjoy reading young adult fiction, but they need to make sure they don’t try to appropriate the young adult experience.

The majority of your novels are written from first perspective. What do you find so compelling about writing this way?

Writing from first person allows John to get to the essence of the character. He says ‘voice is everything to me … If I’ve got the voice, then I’ve got the book’. Writing in first person also allows John to step away from his own life and write from their experience.

Selectively mute characters are motifs that appear throughout many of your books. Was this a conscious decision?

John didn’t pick up on this until a few books in. He says he grew up in a conservative family and society that had no room for differing opinions. He ended up in a psychiatric ward when he was 19, due to emotional repression. John describes it as ‘a transformative experience’, as he was given a licence to express his feelings. He was asked how he felt. ‘It was like this language I had to learn’. He also met a 14-year old patient who didn’t speak when they entered the ward, but by the time they left they were speaking again.

Why do you write from the female perspective?

John feels he has ‘licence to express emotion quite openly’ from the perspective of a female protagonist.

Do your ideas come from students?

Conversations are people swapping stories. If someone tells you something, it prompts a memory of your own experience. John says ‘we all have our own personal library of stories’. We all have significant and powerful stories that stay with us forever. Dementia and alzheimer’s patients lose themselves because they lose their stories.

You have a strong affinity with young people—

John quips ‘there are some kids I don’t like at all’, before saying ‘I respect young people, I think (I hope)’. He feels in today’s society it’s perceived as heresy to suggest that not all young people are beautiful and perfect, but the reality is some young people can be damaged from an early age. ‘How would it sound if you said, “I love 40-year olds?”

What is it that you find exciting about young writers?

Young writers are using language in a richer and more sophisticated way than ever before. Their writing is energised, distinctive and idealistic.

What advice to you have for young writers who are struggling with motivation?

John pours it all out on the page, then goes back and edits. He says ‘the more I write, the less fixing I have to do’. He believes a writer who is confident with language will use it almost effortlessly. He urges writers to ‘walk the language tightrope with their eyes shut’.

What advice to you have for writers looking for stories?

‘Everyone has at least one book in them’. Your own story will be interesting, as long as you are honest about it. Honesty is so compelling in writing because it is so rare in our culture. ‘To be honest is a revolutionary act’.

Audience question: have you ever felt like not writing?

John used to panic when he couldn’t write. Candlebark School has been all-consuming for the past 9 years. He wrote The Year My Life Broke after a lengthy break. His adult fiction manuscript is 117,000 words. John says ‘sometimes we have to recharge’.

Audience question: Dear Miffy was a controversial inclusion in school libraries at the time of its release. If you had written the book today, would you have written it differently?

John believes there were two main issues with the book – swearing and the bleak outlook. He believes the expletives wouldn’t be an issue today, but the protagonist with the bleak outlook would still be problematic. John was motivated to write the book after hearing about a boy who was disfigured after a failed suicide attempt. ‘We shouldn’t shy away from (writing about) people who have no hope’, because that would be ignoring the experiences of these individuals.

 Audience question: what is the mission and philosophy behind Candlebark School?

He believes schools weren’t doing enough to engage boys who are restless, physical and don’t want to sit at a desk for more than 2 minutes a day. ‘The idea that children can be resourceful and look after themselves seems to be an idea that’s lost all credibility’.

Audience question: do you have advice for writers dealing with editorial feedback?

John finds editors less intrusive than they used to be. His editor only made around 3,000 suggestions for his 117,000 word manuscript, and he agreed with 95% of the suggestions. He believes writers need to have confidence in their editor.

Audience question: who are your literary heroes? Do your heroic writers influence your own work?

John can see traces of writers he admires in his own work. He has come to recognise that originality is meaningless and it’s a dangerous concept. As a young adult, he was inspired by J.D Salinger’s ‘contemporary voice that breaks all the rules’. He says Charles Dickens has a rich gallery of minor characters. J.K Rowling has created characters that will be memorable for generations to come (Snape is his favourite). Melina Marchetta is another favourite. John credits Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Andy Griffiths with reviving the novel for young Australian readers.

 

‘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: ‘The Art of the Short Story’

Readings St Kilda

Readings St Kilda (side note: I did a double-take when walking past the guy on the right, because of his striking resemblance to Aus music royalty, Tim Rogers.)

It was standing room only in the function area of St. Kilda Readings, as Jason Steger, literary editor of The Age and commentator on First Tuesday Book Club sat down with Alec Patric (aka A.S. Patric) and Chris Somerville to chat about the art of the short story.

Why write short stories?

Alec originally started writing novels. He shopped a novel-length manuscript, which was seven years in the making, around to various publishers but he lacked the literary CV needed to garner interest. He initially wrote short stories to boost his CV, but quickly fell in love with the form, admiring the density and virtuosity.

Self-effacing, Chris noted ‘I never really had much of an attention span’.  His interest is rooted in the voice. Chris prefers short stories over novel-length works, because short stories have fewer events than novels, meaning the few events can be explored in greater detail in a short story.

Crafting a story: do you know the ending before you start?

While acknowledging that some writers need a blueprint, Alec believes it is better not to know the ending. He believes ‘epiphanies should happen on the page’ and ‘the only way you can surprise a reader is to surprise yourself’.

Chris planned a story once, and it kept going for 11,000 words. He said, ‘I once gave it to my mother—she’s an editor—and she just wrote “no” on it’.

What’s the right length of a short story?

Chris was quick to answer, ‘when it ends’, before clarifying, ‘there has to be some kind of character development, otherwise it can’t end’.

Alec said ‘the beauty of short stories is they can be any length’, but noted that 3,000 words is the standard in Australia.

When you write a short story, is it the voice that drives you?

Chris believes two main elements are required – a voice and something at stake. ‘There needs to be tension, or narrative drive, to pull it along’. Describing his own work to illustrate his point, Chris said ‘usually it’s just awkward young men … feeling awkward’.

Alec, you’re interested more in experimentation?

Alec spent 7 years working on a novel. Once he started writing short stories he realised how liberating they could be. He is excited by the possibilities, of trying different things (one of his stories is filled with unattributed dialogue). Alec stressed the importance of allowing ‘yourself to be free with possibilities’.

How important is character?

Chris noted ‘character occurs to plot, and plot pushes character’. He said ‘plot only happens because characters push them forward’.

Who do you admire?

As a teenager, Chris admired Raymond Carver for portraying ‘normal people … just having thoughts’. He cites George Saunders as infectious, and also listed Dennis Johnson, author of Jesus’ Son.

Alec listed John Updike and Ernest Hemingway, amongst others.

Chris and Alec both acknowledged the American-ness of their selections. Alec suggested this was in part due to the rural mentality of Australian publishers, where publishing interest seems to be restricted to beaches or cattle. Alec believes ‘the American experience isn’t western’, and the ‘American pallet is wide open’.

Audience question: How do you choose what goes into a collection?

Chris quipped ‘start strong, worst last and the middle doesn’t matter’.

Alec added ‘it’s often in the hands of the publisher’.

Audience question: Are short story collections and music albums comparable?

Alec believes short stories aren’t really meant to be read in isolation, that there is an arc of movement from one story to the next.

Audience question: Is it dangerous to have an arc in place for a collection?

Alec recommended going with whatever liberates you. ‘If overarching themes for a collection limits you, then forget it’.

Audience question: If you get to your death bed without publishing a novel, will you regret it?

Alec offered a diplomatic answer, saying ‘there’s a legitimacy now (to short story) that perhaps there wasn’t in the past’.

‘I never imagined my deathbed’, Chris dead-panned.

EWF14 Freebie Highlights: ‘Festival Icebreakers’, ‘Highbrow Versus Lowbrow’ and ‘No Lights, No Literature’

The Emerging Writers’ Festival truly looks after emerging writers (including income-deficient writers such as this humble blogger), to ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate. On Wednesday night I headed to Thousand Pound Bend to check out a few free events.

Mary got everyone mingling at the ‘Festival Icebreaker’.

Festival Icebreaker With Our Mates Mary

First up was the launch of  issue 5 of Mary. Guests were given part of an idiom or opening sentence of a novel when they entered the venue and were tasked with finding their other half. I raced about the room, meeting fellow festival attendees while calling out for “and the clocks were striking thirteen”. I didn’t have any luck locating my other half, but was thoroughly entertained as Hannah Cartmel, Managing Editor and co-founder of The Rag and Bone Man Press ran around asking for “two in the bush”, while I tried (and failed) to keep a straight face as another festival attendee politely asked, “excuse me, are you the fire of my loins?” In between all the running around, talented Issue 5 contributors read their pieces to the crowd. The Mary launch operated in the true spirit of the festival, encouraging emerging artists to mingle (which was no mean feat for this painfully shy blogger) while also giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their talents as writers and public performers.

KYD goody bag!

KYD goody bag!

Kill Your Darlings: Highbrow Versus Lowbrow

The crowd was well and truly revved up by the end of Mary launch, and the fun kept coming with the cultural debate, ‘Highbrow Versus Lowbrow’. I can forgive the Kill Your Darlings crew (just!) for getting ‘Call Me Maybe’ stuck in my head for the entirety of the following day, as the hilarious tongue-in-cheek debate included such gems as “without pop music none of us would be capable of finding somebody to love”. I picked up a copy of their current issue, which came with bonus back issues. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hang around for the full event, but the debate team have since posted their arguments on the KYD blog.

Photography and tweeting weren't allowed at this event, which, as it turns out, wasn't as dark as my pre-event handbag shot predicted!

Photography and tweeting weren’t allowed at ‘No Lights, No Literature’, which, as it turns out, wasn’t as dark as my pre-event handbag shot predicted!

No Lights, No Literature

I was super excited about attending ‘No Lights, No Literature’, as I was eager to see how my appreciation of a performance would differ with sensory deprivation heightening my imagination and hearing. I must admit, I expected the audience would be completely in the dark, along with the panellists, but this was not the case. I’m going to take a stab in the dark (AH, PUN!) and assume complete darkness was not possible due to OH&S reasons. Instead, the audience sat in a dimly lit room, facing a big black curtain that shielded the anonymous panellists from view, and listened as the panellists mused about the Australian literary landscape (in keeping with the intimacy of the event, I won’t reveal any specifics of the topics discussed). It would have been hard being a panellist, as the audience were honed in on their voices, so any silent contemplation (and I’m talking 2-5 seconds, if that!) was deafening. However, it also meant that any passionately conveyed discussions were significantly more profound. I imagine the session would have been challenging for the panellists, given they could not gauge audience reaction (also, the panellists couldn’t see one another, so that would have been a challenge in itself). I really hope another version of this event is held at the 2015 festival, with public performances of creative works, as it would be really cool to see how appreciation of performance art, particularly experimental works, could be enhanced by sensory deprivation.

‘Don’t worry about being good, just begin’ – An Inspirational Opening Night Extravaganza

 

Back cover of the EWF14 booklet

Back cover of the EWF14 booklet.

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’.

Telia Nevile and her interpretive dance, ‘The Damp Patch Where My Love Once Was’

Telia Nevile and her interpretive dance, ‘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.

'Literature is much stranger, quieter and solitary than events like tonight suggest' - Miles Allinson.

Miles Allinson

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’.

'Pretend you love hardship'. Sage words of advice from Derrick Brown to Derrick Brown.

‘Pretend you love hardship’. Sage words of advice from Derrick Brown to Derrick Brown.

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.

 

A shout out to fellow income-deficient Melbournian writers  

There's gold in them thar cushions!  © LizMcShane

There’s gold in them thar cushions!
© LizMcShane

As I mentioned in Fear and Loathing – living and writing with depression and anxiety, I’ve made it my mission to reinvigorate my creativity by getting more involved in the Melbourne arts scene. Naturally, I was super excited when I realised the Emerging Writers’ Festival was just around the corner, then I got all sad because my finances had gotten to a stage where I was bordering on orgasmic whenever I found a $2 coin behind the couch.

And then I did something crazy.

I logged onto the EWF website.

And I actually LOOKED at the events.

Do you realise there are eleventy million free events at the festival (Well, maybe not eleventy million, but there are a lot.)?! Some of the freebies include  ‘Opening Night Extravaganza’, ‘Translation Nation’, ‘No Lights, No Literature’, ‘The Art of the Short Story’ and ‘Lunch/Soapbox: Sam George-Allen’. So, if you’re a couch miner like me, don’t be disheartened – sign up to a few events (you will have the opportunity to make a donation when you book) and prepare to be inspired by all the amazing artists. Look out for me – I’ll be the socially defunct blogger hiding in the corner.

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer's Festival

Reproduced with permission from Emerging Writer’s Festival

In anticipation of EWF14, I’ll be chatting with Emily Stewart this week about her experience as a creator and presenter at the 2013 festival.