Sam van Zweden



emerging writers festival

Five Gems that Might Just Save your Arse

Image source: Flickr / Pankaj
Image source: Flickr / Pankaj

I’ve spent most of today in the Freelancing for Life Masterclass, an event that’s part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival (which finishes up TOMORROW – can you believe it?!). The day presented a series of panels offering advice from editors, full-time freelancers, and mixed-income writers. I took a huge amount of notes, but here are five little gems you missed which might just save your arse. Continue reading “Five Gems that Might Just Save your Arse”

Things change, things stay the same


Each year when I attend the Emerging Writers’ Festival’s National Writers’ Conference I manage to pick up something new. Of course, this is because the discussions change. But it’s also because my priorities change – the discussions that were interesting to me in 2009 were quite different to those that interest me now. Continue reading “Things change, things stay the same”

Emerging Writers’ Festival Program Highlights

ImageIt’s here! Last Wednesday night the Wheeler Centre packed out for the launch of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival. This is the festival’s 10th birthday, and its first year under the direction of Sam Twyford-Moore. The program is freakin’ huge, and I’m excited!

Of course, the EWF holds a special place in my heart, as they’ve been immensely supportive toward me, and I interned with them last year. Melbourne’s great for festivals, and EWF is one of the many fantastic literary events happening right through the year. For two weeks in June, the EWF runs panels, workshops, performance events and networking opportunities for emerging writers. It’s a unique opportunity for us baby writers to get a foot in the door, and to meet people fighting the same good fight.

I had to hold off on this post for a few days, just because the program really is so big. I needed to sit down with some tea and a marker, and highlight what I want to attend, and then identify any clashing events, and make tough decisions which might very well change a few times before the actual events.

At this stage, it looks like I’ll be out and about for most of the two weeks of the festival. I won’t go through my entire itinerary, but here’s the things I found particularly exciting, and that I think you shouldn’t miss:

Festival Hub: Thousand Pound Bend. This might sound silly, but since the beloved Rue Bebelons shut down, I was eager to find out where the new watering hole would be. I like the choice of Thousand Pound Bend – it’s cosy, with couches and dim lighting. It’s significantly larger than Rue’s, which probably works in its favour, with EWF crowds no doubt swelling this year as it has each consecutive year since its start. They’ll also be running Late Night Live With Literary Magazines, which could be a great way to discover stuff you didn’t know about before, but also a talking point, and a way to connect with other people (like, strangers, friends you haven’t met yet) at the Festival Hub.

Pop Up Page Parlour. Usually, Page Parlour has been a one-day event in the Atrium at Fed Square. If you miss that one day, you miss out. The pop up idea is great – not only does it give me more opportunities to check out the merch, it also gives those who are selling things there far more exposure. Win-win.

Town Hall Writers’ Conference. This is where writers get together to impart all their secrets. The timetabling gods have looked kindly on this weekend, and I’ve got something highlighted in most blocks, with no clashes. Particularly exciting: The Control Room with Melinda Harvey and Connor Tomas O’Brien; Cutting it Short on short stories; Writing The Personal; and Critical Conditions on the culture of criticism.

Emerging Q & A. An insane panel line-up and an awesome event, I can’t wait to Tweet my way through this bad boy.

And really, really exciting is this year’s addition of The Writers’ Retreat program at the very beautiful Abbotsford Convent. This beautiful setting will be overrun by writers for the weekend, and a lot of the program is free. I’m most excited about seeing Kate Richards on the panel for Symposium: Writing and Health on Sunday, and Saturday’s panel on Writing About Food, which will include the tiny and loveable Romy Ash – who at last week’s Erotic Fan Fiction night at Wheeler, shared a story about stuffing a food critic like a chicken.

The word is that tickets are already selling fast, as EWF seems to be very much on the radar of Melbourne’s cultural calendar. Happy Birthday EWF, happy first festival STM, and a massive congratulations to the whole dedicated and hardworking EWF team for putting together such a brilliant program!

Penguin Specials Launch

Last night I was lucky enough to ride on the coat-tails of my more successful friends (congratulations again, Jo Day, Veronica Sullivan and Tully Hansen!) into the launch of the latest Penguin Specials range of ebooks. The launch was for a whole bunch of new shorts available in digital form. The good people at Penguin have included the shortlisted and winner of the Monash Prize as part of the Specials range, and it’s available on Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, etc etc – all the platforms. Of course, you’d expect a company the size of Penguin to be inclusive of all the relevant platforms when they publish digitally. Less expected is the fact that they’ve given this awesome opportunity to emerging writers – nice work, Penguin!

I’m starting to get used to the faces at the writing events I go to, but when I left the Moat last night I was feeling a little star-struck and small fry. The launch included readings from Sonya Hartnett (tiny! Who knew?!), Robert Drewe, and Tully Hansen. With some familiar faces, many I hadn’t met yet (like… famous people), and the sampler of the publications doing the rounds on iPads, it was a really fun night. Free wine helped. It’s also really nice to know that being published digitally doesn’t mean the publishing company won’t splash out and celebrate your awesome achievement. The writers included in this series of Penguin Specials have a lot to be proud of.

Penguin seem to have their heads screwed on about what the strengths of ebooks are with their new and upcoming releases. There’s a new imprint coming for romance books, which is a smart move – there’s a huge market there, because it allows all the things ebooks do well anyway (cheap, portable collection), but also opens up the possibility for people to read romance/erotica in public, or to read around family and friends without having reading choices scrutinized. Also, the readers I know who are into romance are pretty voracious about it, and finish one book needing to slip straight into the next one. Ebooks make this a little easier than a trip to the book store. I’m not super-excited for myself about the romance imprint, but I certainly think that Penguin are onto where the money’s at, rather than just making their entire catalogue available and hoping for the best. (Though… I think perhaps for the most part they do this anyway?)

What’s relevant for me as a writer, and for all writers of short stories, is that short stories are now being published in single volumes, per story. Portability is a great strength of eReaders, and to make short stories available for this platform plays to this strength. A short story is a great way to spend time on public transport, and unlike a novel, you can possibly finish it in one sitting. For a long time people have been mourning the lack of publishing opportunities for short stories outside of journals – collections just don’t sell the way that novels do. Hopefully this (and, of course, things like Smashwords, where many authors publish single stories) are a way for short story writers to regain those opportunities.

The Specials are available now, and for a short time the sampler (including Tully’s amazing work, and extracts from others) is available for free.

Emerging Blogger, Coming Through!

An exciting announcement! I’ve been accepted as one of the Emerging Bloggers for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival (in partnership with Emerging Writers’ Festival). Myself and four other bloggers have been granted the amazing opportunity to go along to the Festival and soak up all the writerly and readerly vibes, and blog about it all. So fear not, I’ll be taking you with me all the way!

Below is the piece I submitted to apply for this opportunity. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m looking foward to sharing the Festival with you here. Keep an eye out before the festival for my picks, and if you’re a Festival attendee and you need a date, hit me up. We can hang.

Only Connect: 

Think about the last really good book you read. Really good books grab hold of something inside us and don’t let go. The best books are the ones that are close to impossible to articulate in terms of why they are so great.

Give it a go – in that last great book you read, what about it stuck with you? Was it the author’s use of rhythm, alliteration or pastiche? If you’re a really critical reader, perhaps you do take note of the author’s knack with minimalism, or their broad use of literary allusion. But you remember these things because they provoke some sort of feeling inside you.

While we may live in a post-modern world, where the author is dead and reading any cultural artefact becomes a individualist free-for-all, good books don’t exist in a vaccuum. Good books come about through that invisible bond between the reader and the writer. By spinning this story and sending it out into the world, the author has followed EM Forster’s mandate to “only connect!”. There is a lot of wisdom in the idea that a reader’s experience impacts the meaning that they draw from a text, but that text doesn’t come from nowhere.

I’ve just finished reading Charlotte Wood’s Love and Hunger. The book is a foodie memoir, made up partly of Wood’s memories of foods and the stories that go with certain foods for her, and partly of recipes that go with the stories she tells. Upon finishing this book, I needed to sit in silence for a while, having had something inside me moved. I needed to be still and interrogate my emotions to figure out what about this book had so grabbed hold of me. I realized that the reason I was so affected by Love and Hunger was because of my own closeness to food, with two chefs in my immediate family. The bond that Wood makes clear between food and stories is something I relate to entirely. In reading this memoir, I felt a connection with the author, despite never meeting, never talking, never interacting beyond the pages of her book.

Finding a good book involves handing yourself over entirely to what you’re reading, trusting the author’s attempt to connect with their readers, and doing your part as a reader by interrogating your emotions. Turn inward and look inside yourself for the answer; the connection.

On The Importance of Planning

This is a delayed post from my time at the Future Bookshop. Written during my 10,000 word day, this post took me to the finish line, and was the exhausted pinnacle of a day where I learned an awful lot about myself and my writing process.

I’ve just spent a whole day (10am-10pm) writing. I’ve written a combination of my novel/memoir, blog posts, and a first draft for a future article I’ve got an idea for. I’ve never spent this kind of a stretch of time writing before, and I’m absolutely stuffed. I expect to spend a fair amount of time just staring at a blank wall when I get home. I’m now in my final fifty minutes of writing, and I want to reflect on how badly I’ve planned my day, and how much more smoothly my day might have gone if I’d planned it effectively.

Indeed, this blog post is the result of hitting a dead-end after running my well of ideas dry for my manuscript and blog post and article ideas. True, I didn’t have a lot.

Before today’s writing session, I wrote down about five or six scenes I thought I’d like to write for my book. I just wrote down one sentence reminders of what the scenes were (“Hospital glass window”, etc). I also wrote down some blog post ideas (“Review: Summer Without Men, Hustvedt”). What I failed to take into account, however, was that I just might not feel like writing these things. As we all, no doubt, know from writing classes or workshops, it’s really incredibly hard to write something you’re not interested in. In fact, even if you’re not a writer – you probably know this feeling from your history of writing essays and papers when you’ve been given a list of topics that are all pretty boring.

What I’m trying to say here is that it can prove invaluable to plan out your time effectively. When you lose steam on one scene, move to the next one: and have a list that will be difficult to exhaust. If you’ve got a really long list, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit the end of it.

I also looked at my Now Write: Non-Fiction book last night. I thought about writing down some of the exercises, but I didn’t. I also thought about bringing the book in with me, in case I got stuck. I thought that would be just too naff, and so I also didn’t put the book in my bag. I just wrote my little list composed of a handful of ideas, and when I started writing I ran that list out pretty quickly.

One piece of advice I really should’ve thought about is Patrick O’Duffy’s idea of reaching 30,000 words by breaking the novel/book/piece of work down into 30 x 1000 word chapters. Write the skeletons of those chapters. If all you need to do (all, like it’s nothing) is pad out the prose, flesh out characters with detail and emotion, your job becomes a whole lot easier. Patrick outlines a heap of great ways to keep the words coming in his post, Welcome To Write Club.

However, I did not do this. My five or six scene ideas ran dry. I remembered one particular idea from Now Write: Non-Fiction, and I ran with this for quite a while. I got almost a thousand words from that exercise.

I considered googling “Now Write: Non-fiction prompts”. In fact, I tried to do this. But the great irony of the Future Bookshop is that there’s no or very patchy, dodgy wifi here. It drops out constantly, and today it’s been on the blink far worse than any other day I’ve spent at Future Bookshop. Of course! The one day I wanted to use the powers of the interwebs for good, to further my productivity, it decides to not work at all. Every other day when I’ve wanted to find a lolcat or read about some useless fact or other, or check my email twenty times in twenty minutes, or Tweet furiously about the security guards here at NGV (a singularly interesting/boring breed, by the way. Interesting/boring being a strange tension). And so I counted on my imagination to prompt where my writing went to next.

The imagination is a fickle beast. “The Muse”, as some might call it. It comes and goes. So when I put lots of flowery prose into something to fill up time or words, and I still came out dry, then I had to change tack. I had to move to another project, another way of writing, another scene. I had a document running in the background just to keep me writing. By the end of the day this document was at almost 1,800 words. My usual Morning Pages measure at about 750 words of faffing about, getting cobwebs out of my head in order to start the day fresh and clear. Today’s document acted as both a palate cleanser and a KEEP-WRITING! prompt.

Effectively planning comes in handy not just for marathon writing days, but for all writing days. I am currently about two weeks into my school holidays for Winter. They’re seven or eight weeks long. I haven’t fallen into a routine yet, but when I get time I know how it goes.

I wake up, and I read something inspiring. I read something non-fiction, so that I’m constantly learning, even when I’m not in classes that force me to learn (or not). I follow this up with some fiction, because you get better at writing by exposing yourself to lots of awesome things and just… absorbing. So that’s what I do, I absorb the work of someone far better than myself and hope that it wears off on my own work.

I then write for a few hours. I engage in what Aden Rolfe calls “Speculative Administration” (in his Business of Writing speech for EWF) – planning markets for my work, planning where I’d need or like to be in future, scoping out how much time I realistically need and what kinds of work I need to do to get to where I’d like to be at the end of the year. Or whatever the goal may be. Short-term and long-term planning. Both are important.

But lest I sit around staring at a blank page or end up writing a blog post about how important it is to plan your writing days constructively (even factoring in this “speculative administration” – planned pondering), I’m putting it out there, backed up by two weeks of largely unproductive holidays and a 10,000 word day that relies on this blog post.

Plan your days well, young scribe. Plan them well.

A 10,000 Word Day

Having watched many amazing people participate in The Rabbit Hole during the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I’ve no shortage of respect for those who can write large amounts in relatively short periods of time. Part of it is about the ability to continue producing work continuously, so the brain-power, but the other part is something else entirely, it’s about being able to sit still and do one thing for that long. It’s admirable, and I’d like to join the club of people who challenged themselves and surprised themselves with what they could do. I joined in for a few hours during The Rabbit Hole, but I’d like to give a really long haul a shot.

So here I am today, at the Future Bookshop (at NGV Studio) from 10am to 10pm. There will be a break in the middle for a meeting at 12.30, then straight back into it. The aim: 10,000 words in 12 hours. Possible, right? That’s 833 words an hour. Minus the time I’ll be at this meeting, so let’s count on just over a thousand words an hour. That’s achievable.

…Or is it?

I’m starting the day at the work table – not letting the posture go to shit until at least after lunch. Later in the day I’m allowed to crash in a beanbag or couch, but for right now – posture’s the bomb. There’s a lot of foot traffic coming and going through the Atrium, where the freakin’ huge Saturday Book Market is on. I’ve already started making deals with myself – at 5,000 words, I can go buy books. I’ve put a sheet of paper up on the ideas wall to track my progress, with check-in times for my wordcounts throughout the day.

I have troops on side, Lisa Dempster currently in a couch by the window, and Karen Andrews working furiously on an iPad beside me. No doubt they’ll help keep me going, and vice versa.

I’ll keep you updated via Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll do another post about the experience tonight or tomorrow!

The Many, Changing Faces of the Future Bookshop

The first day I came to Future Bookshop, it was quiet and cold. I snuggled down into a bean-bag, glad for somewhere so comfortable to kick back and write. I was surrounded by people I know, working on projects I know about. I felt well and truly embraced in a creative womb.

I came down to the Future Bookshop on Saturday night to try and get some serious writing done. And the really awful weather means that I can sit in this big, glass space and look at the outside and be glad I’m not out there. I was expecting the same quiet space that I’d chilled out in during the week, but when I walked in there were about fifteen people between the ages of fifteen and sixty-five. This troupe had with them a guitar, and they all sat very close together. Occasionally two or three would break off and come sit at the table with me, and brainstorm. I gave little smiles to them, but nobody smiled back or introduced themselves. They were all happy enough doing their brainstorming.

This circus-creativity was big and interesting, and it made me think – is this the future of the bookshop? If content is all moving online, does the space of the bookshop become a place where people meet to discuss that content? Or to plan it? Does bouncing ideas work as affectively online, or is face-to-face still the best way to do it?

Another Tuesday, another Future Bookshop stint. Today there are four writers in residence in the NGV Studio space, all working together at the tables.

Megan‘s writing a blog post, and asking us for input. It’s nice to be able to contribute in real-time, without having to wait between emails or inboxes. It’s nice to be able to connect with a blogger, but not via their comment section. In Future Bookshop, Real Life and blogosphere mingle.

There are lots of children walking through the space – we’re next to the Kids’ Corner here – and looking around in wonder. I can’t imagine what the QR code wall looks like to a child – I’m supposing something like one of those Magic Eye puzzles made up of colours and patches of pattern.

The work wall keeps growing every time I’m here. It now contains a choose-your-own-adventure comic, blog posts, an interactive fiction gaming map and the beginnings of a discussion of self-publishing.

The Future Bookshop is an ever-changing beast, Bookshop 2.0, where the people inside it shape its content. Just like the digital space.

Rabbit Hole Wrap-Up

Having taken a few days to sleep and get back into the rhythm of everyday life (still not quite there yet), I’m feeling ready to look back at the Rabbit Hole experience.

For those who don’t know (WHO ARE YOU PEOPLE?!?!?!), the Rabbit Hole was a three-day writing marathon, in which participants aimed to write 30,000 words each, run as part of the 2012 Emerging Writers’ Festival. With four teams (Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart and online), plus people playing along from home, we had upwards of 80 people all furiously writing between the 1st and 3rd of June.

As intern for the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I managed the Melbourne and online teams. For me this meant lots of work prior to the event: finding hosts, writing copy for programs and participant call-outs for blogs, figuring out a budget, organizing venues and websites/groups/emails, finding writers crazy enough to participate (surprisingly, we had waiting lists for both teams as long as my arm!), organizing milestone marker bonuses and catering. Plus the event was being run in Queensland (the Queensland Writers’ Centre are the creators of the event, the EWF were lucky enough to collaborate on the event) and Tasmania too, so there was a lot of emails between the three states to get everything running smoothly.

Enough about my awesome internship which gave me lots of opportunities and responsibilities and skills… Oh, there I go again!

Team Melbourne hunkered down with Jason Nahrung, who was well dedicated and not only kept up the banter online and within the room (see: explosions of applause for writers, initiation of #haveapencil, participants showered with chocolate) but he also joined in the writing and had his head down and fingers flying across the keyboard just like the participants. The glow of laptop screens lit up the Wheeler Centre workshop space (apart from Nicola Opt’Hoog, who did the challenge longhand!), and healthy rivalry between participants meant that everyone chased everyone else’s word-counts as they went up on the whiteboard.

Team Melbourne had a cheer squad composed of writers from other teams, states, and people around the EWF who weren’t even participating in the Rabbit Hole. One such writer (Owen Vandenberg, bless his heart) even cooked biscuits, vegan ones, in his home, and dropped them off to help fuel the writing bunnies. (Example Tweet from the moment of realization of said cookies: “Oh my god… there are oreos INSIDE these goddamn choc chip cookies. What kind of magical genius is this??? Who is responsible? #rabbithole”). Too cool.

The Melbourne weekend finished with two writers crossing the 30K mark. Even those with word-counts on the lower end of the scale had around 10,000 words – I don’t remember the last time I wrote that much toward any one project. I sat myself next to the snacks desk (it was the only available seat, I swear!) and got to overhear all the great water-cooler conversations about strategy (Pomodoro, biscuits, chapter outlines), and what everyone was working on. Aside from the amazing amounts of work produced, the networking and sharing of creative excitement was what made the event so great.

The online team (who called themselves Team Awesome until the 2nd of June, when it was changed to Team Amazeface in light of smashing goals and word-counts) was led by Patrick O’Duffy, whose intense energy and never-ending supply of writing-related lolcatz kept everyone enthusiastic.

Events that are run entirely in a digital space are becoming more common – the EWF ran Twitter Fest again this year, which included daily panels on a range of subjects, plus EWF digital was a whole side-festival in itself. I’m part of “The Subcommittee”, an online writers’ group of sorts. I’m getting more and more comfortable with things happening entirely in digital space, but it never gets any less cool. So as you would imagine: Team Awesome/Amazeface was cool for its digital novelty. It was also cool for its bunch of amazing writers, who managed to make some exciting organic stuff happen, similar to the water-cooler sharing in the face-to-face team.

In planning an event, there’s only a certain amount of planning you can do, and then the event happens. In its happening, it takes over and… well, it just happens. Without prompting, the online team started sharing their words at regular intervals during the day. They also shared bits of their lives, and so the team-members got to know one another and  sympathize with things like cravings for heat packs: one member got one, and then everyone did. I couldn’t plan that kind of closeness.

The sharing of work fit nicely into the blog that Patrick and I set up for the online team as a milestone reward for hitting the 20,000 word mark. Hopefully it gives you, dear Reader, a taste of what was being produced over the weekend.

Probably the most rewarding thing to come out of the weekend was how many people commented that they’d achieved more than they expected to, or thought they could. People surprised themselves – isn’t that freakin’ awesome?!

Mine isn’t the only wrap-up post or reflection on the Rabbit Hole experience, so here are a heap more, if you care to check them out. They’re from Rabbit Hole participants all over the country.
– Megan Burke at Literary Life live blogging Day 2
– Patrick O’Duffy blogs his experience of the Rabbit Hole
– Duncan Felton blogged his first 1000 words and keep-going strategy
– Miriam Zolin blogged her preparations for the Rabbit Hole
– Phill English (Toothsoup Phill) reflected on his experience
– Jodi Cleghorn shared her planning process and tips
– Amanda Druck updated us on her progress

Thanks once again to the Queensland Writers’ Centre for letting us in on such an exciting event – writers all over the country got so much out of the weekend, and I had a blast being involved!

…And of course, thanks for EWF for having me on board as an intern – I’ve made amazing friends, learned a lot about myself and gained a heap of new skills (making badges! spreadsheets! QR codes!). I’m sure this won’t be my last post about the EWF experience though, so more gushing in later posts.

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