Sam van Zweden



emerging writers festival

Live from Future Bookshop!

The Future Bookshop exhibition is in the studio space at NGV. The sound of school groups bounces off the high ceiling and stone tiled, as it’s connected to the NGV foyer where they gather to collect chairs and debrief before moving on to the next cultural experience.

The Future Bookshop is amazing. When you walk in the door (just inside the atrium) there are two big armchairs to your left, with a bookshelf containing a bunch of interesting things to read.

Right in front of the door is a wall, plastered with more QR codes than you’ve ever seen together in one place, all of which link to a different article/podcast/video/collection of thoughts about the future of writing and reading. There are also big copies of articles from The Emerging Writer, the EWF publication, which talk about interwebz and writingz.

In the middle of this QR code wall is a panel with USB sticks poking out of it. Hook whatever USB-friendly device you’ve got up to these and download free ebooks, as well as loving words from the artists’ collective behind the USB installation.

Next to this is an “ideas wall”, and under this is a table with paper and pens. You’re invited to participate by sharing your ideas about the future of books and writing and putting them up on the wall.

In the middle of the room is a table, where you can sit down and join the writers in residence as they create. Of course, not all writers in residence make use of the table. I ditched it pretty quickly in favour of a beanbag (see below – photo via @lisadempster), and another writer is currently kicking back in one of the armchairs. May I say – ALL writing places should have beanbags. It might just be an exhaustion hangover from the Festival, but the ability to sit equal parts vertical and horizontal in a squishy surface is really relaxing me and making the creative juices flow more easily.

Another section of the front wall houses works-in-progress from the writers in residence. Up there so far: Tully Hansen‘s room-plan (see below), blog posts from Sophie Benjamin, and Julien Leyre had stuck something up right before I left.

In the middle of the room also is a pole intended for structural integrity, which the Future Bookshop makes use of. There are headphones hooked up to looping podcasts, which visitors can sit down and listen to. Not just any podcasts, but Paper Radio podcasts – these guys podcast stories, with really nice sound things happening in the background.

Next to the residents’ work-wall is a wall with book designs, and an interesting statement about the weirdness of books being super-accessible with free content around, but also becoming really expensive moving forward as they become obsolete.

The back wall has copies off all the Signal Express, the EWF/Signal Express daily newspaper from during the festival. They did an amazing job, pumping out two articles and Twitter highlights every day throughout the festival.

Tucked around the corner is a screen with looping vlogs with thoughts about the future of bookshops, books, reading and writing.

Along the glass wall that faces the atrium are lots of lamps, all switched on. The future looks bright. But we don’t want to make light of the future either. They’re just lightening the atmosphere. We’re trying to shed some light on where we’re headed. Hopefully people are smart in the future too, and just as switched on. Puns finished.

So that’s the space. Check out Tully Hansen’s floor-plan (relevant to his very cool work – photo via @lisadempster) to help you envisage it.

Even better, come down and visit to get a REAL idea of what’s happening.

During my time at the NGV studio, I’ll be blogging. I’ll be doing posts about the future of the book, and what it means to be writing and reading in the digital age. I’ll also be drafting blog posts for after the residency, and saving up a little back-log of stuff. Talking with Angela Meyer last week reinforced that this is something I should do continuously – if I’d had more posts/drafts on hand during the end of semester, I wouldn’t have gone silent when my workload grew. And so that’s what I’m doing at NGV. Making Little Girl With a Big Pen happen.

One fellow writing resident, Julien Leyre (who was one of the amazing writers who crossed that 30K mark at the Rabbit Hole!) is spending his time here translating a blog into French and Chinese. So maybe the future of books and writing is a place where things are more accessible.

The thing I love most about working in digital spaces is the way that readers are able to feed back. The ways that readers become creators. This is reflected really well in Future Bookshop, and that’s what excites me most about the space. The audience is also the creator, those who are watching feed back into the space, and by having people in the space it becomes something else. It’s evolving. That’s what the future of the book is all about.

But WHY does it WORK?

Last night I joined in writing for the Rabbit Hole for about 3 hours. Today I’ve been largely pottering around with the online team on Facebook and Twitter, providing munchy provisions for Melbourne, and coffee for myself. Sitting so close to the snacks table again today is dangerous, dangerous stuff.

Last night I managed to write over 2,900 words. Given that this was in three interrupted hours (catering wench is most important in this venue!), I’m really happy with my output. And I managed to write some scenes I’d been avoiding or struggling with for ages.

Last night I woke at 3am, and lay in bed thinking for a while. Almost 3000 words in three hours is really good for me. I wrote more in three hours than I have in the last week. So why does the Rabbit Hole work?

Possible answers:
– No procrastination tools. There’s no housework to be done,  no TV to watch and no to-do lists to make you feel guilty. The things that normally crop up to help writers avoid their writing are all stripped away.
– Public Censure. In a room full of people pounding away at the keys, you feel a bit shit for not doing the same when you know very well that you’ve got no excuse, and you signed up for this.
– Competitiveness. That girl just hit 3,000 words. What?! Yeah. Right. Need to get there too.
– What you owe to yourself. Knowing that you’ve got this opportunity, and that these opportunities are rare helps drive home the fact that you owe this to yourself.

These are my top theories. If you took part in the Rabbit Hole, or you have in the past, and you can think of other reasons, let me know. I’m interested in nutting out why I can write this amount here, but not at home alone. Am I just lacking discipline?

Down the Rabbit Hole…

It’s been pretty busy here at the Wheeler Centre. At 6pm last night, 20 writers came together in the workshop space upstairs and sat down to write.

This is The Rabbit Hole, where the goal is to write 30,000 words in 22 hours. The numbers have been crunched, and it’s something like 1,300 words per hour. There are four teams, each of 20 people. There’s a Facebook group and a #rabbithole hashtag, plenty of tea, coffee, and snacks. Little incentives and lots of sharing of lollies.

These guys are dedicated, and the room sounds AMAZING. Yeah, sounds. The sound of twenty people typing in unison is a glorious thing! It’s like standing at an indoor pool, where plashing waves take over any other sounds and it sort of ebbs around you. That’s what the tapping of keys sounds like in the workshop space at the Wheeler Centre.

It’s now 4:08 on day 2, and I’m just jumping down the Rabbit Hole myself. Up until this point I’ve been hanging out on the online forum, manning the Twitter hashtag (#rabbithole), which has been plagued by a bunch of spam which has required lots of “report @… for spam” clicks. The good thing, though, is that even with the spammy stuff in the stream, we’re still dominating the #rabbithole hashtag! Reports are flooding in from Brisbane, Hobart, online and Melbourne.

I thought I’d start my jump down the Rabbit Hole with this post, to let people know how it’s going.

Scratch that, 4:21. A lot of my job so far has involved making sure we’re in supply of mugs and that the urn is full. This sounds easy, but somehow 20 people go through a LOT of coffee and tea. You’ve got to fuel 1,300 words and hour with something!

Other than the catering stuff, I’ve been playing with the online team on their Facebook page.

When we first jumped into this endeavour, I heard that Queensland Writers’ Centre (brilliant originators of this initiative) had challenged writers to chalk up 30,000 words in a weekend. “Nuh. No way!”

But it’s been done, and it’s a LOT of fun to see it being done in front of my eyes here. One of our writers just hit the 15,000 word mark (!!!) – we’re now 8 and a half hours in. That’s not even half way.

It’s also really nice to be the contact point for lots of people – I’m getting to hear about new projects that are in the pipe line, and what people plan to do with their work when it’s done.

So. This is 400-something words toward the Rabbit Hole. Sorry it’s a mostly unedited gush, I thought I’d just keep ya’ll in the loop.

See you when I surface!



Further to this morning’s post about how money’s not everything, I thought I’d call attention to this: the Emerging Writers’ Festival just posted a HEAP of information about pay rates for various publications. Included in this information is not just monetary rewards, but also a column for “Other Benefits”, which includes a lot of the stuff I mentioned this morning.

As stated on the EWF blog, this information will soon be up as a searchable database, but I thought it was worth calling attention to now. Great, fabulous, wonderful initiative.

She Works Hard for the Money (But There’s So Much More)

Something that’s come up multiple times across the Emerging Writers’ Festival is the idea that we shouldn’t be so focused on money, and I’ve really appreciated that people are raising this point. I think it’s really important.

While there’s definitely space to be concerned about being ripped off, there’s also a need to get some perspective. As an emerging writer, I’ve had to do a fair amount of writing/working for free- but I don’t feel ripped off at all, because what I’m getting out of those experiences goes beyond money.

For example, interning – I’ve met countless wonderful people, learned about what I’m actually capable of as a person, discovered new possibilities for myself and my career as a writer. Interning is one of those experiences that can potentially pay itself off non-monetarily, in things like networking opportunities and transferable skills. You know those skills that everyone wants, but that are impossible to get without getting a job? Interning’s a great way to get those skills!

Last night at the Industry Insider panel on Indie Publishing, Sophie Black (from Crikey) made note of the fact that she appreciates that low pay-rates need to be subsidized by giving the piece(s) the time they deserve editorially, helping to make them the best pieces they can be, and arming the writer with new skills and knowledge beyond just getting paid.

So while it’s important to value your work, and make sure you’re getting what you deserve for it, also be aware that what you get for your work might not just be about money. With so many indie publishing places hard-up for cash, it’s not always going to be possible to get a high pay-rate for your work. That’s not to say that these places should be turned down or not considered – “What you deserve” might include transferable skills, networking opportunities, a forum for your work, or extra attention to making your work the best it can be. Look past the money, with the bigger picture in mind, and look at what an opportunity really has to offer you.

Day 5 and Still Running!

Today is day 5 of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and I thought I’d do a quick wrap-up post of the things that have made an impression on me and what’s been great about the festival since my last post, and what my experience has been as an intern.

My last post was just after the launch. Since then has been a Masterclass, the Artists’ Party, and the Town Hall Writers’ Conference.

During this time I needed to finish a heap of assessments, and I tell you what – there should be a dangling carrot like the festival at the end of every semester – there would be so much less procrastination! I didn’t want to be stuck at home working, so I was super-productive and have managed to get everything finished a whole day early. I’m going to hand it all in this afternoon, and I’m OUT of semester one! And I can finally say “Yes, I’m coming up to the festival hub for drinks!”

The Business of Being a Writer Masterclass I worked, but the whole thing was coming over a PA, so I could hear everything that was going on. I’m actually kind of upset that I’d missed out on these classes in previous years – all the things I’d been confused about or wondering about the business side of this was covered in this class. Things like invoicing, setting rates, what to do once you’ve got an ABN, copyright. Everything. I highly recommend this class for everyone next year.

My favourite idea that came from the masterclass was Aden Rolfe’s idea of “Speculative Administration”. Freelancers, he said, necessarily have to spend about 15% of their time engaging in this “Speculative Administration” – things like researching markets, applying for grants, seeing what competitions and deadlines are coming up, thinking about where you’d love to be published. As a result, freelancers can only ever use 75% of their time on the other work. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something to be aware of.

Friday night’s Artists Party was loud and amazing. I’m continually thrilled by how many amazing people are involved with the festival, and how everyone is ready to chill out and have a chat. We’re not friends already? Alright, cool, who are you? Let’s be friends.

Over the weekend was the Town Hall Writers’ Conference. I worked on Saturday morning, catching the Seven Enviable Lines panel. Favourite lines – “Procrastination: Don’t do it.”. “Never, ever take fear-based advice”. And “Don’t be a jerk”. This “Don’t be a jerk” thing was echoed all weekend, and I think it’s really important in a community as small as Melbourne’s. You’re going to come across the same people again and again, so for the love of God, don’t burn bridges! That’s not to say don’t be critical – one of the things I loved about the weekend conference was the way that many people were brave enough to disagree and really thrash out ideas. Critical is okay. Critical is constructive. Just don’t be a jerk.

After a MASSIVE Friday/Saturday-AM working, I decided to go home to get a heap of this homework done. Everything’s due today and tomorrow. While leaving the Town Hall program to do homework sucked, I really wanted to be able to rock up on Sunday and see some great panels – including one by my mentor for next semester, Francesca Rendle-Short. More on that mentorship post-EWF, no doubt.

Anyway, I intended to come home and be very productive. Instead, I came home and collapsed in an exhausted puddle. I slept for five hours. When I eventually woke, I felt much better, and ready to tackle assessments. I put on headphones, and the newly-discovered Vitamin String Quartet (perfect for studying!). And I powered through almost all of that assessment work.

Which meant I could catch panels on Sunday! I feel like I tweeted the panels to death, so you no doubt already know the highlights. I will say though, that I really loved the digital writing panel, and how it made me feel excited and more energized about this here blog. Post-festival I’ll be around at the Future Bookshop, writing up a storm, and I intend to use the time (at least in part) to re-commit to LGWABP. Time commitments before me still mean I’m a busy woman, but I can see my way to posting more regularly. So thanks, especially to Carla Sammut (@easyasveganpie), for getting me excited again.

Oh, also – just a quick shout-out to my amazing brother, who recently joined Twitter. He’s a fantastic chef, and he’s joined Twitter to follow restaurants and chefs. And bless him, I’ve been tweeting #ewf12 pretty hardcore over the last week and it’s gonna continue, and he hasn’t unfollowed me. Thanks, Chris! x

The last exciting thing is ewfDigital! It went live last night, and it’s all up and functioning and exciting today. It looks freakin’ awesome, and there’s a heap of content up there. I’ve only managed to look at about half of it, and going back just now I see that today’s panel stuff has gone live too. ewfDigital allows people who can’t make it to Melbourne for the festival to engage through videos, blogs and Twitter. Not only is there content going up from panelists, but you, as the audience, can create your own content in response to the stuff that’s up there. Just like question-and-answer time at the end of the panel, where you have the right to respond. Only better. Way better.

Right now I’m off to a briefing for the Future Bookshop, and tonight I celebrate with my best mate and wine and an Industry Insider panel about emerging critics and Lord of The Fries after. I’ve finished assessments! Let me loose on the festival!

It’s Here!

Last night saw the launch of the 2012 Emerging Writers’ Festival. It was a brilliant show, complete with bum-dancing, crumping in a row-boat, chair persons almost crying while thanking Lisa for an amazing 3 year captaincy, and the incomparable Tully Hansen winning the Monash Prize. Congratulations too to Michelle Li for taking out the Monash component;  we were lucky enough to hear some of her entry last night, and it was lovely.

I’d like to apologize in advance to my partner, my body, my diet, my house, my washing pile, my skin… My mum, who won’t hear from me for a few weeks… My final assessment for not getting the attention it needed pre-festival and now will be completed in an exhaustion fug… If last night was any indicator at all, by the end of these eleven days, I’m going to be so happy, but incredibly tired, too.

As I tweeted late last night – my life right now? Fuck yeah! Sometimes everything just comes up aces, and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. Good one, life!

Today I’ll be working at the Business of Being a Writer Masterclass, and meeting a heap of brilliant people no doubt at the artists’ party this evening. I will never stop being astounded by how many great people are involved in the festival.

Yeah, and this is just day 2. Imagine how gushy this is going to get by the end of the festival! #loveattack

Monash Prize Shortlist Announced

The Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing is kind of a big deal. It gives a really good opportunity to undergraduate writers. If you’re an emerging, undergraduate, reasonably unpublished writer, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s not an easy position to be in, it’s hard to get attention to your work, and getting paid or published is rare. That’s why the large stack of cash ($5000!) and publication with Penguin given for this prize is also a pretty big deal.

This morning, the short list for the Monash Prize was announced, and I’m absolutely thrilled to see three close friends of mine on there, representin’ for RMIT, our course, and their BRILLIANT amounts of talent. Overall, I’m really glad to see the list stretches across so many different universities, and contains an almost equal spread of men and ladies. Given these submissions were read blind, it’s really nice to see such an even playing field.

Well done to all the shortlisted writers. I’m looking forward to seeing the prize awarded at the EWF event, Stories that Matter.

Outing My Infantile Love of Tupperware

I’ve got a post over on the EWF blog today. It’s my two-month check in, reflecting on my experience so far as an intern. In it, I talk about how I’ve learned to love the humble spreadsheet, and I out my childhood love of Tupperware.

I haven’t posted much on here about my EWF experience, because my lips have to remain sealed about so much of it. Surprises! Oh, so many surprises! A lot of these surprises will be revealed on the 24th of April (that’s only a week away!) when the EWF program gets launched online. The official program launch is on the 4th of May (6.15pm, but I can’t for the life of me find an event for it anywhere?) at the Wheeler Centre, and I hope to see you there!

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