Sam van Zweden




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.

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

Opportunities a Plenty

Being involved with EWF more closely this year has opened my eyes to the amazing amount of opportunities they have available for writers, outside the festival itself. There’s a bunch of deadlines coming up, so I thought I’d just do a heads-up for anyone that might be interested in these opportunities. I’d encourage people to apply, because EWF’s a fanastically supportive atmosphere, and a wonderful starting point. Having this stuff on your resume is so helpful, and in terms of experience it’s priceless. And some of these are lucrative. Woot.

–> The Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. Most prizes are almost impossible for an undergraduate emerging writer to win. They either require a publication history, or a whole book, or a completed manuscript, or… a bunch of stuff a lot of undergrads just don’t have. The Monash Prize has a large bundle of money to give to its winners, it’s for previously unpublished writers (see website for specs on this), and entries are reasonably short pieces of writing. Winners are also being published as an ebook by Penguin. Entries close April 23rd.

–> Words In Winter Writer’s Residency. A two-week writing residency at “a high-profile CBD location”. The theme is a future of writing, which is a pretty hot topic at the moment. If you’re concerned with digital story-telling, blogging, ebooks, self-publishing, or anything that’s wrapped up in the idea of the “future of writing”, then apply for this residency. There’s ten spots available, and EWF’s offering a publishing opportunity post-residency. Applications close April 20th.

–> Australian Poetry’s fantastic Cafe Poets program is launching their next round as part of the EWF in May. The program puts poets in cafes as writers-in-residence, giving the poet a space to work, free coffee, and an outlet: contact with the public. Applications close April 24th.

With all these opporunities available, you’ve got no excuse not to make stuff happen. Give it a go! Entries for all these close very soon, so get writing!

Being Revolutionary and WTF, Qld?

Crazy mash-up post!

Strand one: I did a post on the Emerging Writers’ blog today about writing that has changed the way I think. I enjoyed writing it. Yeah, this internship is rad.

Strand two: news broke directly onto Twitter today. It was really strange, because I saw it on Twitter about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, before I could find any coverage on a reputable news source. I didn’t want to believe it. Remember cyclone Yasi? There was so many crazy rumours on Twitter then, and most of them were totally untrue. I was hoping today’s Twitter-news was too. Later in the afternoon though, Sydney Morning Herald ran an article confirming the rumours.

The news is that the new Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, has cancelled the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. When he was elected, he promised to change government spending and get Queensland back on track… Nobody realized that would mean scrapping the literary prize that’s given a huge leg-up and well-deserved kudos to Queensland writers (Anna Krien, Chloe Hooper, Inga Clendinnen, Markus Zusak, Nam Le, J.M Coetzee…the list goes on), and has let people all across Australia (probably all across the world?) what’s worth putting on their To-Be-Read lists. Prizes are exciting and essential. They help bring texts to the foreground that might be overshadowed. And writers don’t get paid anywhere near enough to write – prizes make writing a whole lot more possible. As mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald article, (quoting John Birmingham), “It makes a big difference to the people who are getting [the awards], obviously, but in terms of the state budget, there’s probably bigger tough cuts that he could make, but they’re much tougher to sell”.

I’m not a Queensland writer, and I’m pissed off. I can’t imagine how writers in Queensland are feeling – their state has lost a major prize that would potentially have recognized their hard work.

Chris Currie (@furioushorses) – who is a Queenslander – on Twitter dubbed Campbell Newman a “doucheweasel” – I have nothing more to add.

Is “Late To the Party” A Personality Trait?

Can I put “band-wagon-jumper” on my CV? Is “slow on the uptake” a favourable quality in a person?

I’ve been hearing about Ira Glass’ amazing podcast, This American Life for some time now, but I just decided to start using it as a soundtrack while I work out (which is a surprisingly successful tactic). And ohmigod. WHY DIDN’T I DO THIS SOONER?!

(Just a side note – I feel like this realization is akin to the one where I realised that public transport time is really reading time. Working out or walking is really listening time. My brain’s not doing anything anyway, so USE IT!)

No matter what the subject matter is, this is some really moving stuff. Ira Glass has his finger bang on the pulse of life and what it is in all its minutiae, and knows just how to make the minutiae count in terms of a wider context. What a dude.

It’s also really exciting in terms of thinking about different ways of telling a story. It doesn’t just have to be on a page to be powerful. I’ve known this for a while, sure, but Ira Glass’ podcast really brings it home and reminds me to think more laterally about narratives.

Crikey! A New Lit Blog!

I was sad to see Angela Meyer step down as lit blogger for Crikey, but it seems like everything’s panning out really well. Angela’s still blogging, on her now WordPress-hosted LiteraryMinded, and today saw the great reveal of the new Crikey lit blog, written by Bethanie Blanchard. Bethanie’s young, she’s friendly, and she’s everywhere at the moment. Her writing (including her first post on Lit-icism) sits on the edges of criticism and personal, and this makes it easy to read, but also informative and engaging.

As per everything-Crikey, the blog design is simple, lots of white space and a lack of flashing things. The banner for Lit-icism is pretty great. I’m looking forward to Bethanie’s time with Crikey and seeing what she gets up to on Lit-icism.

Super-Early Heads Up

As you’ve probably gathered from previous posts and publications, I find non-fiction challenging and fun.

The most recent creative non-fiction I’ve read that excited me was by David Shields – his Reality Hunger blew my head clear off my shoulders, and The Thing About Life is That One Day You’ll Be Dead really made me think about family legacies and storytelling, as well as mortality and the way we write and speak about our own experiences. David Shields is exciting to read, and he’s exciting to watch speak. He has exciting ideas, and he presents them in new and exciting ways.

With all this love I’ve got for David Shields and his writing and his practice and his entire being, I screamed when I found that he’s a keynote speaker for RMIT’s  (November) 2012 conference, NonfictioNow. As an RMIT student I’m hoping to smuggle myself in backstage and get to meet the man. And if not, I’ll at least be able to drool on his brain from a distance.

So an early heads up – I’ll post again in a year when the conference is actually happening, but until then – get onto David Shields’ work so you’re all caught up by the time he’s in town.

Silence, Punctuated Only By a Cat Eating in Triplets. (Misha Adair)

Today’s post is by my good and very talented friend Misha Adair. He’s sorely missed in the blogging world (responsible in an earlier life for Adair on Books), but I talked him into coming out to play on the question of listening to music while you write. Thanks, Mish!


I can’t write while listening to music. I just can’t. And I’ve just tried. I stared glumly at the computer screen for the three minutes and nine seconds it took for Bob Dylan to get through The Man in Me. Then I gazed stonily at the computer screen for the six minutes and fifty-two seconds it takes Wynton Marsalis to redefine the first movement of Hayden’s trumpet concerto in E flat.  Not a word was typed.

Now the only sound in my flat is the steady sharp crunch of the cat having her second breakfast.  She crunches in triplets, by the way.  And the words, if not flowing in a torrent, are coming at least in a steady trickle.

The challenge that my gracious host has set me in this piece, I suppose, is that I’m going to have to try to unpick two great loves of my life: music and the written word.  And try to explain the fact that they seem not to get along in a creative sense.  I’ll start with the music.

I absolutely adore music.  It’s been a tremendously important part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Exactly as long as I can remember, in fact.  My very earliest memory is of my father swinging me through the air.  There was music playing.  When I was about twelve I heard a song that immediately – almost painfully – took me right back to that memory.  Water of Love, by Dire Straits.  That’s what was playing, and I have to brace myself for a brief moment of rapid remembered motion every time I play it.

The sense of smell is cornily and repeatedly cited as the most powerful trigger for memories.  I’ve never understood that.  It’s music for me every single time.  There are songs I dare not play because I know that they’ll have me sobbing brokenly in the opening bar.  At the moment, my girlfriend is teaching English in South Korea.  She’s been there for six months now, and I miss her terribly.  We used to listen to Nick Drake’s Fly a lot.  Even thinking about that song has me in gentle tears now.

When I was about five, my parents got me a piano teacher.  The proper kind – Eastern European.  If you’re ever looking for a piano teacher, accept no substitutes.  Maryla would make me play scales with erasers balanced on the back of my hands until I cried.  Her most powerful gesture of affectionate praise was to grab a handful of my hair, yank it, and make a curious ‘Teeeeeeeeeeee!’ sound.  When you’d been defoliated in this way, you knew that the week’s practice had paid off.  I’m not for a second saying that it’s necessary to learn the grammar of music to appreciate it profoundly, but I do think it makes a difference to the way you listen.  Trying to write a sonnet, analogously, gives you a new appreciation of how hard it is to write something like Shakespeare’s incomparable number seventy three.

When I was in high school, I had an astonishing music teacher called Hugh McKelvey.  I’ll never forgive him for the confidence trick he pulled off to saddle me with playing the tuba, but I’ll never be able to thank him enough for the time and trouble he took with me, and for turning a gentle blind eye to the fact that I faked having music lessons to get out of PE.

By that time, I had a new piano teacher too – the darling Mrs MacKay.  Not Eastern European, but so delightfully nervous on the day of her students’ piano exams that you could smell a faint whiff of brandy around her, and never mind that that was at nine o’clock in the morning.
The first paying job I ever had was in the orchestra for a production of Hello Dolly!  I’ve played in a symphony orchestra (conducted by Hugh McKelvey, who got me the gig – another thing to thank him for) and in my early twenties I played bass in a hip-hop outfit that I still think had the greatest band name of all time: ‘The Catholic School-Girl Appreciation Society’.  Music is a huge part of my life.  I’ve given up the dream of being a hip-hop bass sensation, I knew when I was about twelve that I was never going to be a concert pianist and the first time I ever lifted a tuba I knew I wasn’t going to be lugging one of those bastards around for the rest of my life.  Music was never going to be my profession, but it was never going to be something I took for granted.

My iTunes library will play for forty two days, starting with AC/DC and ending with a Russian hard-rock group whose name I can’t decipher since I don’t read Cyrillic, and I’ve got a small but stunning collection of vinyl.  Ever heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing their 25th Anniversary Tour?  It feels like sacrilege even to consider converting that stuff to MP3, and the same goes for the incomparable LP of Mikis Theodorakis’ Mauthausen songs.

Music, broadly and not entirely accurately speaking, is something I can do.  So when I listen, I think about how I’d do it.  And that, I think, is why I can’t write while I’m listening to music.

Now, limping towards the writing part of this…

I grew up in a house that was blessed to be free of television.  The first time I had regular access to a television, I was seventeen.  And my father is a literature teacher.  Not just any literature teacher.  He’s quite simply the greatest (non-Eastern European) teacher I’ve ever met.  The classic description of a competent teacher is of someone who can muster some enthusiasm for a subject and explain any given point in three quite distinct ways.  My father can do that in his sleep.  But then he can do something more: he can transmit his love for something (a poem, a play, a novel) in such a way that the love is contagious.  You cannot not love John Donne after you’ve heard my dad riff on him for a few minutes.  And you can’t do anything other than listen spell-bound while he reads.

I grew up in a home that had no TV, but about three thousand books.  I didn’t miss out on anything important.

And my mother, who won’t mind me saying that her husband is the better and more sensitive reader, wasn’t ordinary either.  She was born in Melbourne, but she’s as Russian as you get without a long black leather coat and a propensity to be gloomy and hurt people.  And she used to read Chekov short-stories to my sister and me on trips home from school.  And she was translating them as she went.

When I was fourteen, I read a radio play called Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.  It changed the way I approached literature.  I realised for the first time that the English language was music – and that script on a page was notation.

Language and music are, for me, alarmingly similar.  At their best they are both so utterly bound up in creating aural beauty that they make it impossible for me to listen to one and practice the other.
If I listen to music, it changes the way I write, if I can write at all.

Get me listening to Beethoven’s Seventh (one of the great human achievements in all of history) and I’ll write you something that sounds like a cross between a Human Rights screed and a manifesto in favour of the immediate invasion of the nearest militarily inferior country.  Set me up with the Sixth, and I’ll write a diary entry that would be the pride of any six year-old girl.

Play me some Bach, and I’ll just stop.  How can anyone, anywhere create while listening to that man’s creativity?  It’s just not possible.  You don’t even want to breathe while listening to Bach, in case you’re doing it the wrong way.

I’m reasonably eclectic in terms of my musical taste – so please don’t think that I listen to what the uninformed automatically call ‘classical’ music exclusively.  In a moment, I’ll listen to Bryan Adams, Sting and Rod Stewart singing All For One, and it will be one of better five minutes of my day.

But I won’t be able to write a single word while I listen.

When I listen to great music, I very often get ideas.  Sometimes I even think I get great ideas.  But I can never write them down until there is silence, punctuated only by a cat eating in triplets.

in this light, at this moment – Rafael S.W

Today’s is a guest-post from a good friend, Rafael S.W. When I talk about those people that support me with my writing, Raf’s one of those I’m referring to.
He’s weighed in on what I wrote about last week – about the conditions under which we need or prefer to write. 

picture by Zouavman Le Zouave

I have started to be very aware of light levels in my writing. As I type this, I am in my grandmother’s kitchen because that is the only place I can be in her apartment that means I can have some lights on but none that are in my face. I spent a fair few minutes flicking different lights on and off before deciding on how I wanted it. This might sound weird, but I have become somewhat of a light connoisseur. I used to have one of those touch-lamps that could change the level depending on how I felt and what I wanted to write (the brightest setting for seriousness, essays / a completely dark room except for the lowest setting when I wanted to write poetry). Then I broke it. And now at home I write while my new lamp (which doesn’t dim) is covered in paper, with one of the two bulbs taken out, and it sits behind my door.

Where did this come from? Was it in the single moment where a girl first took me to her room and it was lit by nothing by Christmas lights? Was it when I walked home from 4 am parties and spoke poetry into my phone while the streetlights dimmed the road ahead of me? Was it when I first noticed how beautiful skin looked in the blue wash of a laptop screen? I don’t know, but ever since I’ve been writing with a light level that reflects my mood, my writing has felt smoother, less forced.

I have heard that the converse is true too. I have a friend who is completely impacted by the halogen brightness of trains at night. If he sits on a seat underneath one of the ones that flickers, however minutely, he might not even notice, but after a few stations his mood will sour, he sometimes even gets headaches. And only when he sees the spasmodic winking of the light overhead will he have an explanation for while he suddenly feels terrible.

I’m a strong believer in writing in a way that works for you, however weird. If it’s upside-down to candlelight, then so be it.

“That’s bad light there.” Says my grandmother, coming out from her room, squinting a little in the gloom. “Can you see alright there?”
Enough, yes, I can see enough.

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