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”

EWF Bingo!

The Emerging Writers’ Festival 2015 is almost upon us – the opening night event is on Tuesday 26th May.

I’ve been hanging around the festival for about five years now – the same amount of time I’ve been blogging – and this year I’m lucky enough to be on a panel about blogging, along with Michelle McLaren and Meghan Brewster. Both myself and these two wonderful ladies are lucky enough to be invited by the festival to blog the events we attend, so you’ll be hearing much more about #ewf15 here over the next two weeks. Continue reading “EWF Bingo!”

Good News Update

It’s always hard, or at least a little strange, announcing your own good news. Part of me likes sharing happy achievements, while another part of me wishes that everyone already knew, so I wouldn’t be bragging. With writing news, I also struggle with embargoes. I’m not good at keeping secrets, so that when I finally can tell people I blurt at them like an excited six year-old. Continue reading “Good News Update”

The Echo-Echo of Failing Better

This is a wrap-up of Day 1 of the Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Writers’ Conference

#1:     It was said in the first event of the day, Seven Enviable Lines, though I can’t remember who by – that famous Samuel Beckett quote: “Ever try. Ever fail. No matter – try again. Fail again. Fail better.” It’s one of my favourite quotes, one that I try to keep foremost in my mind as I wade through desk-days and while cursors flash at me accusingly.

It came up again in the second panel I attended, Critical Conditions, this time from Nick Tapper. The echo made it stick.

#2:    Melinda Harvey, in Critical Conditions, urges us to think of criticism as a creative act. She mentions Post Secret, and says something vague and aspirational enough to be exciting, about the possibility of new forms of criticism. Fellow panelist, Ella O’Keefe: ditto. 

#3:     John Safran says that “pride and sloth” are the sins of the creative. We have one stupid idea, and we cling to it and are too lazy to go out and be crazy about having ideas. “Here’s what’s wrong with you,” he says. “You’re lazy, and too in love with your one stupid idea.”

In Writing the Personal, Walter Mason tells us that he recently sent his editor 125,000 words. His editor has slashed and burnt it down to 75,000 words. This is just the process. Between Safran and Mason, the message is to be creative in a ravenous way – your brilliance isn’t limited, numbers are what they are and if you create more, the numbers are on your side. 

#4:      Walter Mason again, in Writing the Personal. He talks about Twitter and Instagram, and how he’s over people’s objection that they don’t want to see what everyone’s eating. It’s relevant, he says. It’s the most personal, and the most interesting. I agree.

Two years ago at this conference, at an ‘in conversation’ in the Melbourne room, Philip Thiel talked about the way that people do want to know what you had for breakfast, and that it’s what gives a blog flavour. That night I went home and wrote about what I had for breakfast


I forget points that are made, quotes that I love, possibilities that exist, until events like these. The EWF provides a space full of echoed reminders, and I am buoyed; enthusiasm renewed. I come home to write, with abandon and without restrictions.

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!

The Night That Was White

This is a re-cap of my White Night, spent primarily at the Wheeler Centre as part of an event run by the Emerging Writers Festival.

Bivouacking at the Wheeler Centre – it feels like a school camp somehow. On the bus on the way in, I feel like a kid again. I carry a pillow and cupcakes, and a backpack full of laptop, pens and notebook. There’s a novel in there for the wee hours. 

The night begins without any great fanfare. A small crowd gathers for Eric Yoshiyaki Dando’s performance at 8pm. Eric is a bit short, a bit hairy; he wears no shoes and rolled-up fisherman’s pants. He reads from his iPhone (“from the Sleepers’ app, which is very handy!”) about his time spent as a shopping centre Santa. I presume it is non-fiction, but on later reflection I will wonder. Either way, he’s utterly charming. The AUSLAN lady’s hands dance, and Eric makes her say “snail” again because he loves the sign for it.

After Eric’s performance people splinter. There’s an awful lot of talking. More than one person here seems to be participating in White Night in order to write about it – I’m not the only person whose impulse is to document. There are people with cameras, and a few people approach to ask what we’re working on, or why we’re here. 

I leave for dinner. Sitting outside the State Library, I watch patterns drive themselves up the exterior walls. There are people with strollers. It’s as busy as New Years Eve, but people are happier and more friendly. This doesn’t last though – after dinner, at about 10.30, people seem a bit more volatile. There’s hostility in their demand for something to be happening always, everywhere. I walk more carefully back to the Wheeler Centre.

Photo credit: Reuben Acciano for the Emerging Writers Festival

The Wheeler Centre packs out for later performances at midnight and 1am. The midnight performance has everyone laughing, Laura Jean McKay and Lawrence Leung lunging about the stage, jazz hands flying around one another in a battle to decide who reads first. The pieces they perform are similarly impressive. 

Performances from 3am onwards start to calm down. Luke Ayres Ryan does the 3am reading, which is of a story he wrote when he was 14. He antagonises his young self as he reads, incredulous that he ever thought that this writing was something to be proud of. I hope that he sees the value in his current writing, and wonder if we all have this mode when we read over ancient pieces. True, the piece he reads is as dismal as anything a 14 year-old would write, but still.

The audience at this reading is mainly those of us who have been writing all night. We lounge in bean bags, lulling, and we begin to feel a bit heavy-lidded. Second winds will come later. For now, sedate is the way to be. Chad Parkhill plays a ridiculous DJ set (“full of funky beats with a fat bass line”) to perk us all up, and it works in a way. We dance like fools for a little bit, before a friend arrives and a few of us head to the Domed Reading Room at the State Library.

This is the only thing that I really want to catch at White Night; the only thing that I absolutely need to see. The Domed Reading Room is expansive and overwhelming at the best of times, but in this ethereal space where the city hums and everybody is dreaming, it’s almost too much. The Exaudi Youth choir send their voices up to the ceiling, where projected lights move like ripples in a slow stream. It feels like sleep. Every person is surrounded by calm. People scatter, sitting on desks and chairs. Many heads take the opportunity for a quick nap.

Returning to the Wheeler Centre feels strange, stepping back into the real world. People come and go, and while people still write, the hours between 5 and 7 feel more like a drop-in centre where people stick their heads in out of curiosity.

The tram ride home hits me in the face, and I struggle not to close my eyes as we trundle up a now-quiet, very rubbishy Collins Street. 

The night was certainly white; brilliant with creative light and a generous crowd hungry for culture. Every piece of the city opened up and poured out all the secrets that are so often hidden.

White Night Game Plan

Last year, I learned to love the Extreme Writing Event.

As part of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, I took part in some of the writing-time at the Rabbit Hole. A few weeks later, I spent a day doing something similar, and wrote 10,000 words in a day at the Future Bookshop. And the last semester of uni was really an Extreme Writing Event in itself.

In about three hours, Melbourne’s White Night event will kick off. This event will see the city running non-stop for a whole night, with performances, projections, exhibitions, and miscellaneous others happening all over the city. As part of White Night, Emerging Writers’ Festival are hosting a writers-friendly space right through from 7pm until 7am tomorrow morning. There will be performances every hour, and cosy (comfortable?) space to chill out and get some serious writing done. 

For me, it starts with a cupcake. I always feel good about things when I can contribute some delicious treats. I have a fridge full of these bad boys, ready to spike our blood sugar levels and get us through the night.

Chocolate with mint icing. Yummm!

If I learned one thing from last year’s Extreme Writing Events, it was the power of planning. I reached that 10,000 words in a day because I’d planned pretty carefully what I wanted to get written. So again, I’ve armed myself with a notebook full of jottings toward articles, and tweakings toward half-written pieces. This event is much easier, in that there’s no word-count goal. Managing to stay awake and somewhat productive is really the aim. This said, I’m still really keen to use the time to get something done.

I have a writing exercise here that I’ve been given by my mentor, and I plan to knock that over. After that, I’ll be getting stuck into a piece I’ve been planning (but not yet writing) for quite a while. If I can get down a decent draft of that piece before leaving, I’ll be a happy girl.

What happens to people when they get delirious and tired is fascinating, so I’m looking forward to scribbling down some notes for a piece about White Night itself. Other than that, I’ve got a good book, and a notebook, and cupcakes, and I’m now going to go take a nap to help me through the night. Working 10-5 tomorrow!

Hope to see you out at White Night.

Exciting News!

Often in this writing caper I’ve been overwhelmed by just how generous more experienced writers are. I was first introduced to this incredible generosity through Lisa Dempster, in her role at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Lisa’s been kind enough to extend countless opportunities my way, and she’s always had a lot of faith in my capabilities – often more faith than I have in myself.

Just now (I’m a bit slow on the up-take, moving house means 2 weeks internet-less!) I’ve seen the amazing news on Bookseller and Publisher, that Lisa has nabbed the spot of Festival Director for the Melbourne Writers Festival! Even better, it’s a 3-year position. This is the same amount of time as Lisa reigned over the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and in that role she really went from strength to strength, building on what was already in the festival as well as introducing a lot of new, exciting ideas about what a festival can be and do. Lisa will take over from the current MWF director Steve Grimwade.

So congratulations, Lisa. I can’t think of anyone who deserves this position more, and really look forward to seeing you shine in this role.

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