8.30am. It was absolutely freezing this morning, but I got out of bed. I got to the city. I got coffee. When I walked up to the door of the Town Hall, a fatherly looking man in an entirely-too-endearing beefeater-esque hat shook his head and made me finish my coffee outside. There are some serious injustices in Melbourne.
Once safely in those doors, the caffeine starting to do its job, Festival Fever took over. They asked for my autograph (…on the door list), they handed me a WEEKEND PASS necktag, and they pointed me towards showbags. And I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this year’s showbag. Last year, the bag itself was awesome (I still use it on a daily basis), but the contents weren’t so crash hot, with more pamphlets for things not relevant to me than things I was actually interested in. This year, however, the bag itself is incredibly cool (great size and comfy to wear) but dangerously breakable. I can see myself having to carry another bag inside this bag, in wait of its breaking day. Until such time – awesome. And the contents! ABR, Inscribe, Readings’ catalogue, Bookseller + Publisher, Wet Ink. And even the pamphlets are actually relevant and interesting – I don’t know how much of this was planned and how much just came in, but I’ll be busy with its contents for a while.
The day had an insane amount of knowledge on offer, so I came out pretty tired. So much went into my brain, and such is the extent of the notes I took, that I simply can’t recall all of it. I can, however, retrace my steps in terms of rooms and events, and give you a little taste of the glory that was the Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Program today.
The day started with “Seven Enviable Lines”, which featured the Festival Ambassadors sharing seven pieces of advice they wished they’d received earlier in their careers. Natasha Campo’s “publish or perish” was quickly written down by me, and affirmed at every panel today. She also stressed the importance of being brave in asking for help from whatever relevant people you can find. Advice I’ll definitely be taking on board.
Sean Riley’s advice was not to be afraid to use the words “no”, “absolutely not”, and “go fuck yourself” – if, as a writer, you’re not backing your own work, then nobody will. He also said to remember to “arrive late and leave early” in scenes. An uproariously funny speaker, and certainly one I’ll jump to see if there’s an opportunity in future.
Jill Jones’ advice was to be aware that “writing is bad for your health – especially your posture”. As soon as she said this, everyone in the room wiggled in their chairs and straightened up self-consciously.
While this panel was on, it was nice to see each of the speakers nodding and each other’s advice. Also funny to see was Julian Shaw taking a photo on his iPhone – which soon appeared on Twitter. It was a reminder of the huge role that Twitter has played in the whole festival this year, and which was hugely present in every panel, whether through people talking about Twitter or just the guys either side of me posting tasty little snippets from their smart phones.
As I moved from room to room, trying to find zany ways to wear my necktag like they do on Survivor, I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the amount of people walking around with notebooks, madly trying to hold on to the pearls of wisdom imparted there. In fact, it was the people without the notebooks that looked somehow out of place.
Dion Kagan hosted the panel on interviewing, titled “The Gentle Art of Persuasion”. Dion cited many of his own “train-wreck” interviews as proof that the only real way to get better is to practise. I must say, I took a lot of encouragement from this – my first two interviews for camera aired just over a week ago – I’m still waiting to see them. I know now, though, that if they’re terrible it’s just a right of passage. Panelist Barb Lemon compared interviewing to adding character voices when reading a children’s book – I’d never thought of it like this, but now that the thought’s been introduced, I’ll be sure to approach story material in a much more interview-y way.
Travel writer Brian Thacker had some insanely wonderful stories, and he approached all his travels in this way – no formal interviews, just approaching it all with curiosity, taking notes, quotes in shorthand.
All the panelists also offered little hints to make interviewing much easier – check, double-check, triple-check all the technical stuff. Press record before you enter the room to make it more comfortable in dictaphone interviews. Have questions in a notebook, but don’t read them out verbatim. Best piece of advice for the panel, though?
Tate Ischia shared his favourite piece of advice about writing – that the whole thing is like Zelda. You have to go on weird quests which seem to have nothing to do with anything, meeting lots of people and doing lots of little tasks. In the end, all of this means you slay the dragon. You win the game.
The “Taking It Online” panel (exactly what the name implies) started with Phillip Thiel’s embracing of the impermanence of the internet. “It’s writing made to fade, and quickly forgotten”, he said. While that’s a scary thing in many ways, Phillip seems to have come to terms with it, embraced it, indeed turned it upon itself: his work centres around “a year of…” projects. This year, Phillip is kissing a different person every day – today it was festival director Lisa Dempster.
Also in this panel Mel Campbell put forward a convincing case for writers not to allow themselves to be taken advantage of just because of the newness of writing for online audiences.
In “Never Surrender”, the amazingly accented and very funny Paul Callaghan encouraged us to “reframe” rejection and accept it as part of the process not only of being a writer, but of being a human being. Elizabeth Campbell echoed this, saying that failure can be treated as something both inevitable and productive. By far the most entertaining speaker of the day though, was Sean Condon, who lamented his failure. Indeed, his failure at even failing saying he “counts actual rejection as something of a success!” – he by far prefers a rejection letter to being utterly ignored.
The final speaker of the “Mining The Personal” panel, Lou Sanz, was an absolute hoot: while her contribution wasn’t rife with advice, it was certainly a nice piece of comic relief when my mind was getting too full of information.
Today’s program ended with “The Pitch” – a panel featuring representatives from different publications and publishing houses. While most of the information boiled down to “read the submission guidelines, be considerate”, some more specific tips from certain publications will hopefully give me a bit of an advantage next time I submit something to them.
It started at 9.00am. It finished at 5.30pm. It was a damn long day, but one I’m so glad I didn’t miss.
The EWF Town Hall program is on again tomorrow, so if you’re free you should come down and soak up some of the fantastic advice and inspiration on offer.