And …

I’m an absolute Twit. There, I’ve said it. I’m referring, of course, to the social networking phenomenon of Twitter, where (it could be argued) I’m spending way too much of my time. But it is a fascinating—and, I would argue, extremely useful and valuable—‘virtual agora’, where ideas and opinions are flying around in all directions, all the time (one of the reasons it’s so addictive).

I’m involved in a lot of threads on Twitter about ‘the future of the book’, and clearly a lot of the discourse revolves around digital publishing, ebooks, ereaders, etc. But I’m keenly aware that ‘the future of the book’ discussion is pulling in a few contradictory directions, and I’m increasingly concerned that far too much of the ‘noise’ is about an ‘inevitable’ shift to digital, about disruption and new ways of doing things;  and far too little is about print, and bricks-and-mortar stores, and the degree to which many things will stay the same … and that new and old will live alongside each other.

I’m increasingly placing myself in a position where I’m encouraging digital pundits (themselves online seemingly 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, iPhones gripped in cramped fingers from dawn till midnight …) to think of ‘and’ scenarios:

  • There will be ebooks and print books, alongside each other, for a long time to come
  • There will be small, dynamic publishers and big, slow ones
  • There will be more content with a global aspect and more things that are small and local
  • Large players will dominate and small players will have more access than ever to the mainstream
  • Authors will publish directly to readers, bypassing traditional gatekeepers and authors will want and need agents, editors, publishers and booksellers in order to reach their audience
  • Audiences will engage directly with authors and readers will seek the expertise and authority of gatekeepers (reviews, retailers, publishers)
  • Events will be small and innovative (Emerging Writers Festival) and large and traditional (Sydney or Melbourne Writers Festival)
  • Territorial copyright and separate editions will be old hat and will continue to be important.

Confused yet? I sure am! Enthused and energised by the changes, challenges and opportunities? I sure am.

But what do you think?

Wordstorm 2010: the festival of Australasian writing

The weather at this year’s Wordstorm writers festival (held 13 to 16 May in Darwin—officially in the ‘dry’ third of the year), was humid enough for even the locals to admit things were ‘warm’. But for those who sweated and fanned their way through sessions in the lush (unairconditioned) Darwin Botantic Gardens, there was the reward of hearing voices that don’t always carry as far south as Victoria and New South Wales—or get as much airtime when they do.

Of course some big-name guests sold out special event sessions at other venues—Wendy Harmer, Tim Flannery and Germaine Greer among them—but the shelves in the Dymocks bookshop tent in the gardens were packed with titles by authors less familiar to my non-Territorian eye, books by writers from Timor, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia—a mix which justifies Wordstorm’s recent rebranding as the ‘festival of Australasian writing’.

Ha’u Maka Lucas/I Am Lucas, which won first prize in the Timorese National Short Novel Writing Competition, for example, was stocked by the bookshop in its original Timorese edition, its author Teodosio Babtista Ximenes hoping to find Australian support for an English translation of his story, which is based on the removal of Timorese children from their families by the Indonesian army in the late 1970s. Nearby was the anthology of Indonesian work in translation, Reasons for Harmony, published by the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival.

The bookshop shelves were also full with poetry, fiction, nonfiction, plays and anthologies by Aboriginal authors from around the country, including Marie Munkara, Yvette Holt, Wesley Enoch, Lionel Fogarty, Lorraine McGee-Sippel, Philip McLaren, Marcia Langton, Melissa Lucashenko and Margaret Kemarre (M K) Turner—several of whom appeared at the Indigenous Writers and Educators conference which ran as part of the festival on 12 and 13 May at Charles Darwin University.

From this overwhelming mix, I came away with Ali Cobby Eckermann’s book of poetry little bit long time (Picaro Press), a collection that’s direct, personal, moving and beautiful; the anthology Fishtails in the Dust: Writing from the Centre (Ptilotus Press), which includes some of the poems from Eckermann’s collection among short stories and other works by a range of Central Australian writers; Terra, a bilingual English/Indonesian anthology of work by writers who have appeared at Wordstorm between 2004 and 2006, edited by festival director Sandra Thibodeaux; and M K Turner’s Iwenhe Tyerrtye: What It Means to Be an Aboriginal Person (IAD Press), which was launched at the festival. Opera soprano Deborah Cheetham read from a section of Turner’s book in a panel on ‘Home, Land, Homeland’, emphasising the importance of words to human identity: ‘Words makes things happen. Words makes us alive… That’s how I got taught these things, how I’ve learned through out my life, how I’ve always seen the world, how I understand it, and how and what in all those ways life has always been.’ Continue reading

Emerging Writers Festival: program launched

The program for the 7th Emerging Writers Festival (21 to 30 May, 2010) was launched at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne last night. New director Lisa Dempster said it would be a ‘bold, innovative and exciting’ festival, and the program, available to guests in compact little booklets (you could choose the colour scheme you liked best, nice touch), looks promising.

As a festival unashamedly for writers, the EWF centres around a lot of the vocational and workshop events that are only really offered on the fringes of the bigger writers’ festivals. From the Express Media Skills Share ‘how to write’ workshops (‘…reviews’ with The Big Issue’s Jo Case, ‘…television’ with Paul Kooperman, ‘…computer games’ with Paul Callaghan and ‘how to edit your work for publication’ with Davina Bell and Julia Carlomagno), to the great Living Library concept in which you can ‘borrow’ industry people for a brain-pick (getting fifteen minutes with, for example, Arcade’s Dale Campisi or literary agent Donica Bettanin of Jenny Darling & Associates), the events on offer are aimed squarely at those looking to be published—or published more often.

Prices for sessions are pretty reasonable—the Express Media workshops are $10, you can borrow Mr Campisi et al for a bargain $5, and even a full weekend pass will set you back only $45 ($30 concession). Of course some events are free too, including the great-sounding ‘Stuck in a Lift With …’, in which an emerging writer gets to quiz a literary hero on writing and the books they love.

Scattered through the festival booklet are various Twitter addresses for authors, and tweeters can join the EWF’s TwitterFEST at #ewfchat; Twitter addresses and hashtags aren’t something you see a lot of at the big festivals either (though of course, one of the best things about any festival is the chance to be there in the flesh with a lot of other excited and inspiring people, and the EWF has made a name for itself providing just that).

The festival booklet is worth tracking down, not just for the program itself, but for its participant bios: this year panellists were asked to describe how they write and the result is a whole lot of bite-sized writing advice to get attendees thinking.

Check out the EWF program at http://www.emergingwritersfestival.org.au/program/.

Literary lunching in Mildura

As we noted in the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, writers festivals are a big deal not only in the big cities but also in regional centres. Mildura, in north-western Victoria, has been running its writers festival since 1994, and it keeps growing year-on-year.

The 2010 Mildura Writers Festival will run from 15-18 July, and last weekend I went up there for a well-attended preview lunch , hosted by long-time festival supporter restaurateur Stefano di Pieri at his Gallery 25 café (the full dinner experience at his world-renowned restaurant will have to wait until next time!).

The guest of honour for the lunch was Dr Jack Hibberd, best-known as the author of the seminal Australian play Dimboola. Over 40 years after its first performance at Melbourne’s La Mama in 1969, Dimboola is arguably Australia’s most-performed play, with 15-20 new productions every year, often in regional and remote communities. But as Stefano said in his introduction, the 70-year-old Hibberd is a ‘jack of all trades: trained as a doctor [he still works two days a week as an allergy specialist], Jack Hibberd is a playwright, poet, translator, wine writer …’ Hibberd was also on the Australia Council’s Literature Board until recently.

playwright, poet and doctor Jack Hibberd on his 70th birthday

After an excellent Stefano’s lunch featuring local produce and Stefano’s own wines, Hibberd spoke about his life and work and the enduring legacy of Dimboola, then read from some of his recent poems, before handing over to his wife, actor and comedian Evelyn Krape, to complete the reading.

Asked to comment on the current state of writing for theatre in Australia (especially considering that the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards this year decided that no play was worthy of shortlisting and instead directed the $30,000 prizemoney to developing new works), Hibberd was up-front: ‘I think it’s in a bit of a rut, there’s no philosophy and no history among the current crop of writers: it’s all either realism or farce, and neither done in ways that are particularly interesting, radical or thoughtful.’

A small and intimate festival

The line-up for the 2010 Mildura Writers Festival festival is impressive, with over a dozen guests including Don Watson, Kate Jennings, Les Murray and Peter Goldsworthy. ‘One of the key aspects of Mildura’s writers festival is that we keep it small and intimate,’ said director Helen Healy. Part of the deal for the writers is that they have to agree to stay for all four days – they can’t fly in, do their session and fly out again. ‘Everyone is here for four days and get to know each other so it’s not only readers listening to writers but readers and writers talking and writers talking and listening to each other.’

 See www.artsmildura.com.au for more details.

Go west? Go south? Festival face-off

This year, due to some trickiness in the calendar, the days of the week have conspired to present writers festival-lovers with a tough choice: Perth or Adelaide?

Perth boasts a fantastic line-up this year. Bookseller+Publisher’s acting editor Angela Meyer (aka Literary Minded) is hosting panels with writers including Alex Miller, Eleanor Catton, David Carlin, Craig Silvey and Emily McGuire and other authors attending include Anita Heiss, Tom Cho, Kalinda Ashton, Larissa Behrendt, Don Watson, James Roy and Gail Jones, not to mention visiting authors including A C Grayling and Tom Rachmann (but no Buster Keaton, sorry). (You can read Angela’s round-up of the first day here.)

Meanwhile, the biennial Adelaide Writers Week is the traditional ‘industry’ festival, with a carefully orchestrated series of publisher parties filling the evenings, important book launches, the Visiting International Publisher program bringing many overseas publishers and rights agents to the event, and authors including Audrey Niffenegger, Peter Temple, David Malouf, Shaun Tan, Chloe Hooper, Marina Lewycka, Michelle de Kretser, Cate Kennedy, Malcolm Knox, Charlotte Wood, Markus Zusak, Andrea Levy and Irvine Welsh, among many others.  (You can read Matthia’s round-up of day one here.) Of course some authors have split their attendance over both events.

Festival buffs—did you have to make a decision? Which appeals more and why? And if you’re at either festival, how are you finding it?

Fingers crossed we won’t have to decide between them again.