Monday, August 24, 2015

Melbourne Writers Festival 2015

A mirror-world Melbourne: St Paul's Cathedral, Flinders Street Station,
The Dumbo Feather caravan, and MWF at Federation Square
This weekend I was a guest of the Melbourne Writers Festival: an Iced VoVo of literary fondant, performance jam, and the desiccated coconut of absurdist political grandstanding.

I had four gigs over three days, beginning on Friday with 'So, You've Published Book'. Along with my fellow speakers Monica Dux and Graeme Simsion, and Writers Victoria host Alexis Drevikovsky, my job was to be a boot, forever stamping on the human face of literary ambition offer some practical tips for aspiring writers.

Talking social media. Note characteristic
hand gesture: the 'idea pluck'.
Graeme highlighted the diminishing returns of constant authorial performance, and the importance of realism: do these gigs because you enjoy them, or you want to give something back, not because they'll lead to instant sales. What gets retail registers humming? Readable books, broadcast media and word of mouth, Graeme said.

Monica spoke of the importance of confidence and clear communication in pitching to newspaper editors, and regular practice in interviews. She also noted, as did Graeme, the value of balance: learning to say 'no' to gigs that squander time or weaken integrity.

I discussed social media and websites for authors, and highlighted the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic value: jobs we do as a means to an end, and jobs that are ends in themselves. Sometimes I write to pitch an essay or augment my profile, sometimes I write for the pleasure of writing. It helps to know the difference, and be able to justify each.

As I point out in Distraction, technology is neither a malicious enemy nor an altruistic liberator. But it does invite serious reflection on what we value, and why.

From memory, I also repeated this classic etiquette maxim: "Don't be a dick." Put less simply, I take my public profile seriously. It's artifice, but so is writing--as an artist, I'm judged by my words. Why be judicious or brave in a manuscript but sloppy or craven on Twitter?

Next, on Saturday morning: My Nanna is a Ninja and My Pop is a Pirate. We had a quiz about ninja lore and pirate history, learned to draw the nanna and pop, and did some readings (complete with the requisite shouting from the kids). A fun morning, with a relaxed and enthusiastic audience.

Emoting the pirate pop (note earrings)
Drawing the ninja nanna
Saturday afternoon I hung out at Federation Square and tried to avoid the drunken cabaret of Australian politics. (I failed.)

Then, after the ACMI fire alarm finished (ALERT, NARCISSISM), I spoke about a book that changed me: Batman.

Wearing my Wonder Woman birthday t-shirt (thanks, Sophia), I told the Festival Club about my introduction to mortality, in Death in the Family. I described this striking illustration, by Jim Aparo. I also discussed Batman's resolve: not to pursue happiness, but to make the most of his broken psyche (and billions). There was also Sartre on the literary world, Nietzsche on 'style', and Wittgenstein on 'family resemblances' between Batmans.

After the talk, there were questions from Kill Your Darlings' Veronica Sullivan and from the audience. One, from Antoni Jach, was a request for three life lessons from The Dark Knight. My on-the-spot suggestions:
1. Recognise and sublimate the worst of yourself.
2. Be born rich.
3. Suffer artfully.
My last session was on Sunday morning, at the Northcote Town Hall: 'The Business of Writing'. A last-minute replacement for Julia Baird (my doppelgänger, I know), I joined Eugenia Flynn and host Dina Kluska for another practical session.

Grabbing literature with both hands, with Dina Kluska (L) and Eugenia Flynn (R)
Eugenia discussed the importance of integrity, confidence and privacy for authors, and the need for  genuine diversity (rather than tokenism) in the media--which requires more understanding from editors and managers. She also urged reciprocity: writers helping writers.

Amongst other things, I spoke about the importance of writing up (better to have an audience challenged than patronised); the ubiquity of literary poverty (of the relative sort); the need to be professional (as opposed to arrogant or grateful); and the danger of unambitious reading.

I believe I also called hate reading "a waste of life".

Northcote was our old neighbourhood, so it was intriguing to see how it has grown. And by 'it' I obviously mean beards.

Kudos once again to Lisa Dempster, Jo Case and the MWF posse for a great festival. Thanks also to Danielle Gori for her behind-the-scenes support, and all the volunteers and technical staff who keep things running.

That's almost it for this festival season. My last, the Story Arts festival in Queensland, is next month. Next year I'll be back with The Art of Reading (MUP, 2016) and, for kids, My Sister is a Superhero (UQP, 2016).

1 comment:

Kathy said...

The "ideas pluck". Heh.