Emerging Writers' Festival
It’s an interesting turn of self-referential irony when a writer interviews another writer about writing and then writes about it. But as the Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF) promotes, trading tales from the trenches and building a community is an integral part of the craft, which many budding youngsters miss out on while they’re grappling for a path into the industry. But spirited festival director Lisa Dempster talks about how more than ever, barriers into the industry are being eroded. To write today is something almost anyone can do and the EWF encourage it.
The old guard may lament the changes in technology that have allowed the rise of citizen journalists and bloggers from all corners but advantages are obvious: much reportage from last year’s Arab Spring, for example, was in this style. Dempster’s full of boundless optimism that may be lacking from other established agencies of the literary field about social change’s impact on writing. Does it concern her that some of the writing styles on the internet, for example, may be amateur? “Nup,” she says firmly. “I think it’s great. The idea that something has to be professional to be good, or professional to be enjoyable is obviously ridiculous. I love going to the Fringe and seeing amateur theatre, or if we look at music, there’s something great about seeing a garage band in your friend’s backyard. You don’t have to be validated by a publishing deal to be enjoyable. I love the amateur.”
Defining an emerging writer is something the festival’s organisers necessarily try to avoid. Being emergent, says Lisa, may not be a case of having been published or not, but rather a willingness to develop your work and to continually improve. “If you’re interested in bettering your craft, or reaching a wider audience for your work, then you’re always going to be emerging. I don’t know any writer who ever feels like their work has reached the pinnacle of good-ness. You always want your next work to be better, your next work to reach more people.”
And the festival itself has been in a state of improvement since Dempster came aboard. Five years ago it was a three-day festival. Now it’s 11 days long, and it’s spread its writerly tendrils from Melbourne into a national organisation where events have been run in Sydney and Brisbane. It’s definitely an indication of the growing market for this type of inclusive festival as the distinction between writers and people who write becomes cloudier – more people obviously feel comfortable developing their inner pensmith.
“We’ve never had so many freely available and accessible tools to be able to put our work into the world. I think it’s fantastic. Not every writer wants to be published, not every writer wants to make money, not every writer wants to be a fulltime writer. A lot of people just take pleasure in the creative side of writing. So then to be able to have some tools to actually put their work out there, I think that’s incredibly exciting.”
But, the festival originally aimed to serve people with a more serious interest in writing. Born from the idea that there was a gap between tertiary education or other available training and being entrenched in the industry, it helps to provide casual knowledge that you usually pick up from having been a writer.
“We call it industry insider information – it’s that kind of thing that, if you had a friend who was a writer they would tell you this is how you talk to an editor, or these are the sorts of rates you can charge for your work. So the festival sprung up in that gap of, why don’t we have casual meetings, and casual get together for writers to swap ideas and opinions, and information.
“Even the inspiration that you get from listening to other writers and listening to their journey, once you listen to a few writers you realise there’s no one clear pathway to being a writer, and there are lots of different, diverse outcomes and journeys and setbacks and opportunities. And it’s all about creating your own path.”
Dempster, in fact, was a regular attendee of the festival when she first discovered her own authorial ambitions. Though she decreed as a six-year-old that she planned to be a writer she didn’t confront these plans until her mid-twenties – when she started attending the EWF.
“I thought, if I want to be a writer I guess I have to do something about it and actually get my work published. It was about the same time that I discovered the EWF, so six years ago I guess, which is the time I’ve been involved with the festival.” And her involvement in the festival is one thing that encouraged her to continue on an often-difficult creative course. “I always used to leave with a feeling of excitement and inspiration about my own writing career again.”
With programs like the Town Hall Writers’ Conference, for example – two full days of panel discussions about the art, the craft and the business of writing, and speakers from the literary world as well as the blogosphere, it’s an encouragement to confront hidden ambitions.
“It’s about taking action, going out, discovery, finding new things. A lot of young writers feel like their work isn’t worthy yet because what would they know, they’re young. My advice is to write as much as possible, and put it out into the world as much as possible through any means that you can. Don’t hang onto it.”
BY BELLA ARNOTT-HOARE