Yes, yes, I know this is a whole week late but as regular readers know by now, I am always doing a million things- it must be written into my DNA or something (Incidentally I went into my work yesterday to speak to my boss about a grant application to start a writers group for people with a disability and she asked me if I ever slept. Nope, not really at the moment)
I don’t quite know how I missed the festival last year as I have been recieving NSW Writers Centre newsletters for an age but I assume it must have been the time it was placed in the year- right when I was starting my final year of university. Anyway, no use crying over spilt milk and all that, because I am so, so glad I managed to make it this year. I will endeavor to be charitable about the hard chairs that seem to always plague these kind of events. I took notes on all of the panels that I attended but will just pick the eyes out of my notebook pages and provide the highlights.
NSW Writers Centre
Panel 1: The International Speculative Fiction Scene featured Ian Irvine and Juliet Marillier, and was chaired by Dirk Strasser. Highlights included the Garth Nix quote:
“It only took me 17 years to become an overnight success,”
some discussion of percentages of book sales (who knew that Australians read so much fantasy despite our relatively small population?), discussion of Australia’s expensive book prices and the reduction of sales of sci fi especially (drop by 40%!) after Angus and Robertson went under and with some balm to all of the doom and gloom, words about emerging writer hopefuls. Juliet ended by saying that if a book is good, it will succeed but it is the writers job to ensure that they write what they are passionate about, take their craft seriously and stay original. Ian added that people who are committed to, and stick to, learning the writing craft will get published.
Next was a panel on The Future of Publishing with Joel Naoum (Momentum Books), Zoe Walton (Random House) and Dionne Lister (Editor and author) and chaired by Russell Farr (Ticonderoga Press). The short answer to the panel was that no one knew the future of publishing. Of course, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that one out with all of the confusion and knee jerk reactions littered about the interweb to ebooks and digital media and book selling giants like Amazon. In regards to self publishing, the (also kind of predictable) advice was to do it properly or not at all. Dionne, as the self published author on the panel offered some more concrete advice- ensure a pleasant and professional online persona, use social media, and use the fact that you are self published to be pro-active about sales. Joel Naoum also had a funny quote about how Choose Your Own Interactive Stories were like masturbation. It is probably on the twittersphere somewhere. Look it up.
Panel 3 I decided to go somewhere a bit out of my comfort zone with the Gothic Tales for Teens session. I do enjoy Victoriana settings and the supernatural and the so called ‘dark’ in my fiction. Besides, I already know all about allure of epic fantasy or I wouldn’t be slaving over writing it. Richard Harland chaired the goth panel with Sophie Masson and Alison Croggon in what turned out to be quite an informal and interesting conversation. I loved Alison’s comment that the Young Adult market provides the author with a lot of freedom because younger people are often less close minded about trying new genres or accepting weird and wonderful imaginings. Richard pointed out that the heroes journey mirrors quite closely a teen’s journey to adulthood; full of transformation and revelation. Having said that, YA speculative fiction doesn’t really have an age barrier. Educators and parents are often gatekeepers to YA books. So why do readers love the gothic, including fairy stories? The gothic allows for heightened emotion in a safe way- a form of expression. It’s about secrets and tension and fear and discovery; about mystery, darkness and isolation. It’s about sexuality and desire. These are all things that touch on the basic human experience.
Panel 4 dealt with Writing Speculative Fiction for Kids and was chaired by Ben Chandler. Garth Nix, Belinda Murrell and John Flanagan all were wonderful speakers so I also enjoyed this particular panel a lot. Belinda made me smile when she mentioned that she would never have continued to write if she had been offered too much advice- that much advice is paralysing. This is the same for me. I am a bit of a perfectionist and hate showing things to people till I know it is up to a certain standard. Garth made a nifty point about appropriation and the ways that certain authors (old guard American fantasy writers I am so NOT looking at you *cough*) bizarrely refuse to acknowledge the way that all authors draw from what they know. This does not mean that you are a hack. It means that you exist in a culture. This is a touchy subject for me and I am so glad that Garth “gets” it. Garth also made some great comments about ‘reading entry points’ when discussing categorising a work. For Garth, entry points refer to the age when a person will most connect to that story, but an entry point age does not negate people younger or older from also reading and enjoying. John (who is very funny) added that the biggest problem comes from bookstores categorising books and prejudicing readers against a book in that sense. Belinda made an interesting point about characters in the younger end of YA saying that because speculative fiction is a great escape, you need very real characters. Qualities like goodness and kindess and bravery need to be rewarded because otherwise what on earth are we teaching our children? Indeed, Belinda. That’s humanism. Glad we’re both on the same page.
I then had to dash away to do a ten minute mentorship session with Melina Marchetta (most famous for Looking for Alibrandi). Her two pieces of advice to me (aside from pay an editor to look at my ms structurally) was to always strive for my own writing voice without worrying about what others will think and to give strong consonants a work out, especially in titles. Great advice and I’m so glad that Melina is as lovely as my 13 year old self wanted her to be!
Panel 6 was a session on short stories because you know, I should probably get onto the whole short story submission thing. Dirk Strasser, Cat Sparks (who also took some lovely photographs of the day), Angela Slatter and Lisa Hannett all had great advice. All seemed to agree that there was a boom in novellas and short stories thanks to ebooks and a busy modern age. The list of professional paying magazines is growing but so are the amounts of submissions. The Science Fiction Association of Australia has a growing list of professional magazines which accept submissions. Dirk said that the key to a good short story is FOCUS. Angela and Lisa said have something to say, have a strong idea with fewer characters and get straight into action with crisis, choice and consequence key. Possibly my favourite piece of advice came from Cat: a short story is like a commando raid; get in quick with an explosive bang and then get the hell back out.
The last panel event of the day was a Q and A session with Garth Nix, Juliet Marillier, Ian Irvine, Kate Forsyth, Melina Marchetta and John Flanagan. I have to admit that I was pretty knackered by this point and stopped taking notes. Then it was time for Juliet’s book launch of Prickle Moon which turned out to be very atmostpheric amongst the cawing of ravens and a fading sun. Somehow I hadn’t quite realised that the NSW Writers Centre was on the old Callan Park Asylum until that moment. There was something touching about a book launch marked by a collective joy and love of reading taking place on a site of so much oft forgotten misery and sadness. At least to my mind.
That could have been the thesis talking.
NSW Writers Centre 2013 Speculative Fiction Festival was held Saturday 16th March. The Festival Director was Australian genre fiction great, Kate Forsyth. Congratulations to everyone involved for such a wonderful day!