Friday, 21 February 2014

MELBOURNENOW - the crystal ball is broken

Earlier at NGV, as part of the Melbourne Now exhibition, Lisa Dempster chaired a panel consisting of Fiona Wood, Warren Bonnett and Connor O'Brien. We had festivals, writing, bookselling, publishing, designing, technology…basically experience and expertise on the chain of words. And our focus was the supply and demand of words from Melbourne.

There are many reasons why types (I don't want to start the genre, sub-genre classification debate) of writing are growing in popularity: science can thank the science journalists'  job losses for the improving quality of books tackling complicated and extraordinary events in the world; YA appeals to adults because it touches a time in our lives that typically was in flux as we developed our identities, and for some that is nostalgic, for others it contains regrets, but regardless it tends to be a time we love looking back at; digital developments are linking people in discussions and debates (with faces!) and showing how it really doesn't matter where you live, you can always participate in a literary event.

I've just returned to Melbourne and so enjoyed hearing two words over and over again during today's discussion: infrastructure and support.

The Wheeler Centre was at least part of the answer to most questions:
- What does it mean for Melbourne to be a City of Literature: engagement between readers and writers.
- And how dow we achieve that here? The Wheeler Centre, our range of festivals and our pool of passionate booksellers. Oh, and a talented writing community.

So what does the future look like?

As Warren reminded us, a year before the internet was 'launched', no-one predicted it's take-off. Initially IBM refrained from entering the PC market, forecasting a demand of approx. 10 per nation.

So what's the next thing in publishing? And how can you/I/we make sure we're a part of it?

The crystal ball might be broken, but right now Melbourne is a great place for readers, and writers, to be.

Our independent booksellers each have unique personalities and a place in their community, and just last week were consulted by the Melbourne City Council to talk about what council policies can do for them. So good infrastructure can get better.

The diverse calendar of literary events are all well-attended, and we're in a place that supports getting new ideas off the ground. Just look at the line-up in Connor's Digital Writers' Festival (and you'll notice The Wheeler Centre behind the scenes).

As is a trend globally, we have seen an explosion in book clubs and reading groups, but here we're also now seeing growth in volunteer programmes to help teach people to read. There's a lot of goodwill amongst readers and writers, and it's hard to imagine anything will slow that down.

Speaking for the YA market, but perhaps relevant across all Australian writing, Fiona has been asked 'what's in the water down there?' by people in the US. Our words are fresh and filled with an energy that makes them stand out.

We have some amazing publishers with international reputations that take chances locally but think globally. Innovation has deep roots here - Fiona worked on the 'Poems on Post-Its' project 25 years ago!

Who knows if we'll follow Krakow and have reserved seats on trams for readers, or if, like Paris, the literary supply chain will receive government subsidies. Who would have known there'd be a job as a bibliotherapist? A year ago the death knell for 'long form content' (ie. a book) started to ring, and then there's the success of 'The Luminaries' and 'Goldfinch'.

I don't know what's next or how it will look or who'll be leading it, but I am pretty confident that I'm in a good place to write, read, listen, learn, and have a lot of fun with the passionate people around me.

And finally, is there an iconic Melbourne text?

  • Fiona has The Getting of Wisdom (Henry Handel Richardson) for her childhood, Helen Garner in her 20s, and now the many contemporary YA writers using Melbourne as their setting.
  • Connor read Barracuda (Christos Tsiolkais) the day he moved to Melbourne, so it shed some light on society and places here.
  • Warren recommends Melbourne (Sophie Cunningham) as well as Christos and Helen.
Perhaps you've got one to share?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

On being back

I flew back to Melbourne on a one-way ticket a week ago.

Last February I visited for a month after my job 'finished'. I loved it - spending time with my family, reading, swimming - but I remember looking out the window as I drove interstate or caught the train to the other side of town to visit a friend, thinking I just couldn't see myself in Melbourne. I couldn't see where I'd live or what I'd do.

I was ready to return home to London.

Thanks to some vigorous encouragement by my good (writer) friend Amanda Saint, while she established and built-up Retreat West, I moved writing out of hobby status and got involved in the writing world. It started with this blog and Twitter (using Books for Dummies and a healthy vocabulary of swear words), as well as reading more widely, studying as I read (it was a good excuse for the time I spent doing it), and producing more and more of my own work.

By the end of 2013 I'd been to Word Factory UK and Spread The Word events, retreats by different fabulous people in Sheepwash, Exmoor and Portugal, and almost met my 25k word short story collection target.

And I'd decided it was time to move back to Melbourne.

Lots of things went into that decision, and yesterday while my dad was driving me to another appointment, I said to a friend how strange it is to look out the window and feel the thrill of being here. A sense of belonging again.

Tomorrow I'm going to listen to Lisa Dempster, Director of the Melbourne Writers' Festival, query a panel of experts on 'Writing Now.' Next week I'll be at The Wheeler Centre to hear David Vann and then I'm meeting at Writers Victoria to talk about volunteering with them.

And on Saturday I'm going down to a beach house where there's no internet. I'm going to read, write, hopefully throw away the crutches (finally) and fall into the salt water, and feel like I'm home again.

Last year was a significant one for me, and it feels now like it doesn't necessarily matter where I am, so long as I'm writing and around people who love words as much as I do. I can't wait to get involved with, and share my experience of, the writing world down here.