EWF Panel: You Want Me to Do What?

Some of you might be thinking, ‘Ten zillion EWF events have happened since Monday’s 15 Minutes of Fame and The Last Hurrah…This blog’s looking old lately.’

Well, so’s your face and your mum.

My face is looking a little haggard also. It happens after too many ten-hour shifts and intense looks of concentration from listening to various EWF panels/sessions and the stress caused by scraping the side of my car in a claustrophobic inner-city car park which charges $5/hour on weekends…Don’t ask, and I’ll try to reconstruct the better parts of the week, while forgetting the rest.

Sunday, 30 May. I woke up late. I ate at Jungle Juice for the first time. The guy at the counter was making a batch of chocolate, ginger, and beetroot cupcakes. Crazy. (Yeah, my mum’s crazy too, I know.)

After Jungle Juice, I headed down to the Melbourne Town Hall, where the EWF weekend program was in full swing. Hosted by Dan Ducrou, You Want Me To Do What? was the first panel I attended, with speakers like Dr Natasha Campo (from Monash University), Katherine Charles (Hollywood Ending novellist), Declan Fay (Jack of all trades) and Sean M. Whelan (poet and spoken word veteran).

Natasha Campo was first on the floor. She found the transition from solitary and dishevelled postgraduate to polished public speaker extremely difficult. Most academics have issues with self-promotion and yet they are often expected to write their own press releases and discuss their work. Her tips were 1) keep it simple with three key points 2) don’t be afraid of repeating yourself, and 3) memorise some sound bites, fifty-word descriptions on what the work is about.*

Sean M. Whelan thought ‘reading and writing are two very very different skills…[but] being an engaging reader is really not that hard, even for a shy person’. He noted that while good writers can really mutilate their work, mediocre writers can seduce you with their mad oratory skills. He had a list of don’ts, which I have paraphrased.

Don’t…

1) Apologise for your work before you read a single word. Once onstage, you are instantly imbued with authority. If you say your work is shit, then your audience will believe your lack of belief.

2) Shuffle through your pages or flick through your chapbook. Plan your setlist

3) Say, ‘I’m not sure what I’m going to read.’ Don’t fluff about and waste our time. Have an introduction ready.

4) Barrel on through your pieces without pause between each.

5) Believe that microphones are made of magic. It’s not rocket science, speak into it. (Oh, and respect the microphone: don’t throw it about.)

6) Go over the time limit. Always go under; leave them wanting more.

In addition, he spoke about dealing with nerves, ‘Don’t fight it, accept it’, and suggested using a book instead of paper if your hands tend to shake. ‘Generosity of spirit’ was Whelan’s final catchcry. Read to an audience rather than at them. If you’re a closed shell, not looking up, mumbling your words, those listening aren’t going to warm to you.

Katherine Charles worked as a publicist before publishing her novel. For the panel, she focused on handling interviews. But first, how to secure a media interview? ‘Give them an angle,’ she suggested, something ‘compelling and intriguing’, something ‘sexy’. With Hollywood Ending, Charles used her grandfather’s unsolved murder case as hers.

She then spoke about preparing a key messaging document prior to an interview. What three key messages did you want to impress upon the journalist? Charles’ were 1) the name of her book (‘STATE THIS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE…’), 2) a once-sentence description of the publication, and 3) the intended audience or release date of said publication.

Also, ‘know what you don’t want to say.’  Beware of ‘throwaway remarks’.

Later on, during Q & A, she suggested hiring a freelance publicist who has been recommended by another writer. In many cases, a book will only be the publisher’s publicist’s top priority for one week. Freelance publicists are expensive but they’re worth it, especially if their contract stipulates payment after results.

Declan Fay had done a lot of public speaking at schools and he shared several anecdotes. He spoke about finding ways to ‘enter the room’. At one school, a beekeeper went on before him. Singling out the resident tough kid, he told the boy to stick his hand into a hive. By making the tough kid look vulnerable, he captured everyone else’s attention.

While a lot of You Want Me to Do What? discussed the promotion of the finished product and wasn’t directly relevant to my situation, it was still an interesting how-to session on an often challenging aspect of an emerging writer’s career.

I’ll be posting other bits and bobs from EWF over the next couple of days. Stay tuned for more festival gossip news, media, advice, and bad mum jokes.

*And look la! She practises what she preaches.

Review: Voiceworks Issue 79 – ‘Classic’

The last time I subscribed Voiceworks, I was twenty-four and spending most of my salary on clothes from high-end-fashion chain stores. When my subscription and my submission eligibility ran out, I bagged all of my old issues and donated them to a local high school. What was inspiring for other subscribers was depressing for twenty-five-year-old me: these ‘youngsters’ were creating work that I had no hope of emulating.

Two years on, and I’m ready to grapple this journal bitch. Lured to the Wheeler Centre by speak of a guest appearance from Nam Le, I went to the Voiceworks ‘Classic’ launch and picked up my copy of Issue 79.

In her editorial, Bel Monypenny writes about Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and her failed attempts to mimic their bush poetry style. Issue 79 isn’t about reworking what has come before in style and genre, but more ‘classic moments made new and intriguing by fresh eyes, distinctive voices and unique perceptive detail’: ‘familiar moments—drunken teenage rebellion, questioning the life you’re born into, your first big night out, the death of a loved one.’ However, as I read through ‘Classic’, this theme did not seem present in any of the pieces, which suggests that Issue 79’s writers have managed to avoid what is easy and cliché.

There’s some striking fiction in this issue: Luke Rule’s ‘Pulling Down the Sun’ stands out as an example of literary speculative fiction; dealing with the supposedly banal themes of death, sex, and violence, Claire Marshall’s dark piece, ‘The Edwardians’, also grabbed my attention; and prize winner, Amelia Schmidt has created beautifully fluid, dreamlike work in ‘House-sitting for My Mother’—‘my mother and father disappear in an aeroplane and I pack myself into a suitcase’.

The non-fiction is also particularly strong: Michelle Walter’s ‘Getting Off the Staircase’ is evocative enough to work as either fiction or non-fiction/memoir; Sam Cooney’s column on writer workspace meanders from Roald Dahl to Jonathan Safran Foer, whilst Kate Leaver’s column tackles incest and society’s fascination with sexual violence.

What I enjoyed most, however, were the interviews. I’m not sure if this a recurring section, but Voiceworks talks to a few of its contributors in Issue 79. There’s also a conversation with emerging writer Jessica Au who discusses working on her novel, interning at Sleepers, and her writing process.

And so, despite its youthfulness, and my twenty-seven-year-old bitterness, I took a liking to Voiceworks or at least its current manifestation. ‘Classic’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.