Big day out at the Melbourne Writers Festival

It’s been a long and arduous day of drinking soy chais, eating baguettes, and listening to people read their writing. This morning, I hurried down to Fed Square for the Morning Read with Philip Hensher, Kent MacCarter, and Kamila Shamsie for some MWF goodness. Kamila Shamsie’s new book, Burnt Shadow, sounds ambitious, leapfrogging through time and space. Q & A was a little more lively than usual with a discussion on geographical authenticity. Someone had asked the panel about the authenticity of a tourist’s perspective; Philip Hensher believed that one could, citing William Golding’s An Egyptian Journal as evidence.

Next up was Alice Pung interviewing Wayson Choy in Wayson Choy in Conversation. Choy spoke mostly about his life: being a ‘bridge between two cultures’, growing up in a society where ‘you stuck to your own kind’, learning that he had been adopted and that being gay wasn’t a phase one could grow out of, and his near-death experiences. He also discussed how he initially found writing memoir very difficult. He had been obsessed with the facts, until he realised that ‘non fiction…[was] just another form of fiction’. Writers have a right to their memory; they shouldn’t worry whether other people will be pleased with their work.

Josephine Emery during her session, Josephine on Joy, also had some advice for aspiring memoirists. (Is that even a word? That is so a made-up word.) She treated herself as a character in a novel; consequently, she was able to avoid the self-justification that is usually seen in post-gender-transition narratives. With a background in screen as well as print, Josephine is all for the Kerouac narrative, transcribing the movie in your mind, and believes that Shakespeare’s tragedies, a rising series of climaxes, demonstrates the perfect structure for a novel. For more on Josephine, check out Angela Meyer’s recent interview with Josephine about her latest work, The Real Possibility of Joy.

After Josephine Emery, I managed to grab a baguette from the very popular Belgian Waffles man in Degraves Street. My baguette was very filling with its ham, tomato, lettuce, and brie, and it got a gold star for its sleep-inducing ability. However, it failed to explain the mystery that was writing and publishing so I headed back to Fed Square for my last serious session for the day, Marketing in the Info Age with Jessa Crispin (Bookslut), Brett Osmond (Random House), and Adam Noonan (Lonely Planet).

Most of Marketing was common sense, though Brett Osmond backed up his advice with some facts. Apparently today’s consumer is three times more influenced by their peers than formal commentators, so publishers have been forced to engage consumers in a more interactive/conversational manner. He listed a couple of examples that Random House had used, such as Facebook fan pages, online games, and chain novels. He did warn, however, that such methods could be potentially resource draining.

Adam Noonan spoke about the importance of search engine optimisation, how a website’s success depends on its Google ranking. Google rates sites according to their relevance to the search term and their importance. For those who wanted to know more about search engine optimisation, Noonan recommended checking out www.bruceclay.com and the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Jessa Crispin had very little to add on the topic; her web magazine, Bookslut, doesn’t do comments or Facebook or forums. But she did emphasise that publishers had to rely on someone else to push their product, and sometimes the ‘someone else’ is a skeptical blogger who is unwilling to do such work.

The final item on today’s MWF itinery was the Above Water launch. Marisabel Bonet-Cruz’s reading with a mish-mash of Spanish (?) and English was beautiful to listen to, so I’m looking forward to reading it along with the rest of the journal.

Okay, it’s eight now. Off to the Toff for some sorely needed MJ.

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