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So I thought I’d go along this year to see what it’s all about. Below are some highlights. Know now, this is long!

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Opening night

Mayor Gillian Aldridge opened the festival at the Mawson Lakes Centre, where they were thrilled to have secured former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to talk about her recently published biography My Story published by Random House. Amazingly Julia wrote this in 6 weeks, explaining that she wanted to write it as soon as possible to use the immediacy of memory. There are a few messages Julia wanted to convey in this book – a positive impression of politics for young people, how and why she did what she did, a story of resilience. Once again Julia was in top form – she really is a fantastic speaker and indeed role model for many girls aspiring to be a political figure.

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The launch of the anthology You’re Not Alone by young writers of True North also formed part of the evening, with participants asked onto stage to provide some context to the project, which essentially reaches out to anyone lost or lonely, or who are simply looking for a good story. It was a moving tribute.

Writers’ Forum

This was an all-day event of talks, debates and tips for writers across all genres, competency and experience.

Keynote address: William McInnes

Now I confess I was not familiar with this actor-turned writer, but was thoroughly entertained by what he had to say and how he did it!

William McInnes is one of Australia’s most popular authors, having written 8 books in 10 years, including memoir and his most recent novel, Holidays, published by Hachette AustraliaWilliam talked about the contrast between acting where you’re pretending to be someone else and writing, which is personal and all you. Above all, he said, the most important thing is that what you write means something to you, if not to anyone else, a point echoed throughout the day.

Panel: Writing as Therapy

This was an interesting discussion. The panel comprised, from left to right, William McInnes, Jane Turner Goldsmith and David Chapple from the SA Writers Centre, who between them explored the pros and cons of writing as a cathartic process.

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Writing is putting yourself out there, often the most intimate parts, to be read, judged, critiqued, loved or simply ignored, which begs the question why do we put ourselves through it…

Writing is a means of expression, a tool to help manage, understand and heal us from traumatic events and experiences.  It was interesting to hear that writing for therapy is only beneficial if there’s a strong narrative and resolution, giving an example where two groups were asked to write about something that has affected them, the first as a series of thoughts and the second as narrative, i.e. having a beginning, middle and end. The second group found this to be a satisfying exercise due to the structure imposed, whereas the first group felt they were just left swimming in a pool of emotion, proving this can be a dangerous exercise if not managed properly.

Writing can be subconscious, use characters or third person to reduce the anxiety associated with sharing, with writing fiction being a safe, protective environment to project the self. Even the most successful author can remain fragile about what they produce. I thought the closing remark poignant – people are designed to struggle, recover and move on; it’s what makes us human.

Panel: Once it’s out there…

This was essentially a hints and tips session from authors with books under their belt – from left to right Kristin Weidenbach, Carla Caruso, Jared Thomas and Mandy Macky from Dymocks. They explained how the world of publishing and marketing has changed, with publishers no longer able to finance extensive book tours.

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Here’s a little of what they said:

  • Arrange your own launch as a means to celebrate and thank
  • Cultivate a relationship with a local bookstore
  • Seek speaking opportunities rather than just book signings
  • Write articles for free
  • Visit country/remote locations and touch base with the local paper
  • Find a quirky angle in the media to advertise yourself
  • Be reliable and easy to communicate with
  • Know your genre and audience
  • Network, make connections, attend literary events and festivals
  • Literary agents are useful for negotiating internationally

The panel concluded by saying publishers look for authors who can market themselves as unfortunately, they no longer have the budget to do so.

Panel of Publishers: What goes on behind closed doors?

From left to right Michael Bollen of Wakefield Press, Sophie Hamley from Hachette Australia,  Leonie Tyle from Tyle & Bateson Publishing and Dyan Blacklock a publishing consultant gave us an insight into a typical day, where reading new work is a small proportion and quite often done in their own time.

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Liaising with account manages, sending books off to the printers, exploring cover designs, organising contracts, book signings, advising on book tours and launches, attending events, these were just some of the tasks cited that fill their day where, like many of us, there are never enough hours!

Usefully they shared some do’s and don’t when you think you’re ready to submit your work:

  • Revise, revise, revise your manuscript
  • Consider getting it edited professionally
  • Be familiar with submission guidelines and process
  • Do simultaneous submissions but be sure to let publishers know
  • Know your market
  • Apply for literary grants
  • Enter competitions, join writing groups, attend events
  • Explore the self-publishing option
  • Assess how much you want print against the rise of e-books
  • Beware of assessment agencies
  • Write something worth reading, fresh and original

On this last point they strongly advised against writing what you think people want to read and a concept of ‘rear view publishing’ i.e. don’t write what’s already out there. And again another beautiful closing – a good book will always find it’s home.

Now that’s the name of a workshop that gets your attention! And one I attended on Friday facilitated by David Chapple, Writing Development Manager at the SA Writers Centre.

Why did I go? Death is something we all have in common – be it in the family or what will come to us whether we like it or not – and as much of my work focuses on certain aspects of loss, I was interested to hear other people’s opinions and feelings about death, grieving and the impact it can have.

Walk into the light

I had no idea what to expect, other than I knew that for me it would be an emotive experience, and I was pleasantly surprised. David did an amazing job of prompting, surmising, sharing and exploring our thoughts and beliefs of mortality, and I think we were all quietly awed at just how quickly we shared and how much. Eight strangers, who may or may not meet again, in the beautiful grounds of Enfield Memorial Park on a cold sunny day provided the perfect setting.

The morning consisted of a series of prompts that literally decomposed (excuse the pun!) the last death ceremony we had attended. For some of us, including me, it was difficult to get past the sheer volume of feeling to remember specific sounds, tastes and smells, but it created a patchwork of human experiences, some light, others more intricate. In the afternoon we were asked to think about arranging our own death ceremony! Morbid and weird indeed, but again an interesting challenge – who would we want there, is there anybody we wouldn’t want to attend, how would we be remembered, what would be said, would there be music, laughter, tears, dance, what did we not regret, what did we still want to achieve…?

It takes courage to share and I feel quite proud to have been a part of this, and when asked if there was anything we would change about the workshop we said more time, because there really is much to ponder. And I will leave you with this simple message – life is short, make fun of it  🙂

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