Last week the BWAP students had the opportunity to speak to Kent MacCarter, Managing Editor of Cordite Poetry Review, as part of our guest speaker program. Regrettably, I hadn’t made it to many talks this semester, so was eager to make the most of this one. Fortunately, Kent was an articulate speaker with plenty of wisdom to impart. The discussion he facilitated was intimate and stimulating. I appreciated how forthcoming he was regarding his views on the industry, and his generosity when responding to audience queries. Kent spoke principally about Joyful Strains: Making Australia Home, an ambitious publishing project that addresses our national identity and the immigration experiences of its contributors. Published by Affirm Press, Joyful Strains (co-edited by Kent and Ali Lemer) is a collection of twenty-seven autobiographical essays from writers who – at least at the time of publication – resided in Australia, but hailed from all over the globe. Through personal lenses, these writers have crafted essays that explore the perks, challenges and unspoken reality of living in a multicultural society. As a UK-born Australian, I’ve always been interested in the migrant’s perspective and look forward to reading (and possibly reviewing) the free copy Kent generously provided. Continue reading
This week’s guest speaker was Jo Case, a freelance reviewer, essayist, bookstore worker and the senior writer and editor at Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre. Jo’s memoir, Boomer and Me, published last year by Hardie Grant, is about Jo’s experiences with motherhood and the difficulties she met raising a son with Asperger syndrome (or high-functioning autism).
Jo talked principally about the writing of her memoir and her journey to publication. Interestingly, Hardie Grant commissioned her to write Boomer and Me on the strength of some pieces she’d had published in The Age. It’s notoriously difficult to get published in The Age, but Jo chalks this impressive CV credit up to persistence (for years, she made blind, periodic pitches to editor Jason Steger) and networking (she later met and made a personal impression upon Mr Steger at a literary festival) – further proof that success in the publishing industry requires a combination of hard work and luck.
I must admit I haven’t read much memoir – from memory, only Scar Tissue, something about Michael Hutchence, Dave Eggers’ hyperbolically (and aptly) titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and that bloody bird book – so knew little about what kind of work goes into them. Jo spent two years writing Boomer and Me, though admits most of the heavy drafting occurred during the second. When she started writing, her first steps were to establish the book’s theme and work out which central questions would drive the narrative.
For Jo, narrative is important and she first conceived Boomer and Me after identifying a gap in the market. As the mother of an autistic child, she sought books that might help her, books she could identify with, but found few that sufficiently addressed what she was going through. What she found lacked the Australian locality she desired and had marked scientific emphases. She wanted works that engaged with their emphases on character and story, though she also wanted works which addressed the reality of living with Asperger’s. Readers, she deduced, would invest more and be more poised to learn from a story with well-drawn, three-dimensional characters.
Jo intentionally put more material than was necessary into her first draft, reasoning that she could later pare it back once she had more of an idea how the whole should read. She prefers writing memoir over fiction. Her fiction, she says, feels insincere, while her memoir writing has greater depth and emotional resonance.
For aspiring memoirists, she stressed the importance of research. This surprised me; I’d wrongly assumed memoir was a form that required no research. I figured all the necessary elements would be up there in the memory vaults, but that’s not necessarily so. It all depends, of course, on the nature of the work.
Jo recommended the following research avenues:
- Peruse past emails and letters from the relevant period. Depending on your story, these could be paraphrased or included verbatim in the actual text, (Jo stressed, however, that it’s important to implement these organically).
- Read old journal and blog entries for a refresher and to ensure factual accuracy.
- Listen to old music. It may evoke memories and help you re-enter past head spaces.
- Do any necessary medical research. The internet will help here.
To me, one of the most interesting parts of Jo’s project was that it was commissioned. I didn’t know much about the commissioning process and Jo explained that it had both benefits and drawbacks. For Jo, having a steadfast project deadline was beneficial, as it kept her motivated and minimised her fears. (Self-doubt, she said in an aside, can be useful if kept manageable. It’s particularly useful for warding off complacency.) Knowing there was an expectant publisher on the other side of the deadline helped Jo stay on track and encouraged her to treat her writing as a bona fide professional venture.
The main drawback to being commissioned, Jo explained, was the rigid production schedule. A perfectionist, Jo wishes she could’ve spent more time on the manuscript and lingered longer in the editing phase. Because she worked almost exclusively on the project for two years, she was not able to set it aside and create the kind of emotional distance that is conducive to effective self-editing.
Another interesting discussion point was the ethical and potentially litigious implications memoirists can face. As Boomer and Me depicts real people and situations, Jo had to carefully consider her representations and obfuscate where necessary. She made mention of Helen Garner, a revered Australian writer known for blurring truth and fiction. Garner is often surprised by what readers react to in her work. Apparently, past readers have taken issue with seemingly innocuous details, yet have remained largely unbothered by the things Garner expected would cause the most controversy.
Jo’s main concern when writing Boomer and Me was how her son might react to her written depiction of him. She worried he might feel exploited, so carefully explained her project in an effort to make him more comfortable. (She even mentioned, candidly, that she considered pulling the entire project when he expressed some last-minute reservations. Fortunately he came around.)
Some antagonistic individuals are also depicted in Boomer and Me’s narrative. With these, Jo asked herself if she could live with the consequences should their real-life counterparts somehow self-identify and take issue with the representation. Jo could. A good rule of thumb, she said, is to ask yourself if you’d be willing to say what you’re writing to the person’s face. If so, it’s probably safe to proceed. But tread carefully: recognise that you have a responsibility to tell the truth and show respect. Be fair and objective.
A few last pearls of wisdom:
- Jo champions writers’ groups and recognises them as an integral part of her writing process. As a member of two, she credits writers’ groups with giving her structure and instilling discipline. She enjoys being part of a supportive writing community; the weekly commitment makes her more accountable for her own productivity.
- Following an audience question, Jo reinforced the sporadic nature of freelance work. As a freelancer, it seldom works out that you have only the amount of work you need or can handle. More likely, you’ll experience extremes: feast or famine. The tendency during busy periods is to accept as many jobs as possible, though Jo warns this is not always wise and can be difficult to manage. Overburdening yourself can cause rushed, sloppy work and high stress levels.
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I thoroughly enjoyed Jo Case’s presentation and learnt a great deal about memoir writing and the nature of commissioned work. Boomer and Me is available now through Hardie Grant Publishing.
Just a quick one today. Man flu’s descending, and I’ve underestimated how big a commitment these recaps would end up being! Let’s get into it. (I’m also terrified Mrs Ruby-White an anonymous follower will break my fingers if there’s any further delay.)
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A couple of weeks ago, NMIT’s Writing and Publishing students were visited by Jessica Alice, another talented multi-hat-wearing young professional. Jessica is a self-described generalist: a writer, poet, editor, podcaster extraordinaire, and The Lifted Brow’s Poetry and Short Prose Editor. She is also the coordinator of the National Young Writers’ Festival and has been variously affiliated with Voiceworks (kicking myself for not getting involved with these guys!) and Express Media; independent young women’s magazine, Lip; the Darebin Council; and Kill Your Darlings. Jessica spoke highly of these experiences, but is especially fond of her current Brow role because of its autonomy and increased responsibility. Traditionally, The Lifted Brow has not had much of a poetry focus, but this is something Jessica is rectifying.
Throughout her presentation, Jessica enthusiastically spruiked a few art and culture ventures – not for any agenda; she simply wanted to help connect people with great art. She recommended the pop culture podcast Bring a Plate, and encouraged those interested in feminist writing to check out SCUM, an online literary magazine which she describes as the ‘punk kid sister of The Lifted Brow’. SCUM, for which Jessica is also an editor of poetry, has a DIY aesthetic, punk sensibility and penchant for favouring lesser-known writers. This last point’s especially important; like high school social groups, lit journals can be cliquey and insular.
Spoken word is another of Jessica’s passions, and she cited community radio as a great medium for enthusiasts. In particular, Melbourne station 3CR has been a great support throughout much of her early career. It’s through this involvement with community radio that she first developed an interest in podcasting.
Surprisingly (at least to me), a majority of the audience professed an interest in podcasting, so Jessica took the presentation in that direction. She was kind enough to give us a primer, and I will relay some of that information now. Podcasting – (indulge me; I know you learnt this in 2005) – is a revolutionary media platform that is similar in practice to radio, but has far broader applications thanks to the internet. Its popularity can be attributed to its ease of use, as only minimal, basic tech is required to podcast (unless you’re an audiophile). (Tangential aside: ‘Podcast’ is a verb, right? I have no idea! I’m so far removed from this culture! It’s like someone asked the whitest person in the room to articulate the history of the hip hop movement.)
Unlike other New Media formats (i.e. YouTube), podcasts are audio-only; audiences cannot physically see the speaker. I believe I heard somewhere that video podcasts are called vodcasts, though that might’ve been a fever dream. Anyway, podcasts effectively remove image from the equation, allowing audiences to focus solely on content.
Podcasts can be streamed or downloaded, and are usually hosted on dedicated servers. Unlike radio listeners, podcast fans can enjoy content at any time – even while completing work or chores. Podcasts are highly accessible nowadays, particularly with the popularisation of smart phones and portable audio devices.
PODCASTS AND LITERARY JOURNALS
According to Jessica, most of the major Australian literary journals (Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings, Overland, Going Down Swinging, to name a few) currently produce podcasts. It’s seen as a more progressive medium than blogging or feature writing, and a time and cost efficient way for journal staff to create new and engaging content.
Podcasts also allow listeners to become involved with journals, to get a taste of their work and grasp their identity, without necessarily having to purchase their products. Obviously buying and supporting literary journals is ideal, but this can be difficult for monetary or logistic reasons. Regrettably, journals are sometimes seen as an unjustifiable expense – particularly in our current economic climate. In other cases, they can be difficult to purchase because of limited print runs or remote buyers. Though obviously no substitute for a bonafide print or electronic literary journal, podcasting is an interesting and inexpensive way to involve yourself with journals and stay abreast of their developments.
TIPS FOR NEW PODCASTERS
For anyone interested in doing their own podcasts, Jessica endorsed the following software: Garage Band (native Mac program), Audition, Audacity (limited functionality, but a good starting point) and Cool Edit Pro (expensive, but with more comprehensive features). In lieu of a proper (and often costly) recording setup, Jessica recommended using your laptop’s built-in microphone. Of course, you must first ensure a quiet working area. Shut all doors and windows, and soundproof your computer or recording device by covering it with a sheet (high thread-count Egyptian cotton is a nice touch). This will reduce the echo echo echo, reverb and muffle some outside interferences, like dads who scream unnecessarily during televised football.
‘It’s okay, guys! I’m soundproofing!’ Continue reading
Sam Cooney was my most anticipated guest speaker this semester – partly because I’ve long enjoyed his ‘sweet petite tweets’ and partly because he’s been currently killing it (from my perspective) as the editor and publisher of one of the country’s most respected literary magazines, The Lifted Brow. I don’t want to blow too much smoke up his dress (unless he’s into that), but suffice it to say his CV, entrepreneurial skills and general work ethic impressed me. For someone just a couple of years my senior, he’s accomplished a hell of a lot. He also wears many professional hats. I wouldn’t be surprised if his business cards have stapled-on amendments that enfold two or three times.
Sam began his presentation by telling us about his unconventional career path. Apparently, with the advent of the internet, unconventional is the new conventional (like, hadn’t you heard?). Old career models are becoming obsolete; these days, a professional writer’s career path is invariably defined by its random discursions. It’s unsettling to think that the degree I’m working towards could count for everything or nothing, but that’s the nature of the gig. Unlike more traditional careers, the trajectory of a writer’s path is seldom linear.
Sam’s was no exception. His journey began with a false start university enrolment where he worked towards a business degree. He considered this avenue partly because he’d yet to realise his true calling, but also because his all-boys private school had conditioned him to aspire to traditional work. Fortunately, Sam spent his leisure time indulging hidden literary aspirations and it wasn’t long before he realised writing was what he really wanted to do with his life. Though he didn’t say as much, I suspect Sam’s business classes contributed to his entrepreneurial edge. If this is true, it shows that no life experience is ever truly wasted; writers will always find ways to draw from their pasts. It saddens me, though, that there are high schools out there actively discouraging students from pursuing creative or unconventional career paths. But it’s not particularly surprising, given society’s low opinion of the humanities. Continue reading
No shenanigans today; no last minute room changes, inadvertent Tom O’Connell faux pas, or suicidal Kookaburras, either. Today was just a good, solid, no-nonsense (well, besides the sentient killer trucks … I’ll get to that) guest speaker talk delivered by multiple-hat-wearing (but mostly ghost writer, musician, editor and spec. fiction writer) Andrew Macrae. Even Andrew’s presentation meant business, with its comparatively singular focus and extended question time. Just as well, as previous guest speakers Pepi Ronalds’ and Lauren Williams’ sprawling presentations were harder to recap for a cheap-suit-and-scuffed-shoe-wearin’ amateur journo like me. Going to do my best to keep it concise this time. Here goes!
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It was an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon when the bespectacled, shaven-headed Andrew Macrae spoke to our Writing and Publishing class. Andrew, who has an MA in English and a Ph.D in Creative Writing, opened by sharing his adage: ‘It’s important to have multiple income streams’. Clearly, Andrew lives by example, for he is a self-employed business owner whose income stems from a combination of editing work, non-fiction writing, ghost writing gigs and book royalties. His website, Magic Typewriter, is his base of operations, and a quick visit there reveals that many of his past clients come from government and corporate sectors – sectors with fastidious standards of professionalism. Andrew previously worked in a governmental capacity, and was in the fortuitous position of bringing some past clients with him while embarking on this career change. (By the way, if any of my past Crazy Clark’s Discount Variety Store co-workers want to pay me to edit their shit, I’m available. Very available.) Andrew’s entrepreneurial skills are impressive; it pleases me that someone is making a comfortable (if strenuous) living from their written endeavours.
Andrew’s debut novel Trucksong, published by Twelfth Planet Press in November last year, formed the focal point of his presentation. The novel, which is dystopian speculative fiction, was born from Andrew’s love of the noir, cyber-punk and western genres, and an unlikely fondness for trucks. Andrew kindly took us through the process of writing his novel and the challenges he encountered on the road to publication. Continue reading
How’s this for serendipitous? Determined not to repeat last week’s hunger-induced rudeness, I opted for an early lunch on the far side of campus. Moments after putting away my last Le Snack biscuit (yep, I eat eight-year-olds’ lunches), I was approached by a guitar-toting woman who asked me for directions to the Writing and Publishing block. This was Lauren Williams, our guest speaker. I escorted her to said destination and, on the way, told her a bit about myself and this ’ere blog.
‘I’m recapping the year’s guest speakers!’ I enthused – no doubt coming across like Peter Brady. ‘Don’t worry: I won’t put anything salacious in it!’
She wasn’t worried, and would later go on to share a few of her tangos with the media. Par for the course for a published poet, I discovered. Right away, Lauren struck me as approachable and passionate. Admirably, she wasn’t afraid to share her strong views on the industry – my kind of guest speaker!
Anyway, let’s proceed with the recap.
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Regular readers will know of my recent resolution to increase my productivity. My first step towards accomplishing this was to draft a list of goals, and the second is to actively increase my output. I think recapping the year’s guest speaker presentations is a great excuse to commit pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were).
The guest speaker program is, in my opinion, one of the best components of NMIT’s Writing and Publishing degree. Receiving advice from experienced professionals is a privilege; these people are out there in the wilds of the industry, working hard and accomplishing greatness. I enjoy hearing all about the effort they’ve put in and vicariously enjoying their success. Regrettably, it’s taken four years of study to start committing their wisdom to paper. But, hey, I’m doing it now.
So, without further ado, here’s what I garnered from Pepi Ronalds, our first guest speaker of 2014. Continue reading