I can’t believe that it was over a week ago that the Perth Writers’ Festival finished. This year was a much bigger and better affair, showing Perth is worth flying to, despite being out-of-the-way, from everything other than Perth. What better time to present a recap of my highlights than now. Warning, this post doesn’t contain my usual sarcasm, satire, humour and insults directed at the author James Patterson.
An entire day on how to get into publishing: sounds like a good idea. One hundred and forty of us were in the comfort of an air-conditioned tent to listen to publishers, manuscript assessors, agents, lawyers, union (yes, Australia Society of Authors, I’d call it a union) and booksellers. Hard to sum up an entire day of information in a few words, so I’ll make some general comments. The industry is still generally a positive field, but don’t give up your day job. There was a lot of talk about the industry having declined – 17.5% in December, 21.5% January, 29.5% to the second week of February – and the usual memes were rolled out (E-books, etc), although it was good to hear some realists talking about overpricing and particular market segments. I got a lot out of the day, like having my need to write poetry stifled for good, with the realisation that Penguin compiled a “best-loved” Australian poetry collection and sold 700 copies. But it has to be said, it is good to see the gender balance in writing, being one of thirty men in the room of one hundred and forty. It is also amazing that, for a group of writers who are supposedly skilled at expressing themselves, there was a lack of ability to orally express opinions and statements (I’m biased, having a background in extension). I’d also like to acknowledge the guy, who is at every writers’ festival, by quoting him “I have a bestseller” with the caveat “not quite finished yet.”
This session was all about writing perspective. Who wants to read an honest character? Every character is lying to themselves about something, creating that flawed and unreliable narrator that people love. Is the writer really lying to the reader by keeping them in suspense? Probably, but I’d like to think of it as telling the truth at a certain pace.
I love sessions that end up, inevitably, discussing censorship. This is topical, given the recent PayPal directive made to Smashwords. My general opinion on censorship was upheld by the presenters and assembled crowd, even if we were having a reading of octopus tentacle bestiality as a prelude to the discussion. An interesting article from the 1930s was read, apparently women at that time had worries about the same body issues they have now.
Combine a respected reporter, a biographer and a politician who actually has something worth saying, and you have the recipe for one statement. Politics has become about distracting the general voting masses with shiny objects. George Megalogenis provided his usual erudite insights, and Andrew Robb proved he is still one of the few politicians worth voting for (Lindsay Tanner having retired).
Book stores are going the way of the literate high school graduate. This session was all about what the future holds for booksellers and how the market will change. Alan Sheardown made some very poignant points about the industry. Running an indie book store he understood what was actually happening with book sales and how to keep the customers. I also became a Kobo fan after hearing Malcolm Neil’s thoughts and comments. There have already been rumours starting about Kobo being the other e-book market after Amazon, after this session I have little doubt. Malcolm didn’t pull any punches.
All I really have to say about this session is that Western Australian authors are alive and well, especially in crime fiction. Keep an eye out for us, we’re awesome!
As much as I love intellectual discussion, I really do wish more intellectuals would give some credit to agriculture. Tim Costello, David Rieff, Tom Keneally, Katie Smith Milway and Carmen Lawrence spent this session discussing various aspects of the food demands of the world. Unfortunately, Katie was the only one that had any agricultural knowledge. Despite this, the discussion made some good points about the need for a shift in government focus and how poorer nations need support, not handouts.
The Saturday morning writing seminar was not actually for dummies. Felicity Young took us through a few activities, including a group plotting exercise. Our group killed off Jo Nesbo with a hardcover edition of his first novel, Redbreast. His body was discovered by one of the class after the white peacock on the grounds was seen covered in blood – Redbreast: we were hilarious! I think the team has a bestseller in the works after this session.
Lauren Beukes needs to give up coffee. She destroyed her laptop prior to the writing workshop. I know that computers always say coffee resistant on the label, but I bet they only test it on espressos. Lauren took us through a few different exercises and examples of good and bad prose. She also gave me some good feedback on my writing, so I feel like I’m on the right track.
David Whish-Wilson interviewed Felicity Young whilst the audience relaxed with a lovely wine or three. David ran the workshop I attended on writing last year, so it was two of my writing tutors in one session. It was a good discussion, but the wine was even better. Check out Lamont’s winery, their white was the perfect end to the day.
Take one international bestselling crime novelist, known for his talent and wit, not to mention a former career as a successful musician, and you should have a great evening. Pity the interviewer wasn’t up to the challenge. Either way, I got my novels signed by Jo. I remember having heard of Jo Nesbo as a result of his awards for crime writing. You would think that stores would stock his books as a result, but they didn’t. I ended up ordering Nemesis online (Booktopia rocks) only to find all of his novels in an indie store a week later. Another reason the big stores are dying.
If I had one highlight of the festival it has to be this Sunday session. The speakers were Misha Ketchell, Stephen Lewandowsky, Alom Shaha and James Paterson, and had a hearty discussion about science, communication, the media, think tanks (of which James is an editor of the notorious IPA) and climate change. Alom was someone I hadn’t heard of before and it was great to hear his contributions. It was also great to meet Stephen and Misha in person after the session.
This was the second session I went to with Jo Nesbo featuring. This time he was joined by Johan Harstad, and a decent interviewer, Mark Naglazas. The discussion was around how fantastic the Scandinavians are at converting oil wealth into societal wealth, which trickles down into supporting the arts. Both authors had interesting things to say and Mark got the best out of them.
The media are a funny bunch. It was only in the previous day that George Megalogenis was discussing how poor a job the media did, yet this session was all back-patting. I admire the journalists that take the time to really dig their teeth into a story, do the hard yards and learn about their subject. There will have to be more of it in the future, well, unless we just want to know celebrity gossip.
Congratulations to the organisers for putting together a great event. I look forward to next year’s event.