The former director of Sound Summit and executive officer of MusicNSW is now the artistic director of the bienniel Underbelly Arts in Sydney. Over two days, this gathers the works of thousands of the country's emerging artists, and returns in 2015. In November 2013, Scribe Publications put out her Amazing Babes, a feminist picture book for kids and adults.
Eliza, how did the idea for Amazing Babes come about?
When you're a parent you worry about everything, and as we passed all of the nerve-wracking milestones of my son’s first year I kept returning to the question of how I'd make sure he grew up respecting others, especially women. Unsatisfied with what existed by way of books for kids, I decided to make Amazing Babes for his first birthday as a way to introduce him to the women who inspire me.
What was the journey like to making it happen?
I got my friend, Grace Lee, to do some illustrations and as she sent them across it became clear that I couldn't keep this project to myself. On the back of an overwhelmingly successful crowdfunding campaign, Scribe Publications got in touch.
What will you be doing at the Emerging Writers Festival?
My dream event – we've got eight amazing babes telling stories about the women who have inspired them, celebrating the female role models that we've all grown up alongside and with.
Maxine Beneba Clarke
The EWF Opening Night Extravaganza; The National Writers Conference
Maxine’s debut fiction collection, Foreign Soil, was roundly rejected before winning the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. A bidding war commenced, won by Hachette, who publish it in May, followed by her debut novel and memoir. She is an Ambassador for this year’s EWF.
Maxine, Foreign Soil looks at the lives of society’s marginalised people. Did you have a motive in mind?
I write about things that interest me, and this most often means writing about the political, familial and social situations unfolding around me. Characters include a young Sudanese-Australian mother buying a new bike with the last of her fortnightly pension, a Sri Lankan asylum seeker pushed to breaking point inside Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre, a young black militant on the warpath through the streets of Brixton, and an illiterate Jamaican man learning to read.
Was the feedback from the publishers who rejected it very off-putting, or did you have faith?
As a writer, you have to have a certain amount of resilience and optimism to keep on keeping on, even as you grow more certain about the quality of your work. My story isn't that much different to that of any other writer in Australia in that respect. Most fiction books by debut writers have been through a similar journey. It's only when an author becomes a successful publishing story that the wider public gets to hear about the struggle. It is disheartening when you've spent so long writing and researching a book, and the doors refuse to open. But publishing houses ( as much as we writers lament it) are businesses. They look at not only the quality of the writing in front of them, but what they perceive to be its commercial viability. Sometimes though, they get it wrong. Let's hope this is one of those times! It was certainly quite a welcome turn of events to have so many publishers interested in my work after winning the Premier's Award.
You’re an advocate of slam performances. What would your tips be for a newb?
1. Make the audience your world, and one day the world will become your audience;
2. Slam poetry won't make you much money, but money is a thing good poetry should slam;
3. Judge your work not by the ranking the judge gives you, but by the taste of the judge who gives the ranking;
4 Own the stage, or the stage will own you;
5.Never slam words you won’t be able to stand by, or soon you'll find nobody stands by to hear you slam them.
What will you be doing at the Emerging Writers Festival?
I'll be giving a speech to ring-in the 2014 winner of the Victorian Premier's Award for an Unpublished Manuscript on festival opening night. Later in the festival I'll appear at in-conversation event with my editor about the process of taking a book through to publication, and on a panel discussing the merits and pitfalls of literary mentorship with a young writer I mentor, and an established writer I've come to view as one of my unofficial mentors.
Zoe Norton Lodge
Amazing Babes; The National Writers Conference
Zoe is co-founder of Sydney’s Story Club, which she started to help her finish her creative-writing assignments for uni. It now attracts sell-out crowds in the old Redfern theatre that The Chaser production team reopened, and is set to be a series this year on the ABC. She also writes and presents on The Checkout (ABC1) and is the former GM of the National Young Writers Festival. Time Out Sydney are so impressed, they featured her as one of their '30 Under 30'.
Were there any existing clubs worldwide that inspired Story Club?
Obviously The Moth from the US. Ben Jenkins (Story Club's host and co-creator) actually won The Moth's Story Slam when he went to New York. There are also loads of great niche story-telling nights in Australia. My favourite is Erotic Fan Fiction, which is unmatched in its twin abilities to make people laugh and vomit at the same time.
How did you first infiltrate ABC world?
People seem to find their own special holes to burrow into. I actually started as an operations manager in the captioning department. That was good practice, because I was probably as underprepared to manage a team of stenographers as I was to work on a TV show when I first started doing stuff with The Chaser team.
And you’ve got a book coming out…
It's a pile of stories about myself and my family, because I would like to get disowned one day. It will be put out by Giramondo Publishing.
What will you be doing at EWF?
I'm speaking on a panel about comedy writing and telling a story at an event called 'Amazing Babes' which is a night of inspiring stories about women.
The EWF Opening Night Extravaganza; Freelancing For Life
If anyone could edit a book about the financial perils of being an artist in Australia, it’s musician, comedian and writer Justin Heazlewood – who's experienced the 'work for free' request in every field.Funemployed is his follow-up to The Bedroom Philosopher Diaries and he is in talks with Radio National about making it into an eight-part series.
Justin, Funemployed is coming out in June – and, reading the blurb on the Affirm Press site, this is a must-read book for any artist, if only they can can bring themselves to get out their wallet. You’ve interviewed some big names for it. Was that, ironically, quite in-step with the subject of the book – in that you’re asking artists to do something in return for publicity?
You mean, am I a self-exploiting member of the very industry I’m expecting to support my delicate cause, in a naively contradictory twist of artistic delusion? Of course! Don’t worry – the interviewees in Funemployed will be paid a back-end royalty based on how much their quotes are retweeted. It’s like APRA for wisdom. You could consider these ‘black market’ interviews, by an artist with no agenda other than to blow the whistle on what’s really happening behind the smoke and mirrors of the media hype. I think the artists jumped at the chance to vent, and have the kinds of conversations normally held in the backroom trenches – it’s Kitchen Confidential meets Art School Confidential.
You catalogue your life quite thoroughly, most recently for The Bedroom Philosopher Diaries (Affirm Press 2012). Are you constantly asking yourself how much is too much, though?
Sort of. Ever since reading Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (a self-referential memoir), I’ve taken it on as a dare to see how much of myself I can pump out there. (Gross!) Honesty is a muscle that you work up over time. It’s not necessarily about the obvious taboos, like sex, but even writing about having a miserable time at a music festival feels countercultural in a country where social politeness and ‘appearing grateful’ seem to be currencies in trade. As far as privacy goes, I feel more exposed making a joke on Twitter than I do writing 1000 words about trying to pick up a hipster girl at a party and failing miserably. The difference is control. Autobiographical writing is a sprawling conversation on your own yacht, while social media is sticking your genitals through a hole in a service station.
You've been all over radio and TV like a rash lately, to the point that Justin Heazlewood has become a recognised 'brand'. Can you pinpoint when that happened?
It’s nice to know that my promotional appearances can be likened to an irritable skin condition (I was striving for a more viral based infection). If there’s one thing my name isn’t, it’s a brand. A brand is Coca-Cola, or Durex – a multinational company with a ubiquitous product to mass-produce, shareholders to please and profits to relentlessly pursue at the cost of the environment and workers rights. I am one person publishing my truth, and using marketing channels to draw attention to that truth, which is packaged and sold for a price. Perhaps you can argue the minute we start charging money for art we become a ‘brand’, or that being called a ‘brand’ is no big thing – but I flag it as an unfortunate sabotage of language, and suggest it’s never been more important for artists to put a flag down on their intellectual property and declare sovereignty in this neoliberal, Orwellian farce.