So Sam, are you the Sydney blow-in, trying to navigate his way around a cliquey Melbourne writing scene?
(Laughs) A lot of people are blow-ins. There’s a big Brisbane-based community here, there’s a big group calling themselves “Ex-Perths”. So Melbourne becomes a bit of a literary hub. I’ve had friends move down and they’ve done four-year stints down here and then moved back to Sydney.
Do you think it really pays to do things like join Writers Victoria and network at festivals?
I passionately believe that writers should connect with each other – the biggest advocates for your work are going to be other writers. Making friends with writers is probably the smartest move you can make as a writer, because the work itself is solitary, but there is plenty of potential for collaboration. And any idea that I’ve had that’s ever gone anywhere I’ve bounced off at least four friends. So the EWF provides networking opportunities as well as professional development stuff.
Writers’ workshops offered by publishing companies are phenomenally expensive. Is the idea that yours are more accessible?
Yeah. We’re supported by Arts Victoria and we get funding through them because we do offer that kind of lower cost. And it is providing a point of difference for people who might not be able to go to university to study writing. We offer a very intense, eleven-day suite of workshops and courses, and a big conference.
And what would your definition of ‘emerging’ be?
I’ve worked in writers’ centres where there’s definitely a value chain of: “Is it an aspiring writer, emerging writer or established?” But I think everyone’s emerging. I don’t even want to “emerge” exactly, because I want to be able to challenge myself; if I get quite good at one form of writing I would hope that I could try out another. Tim Winton might not be the best Tweeter in the world, so he’s emerging in that online space.
A decade or two ago, a festival like this would have been all about getting published in print. Has that focus changed?
Yeah, it’s everything. Promoting collaborations is what I’m really big on and we have really grown from our initial festival, 10 years ago, to servicing a wide range of genres. So we’re looking at doing some radio plays this year and screen writing, theatre writers as well as novelists and poets. And even within each form you’ve got your comedians, you’ve got your horror writers – and we try and program for those guys as well.
Is there going to be an emphasis on e-publishing?
Yeah, we have a big digital arm – we focus a lot on self-publishing opportunities with e-books – but we’re actually going to run our digital programming in the second half of the year for the first time, do a digital festival at the end of the year. We’ve done one for the last three years within the festival but we think it’s time to push it out and give it its own space.
What do you do for the rest of the year? Does the whole department just disappear?
(Laughs) No. It does get quieter on the Melbourne front but for the last three years and again this year, we’ll reproduce an interstate version of the festival. We go out a do a two-day smaller version, so we’ve been to Sydney twice, Brisbane once and we’re going to Tasmania at the end of this year.
Tell us about your five ambassadors this year.
The ambassadors come for the writers’ conference and talk about their writing, then help with other people’s writing. So we’ve got John Safran, we’ve got a fantastic novelist called Jennifer Mills, Melinda Harvey – who is a great critic and is working on an amazing memoir – self-help writer and novelist Walter Mason, and an Indonesian performance poet by the name of Okka [Khairani Barokka] who’s coming out for the full eleven days. That’s a really exciting thing for us because we’re actually sending somebody to Bali this year for the first time – we’re doing a writer swap with the Bali Emerging Writers’ Festival as both festivals happen co-currently and are the two only emerging writers’ festivals in the world. So it’s really exiting to connect for the first time and send someone overseas.
You also have a Writers’ Conference happening.
Yeah, that’s at the Melbourne Town Hall and it’s almost a festival within the festival. It’s a two-day, very intensive event with panels and discussions all about the craft of writing. So it’s really for writers to come and develop their work.