Cultural Soft Spot

The 2015 HARDCOPY* program began last week, with esteemed editor Nadine Davidoff directing a series of workshops with the successful non-fiction applicants for this year’s program.

In the same week, the e-journal Softcopy was launched, showcasing an anthology of fictional work from writers who participated in 2014’s inaugural HARDCOPY program.

The Cringe spoke to the editors of Softcopy about their vision for the e-journal and how both HARDCOPY and Softcopy are opening up further avenues for emerging Australian writers to develop and promote their work.

Softcopy picLiterary magazines have provided an outlet for Australian writing since 1821 when the Australian Magazine, printed by Robert Howe, debuted in Sydney. Today, publications such as Meanjin, Overland and Southerly are the bastions of this literary tradition, but increasingly, Australians are turning to digital offerings to satisfy their cultural curiosity.

The new e-journal, Softcopy, taps into this growing trend. With around 15 million Australians accessing the internet at home on a regular basis, creating an online opportunity for emerging writers to showcase their work seemed the natural choice for the creative team behind Softcopy.

Softcopy is the brainchild of founding editor, Christine McPaul, a Canberra-based writer/editor and participant in the HARDCOPY 2014 program conducted by the ACT Writers Centre, and funded by the Australia Council for the Arts. Along with fellow HARDCOPIERS Lesley Boland (Blemish Publishing) and George Dunford (Canberra-based writer/editor) they saw an opportunity to harness and display the range of talent brought together by the program.

‘We are excited to launch Softcopy as a vehicle for emerging writers,’ said Christine. ‘The online option is an easy and cost effective way to provide readers access to new writing and to support cultural production in Australia.’

Lesley Boland agrees that the decision to make Softcopy an e-journal was a deliberate choice. ‘We wanted to be able to have our work available to the widest possible audience,’ Lesley said. ‘As emerging writers, being able to build an online profile is a prime consideration.’

Whether you are interested in Poland or parrots, bullies or blind dates, murder or mercy, coaching or cricket, torture or tumbling, diplomacy or dancing, fire or friendship, ambition or adultery, the first edition has something for you.

‘Our aim is to broaden the range of contributors for future editions,’ George said. ‘We hope that over time Softcopy will become a vibrant place where many emerging writers can present their work.’

Softcopy will be produced regularly. Keep an eye out for the next call for submissions when emerging writers will be invited to submit a previously unpublished 500-1000 piece.

Explore Softcopy

*HARDCOPY is a professional development program for emerging writers run by the ACT Writer’s Centre with support from the ACT Government and the Australia Council, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body.

Sam Simon: A Writer’s Life (Taxi, The Simpsons and so much more)

Up until last week, thesimpsons credits reference Sam Simon was nothing more to me than a name on the credits rolls of The Simpsons. I knew nothing of the man, his life, his achievements, and his role as co-creator on one of the greatest animated series ever. Without The Simpsons, I never would have met my wife and my life would be unimaginably different (not for the better).

sam simon

Sam Simon died on 8th March after a battle with cancer, aged 49. It was only seeing his name alongside The Simpsons in online headlines made me stop and take notice. And having taken notice, his story, his life as a writer and producer offers a lot to inspire.

 

Simon wamighty mouses always a skilled and inventive when it came to drawing. Aged 24, after years of sketching comic strips for the San Francisco Chronicle, he got his first writing credit on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse soon followed by Heckle & Jeckle and Fat Albert. ‘What I learned, honestly, that was so valuable was…they made me a writer. They said we want you to write scripts.’

Over the next couple of years he worked on a number of shows that were either going nowhere or seemed to be leading him nowhere. The measure of the man came in 1982 when he submitted a script on spec to the TV show Taxi (starring Danny DeVito and Andy Kaufmann).

taxi

‘I wrote a script and I mailed it in…I decided as long as I’m writing TV I should write something I’m not embarrassed about.’

How Simon forged a path for himself based on talent, desire and integrity, reminded me of @elise_janes recent post on The Cringe where she got real about shoulda, coulda, woulda and how bullshit that all is – we need to go after what we want.

These lessons and examples are all around us: people who achieve through a willingness to work hard with no guarantee of a return, no guarantee of acknowledgement or success. Those who commit themselves to following through on their creative endeavour, because it matters. Maybe you know someone like this. Maybe this is who are working hard to become. I know I am.

Sam Simon left us writers and creators with three tips. In his own words, this is ‘the best advice ever’:

  1. Story above all
  2. Don’t be afraid of the quiet moments
  3. Love your characters

I’ll give the last word to The Simpsons themselves. On the most recent show, which aired in the US on Sunday 15th March, they ended the episode with a simple and touching tribute:

thank you

 

Ken Ward

 

(Quotes sourced from Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF, ‘Episode 389 – Sam Simon’, May 16, 2013)

2015 Guide to Australian Literary Festivals

 

Australia boasts some of the world’s largest and most diverse literary festivals, offering everything from general interest to genre-specific favourites such as Swancon and Supanova. Get your diary out, the literary year starts here.

 

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2014, courtesy of bangalowguesthouse.com.au

 

General Interest

Perth Writers Festival
Perth, WA
February 20-23
What to expect: A program paying ‘homage to the vintage objects of print culture such as books, maps and letters, and [embracing] the new storytelling media’.

Adelaide Writers Week
Adelaide, SA
February 28 – March 5
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest and oldest literary festival, offering both writers and readers a unique opportunity to spend time sharing ideas and literary explorations’.

Festival of Golden Words
Beaconsfield, TAS
March TBA
What to expect: ‘Covering literary fiction, popular fiction, biography, comedy, current affairs, history, military, sport, poetry, wine and food, stage and screen, and self-publishing, with a strong concurrent children’s and young adults programme.’

Eye of the Storm
Alice Springs, NT
April 23-26
What to expect: ‘[T]he 2015 Eye of the Storm writers festival is shaping up to be an extraordinary event that touches on universal themes that are close to the heart of Central Australian communities.’

Sydney Writers Festival
Sydney, NSW
May 18-24
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest annual celebration of literature and ideas…the third largest event of its kind in the world’.

Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival
Margaret River, WA
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘Celebrating literature and promoting Margaret River and surrounds as destinations.’ This year’s theme is Seasons.

Yamba Writers Festival
Yamba, NSW
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘The Clarence region has an abundance of writers, poets and thinkers and some, along with the featured writers at the Festival, have published works over many years in both Australia as well as internationally.’

Noosa Long Weekend
Noosa, QLD
July 14-26
What to expect: ‘An arts festival with a strong strand of literature – in a beautiful environment’.

Byron Bay Writers Festival
Byron Bay, NSW
August 7-9
What to expect: ‘Australian writing, with recognition of Australia’s geographical location through the inclusion of Indonesian and Asian authors.’

Melbourne Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
August 20-30
What to expect: Celebrating 30 years in 2015, the festival ‘will take audiences on a literary tour of Australia and all corners of the globe’.

Brisbane Writers Festival
Brisbane, QLD
September 2-6
What to expect: ‘Energy and “casual intellect”’ bringing together ‘readers, writers, innovators and provocateurs’.

 

Tailored

Digital Writers Festival
Online
February 11-22
What to expect: Run by the team behind Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival, expect some similar faces from young local authors and online journals.

Australian Romance Readers Convention
Canberra, ACT
March 6-8
What to expect: The festival ‘will bring together romance readers, authors and publishers and provide an opportunity to talk about all things related to romance fiction.’

Somerset Celebration of Literature
Gold Coast, QLD
March 18-20
What to expect: ‘Over 30 acclaimed authors from around Australia hold interactive sessions and workshops for both children and adults.’ YA and schools focus.

Historical Novel Society of Australia
Sydney, NSW
March 20-22
What to expect: ‘Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events.’

Swancon
Perth, WA
April 2-6
What to expect: ‘A speculative fiction convention that is invested in all kinds of media’ with ‘panels and discussion about games, film, literature, and graphic novels.’

Write Edit Index
Canberra, ACT
May 6-9
What to expect: ‘Australian conference for editors, indexers and publishing professionals.’

Emerging Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
May 26 – June 5
What to expect: ‘[A] place where creativity and innovation are celebrated, where new talent is nurtured and where diverse voices from across Australia are represented.’

Continuum
Melbourne, VIC
June 6-8
What to expect: ‘[S]peculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture.’

Voices on the Coast
Sunshine Coast, QLD
July 16-17
What to expect: ‘Leading Australian and International authors, illustrators, poets and performers’ talking and workshopping with students and adults.

National Play Festival
Adelaide, SA
July 22-25
What to expect: ‘[F]our days of new Australian plays, artist talks, masterclasses and industry discussions’ as well as a partnership with State Theatre Company SA.

Romance Writers of Australia Conference
Melbourne, VIC
August 21-23
What to expect: ‘[P]rovides unique networking opportunities for writers, editors, agents and other publishing industry professionals with a keen focus on romance publishing.’

Book Week
National
August 22-28
What to expect: National school-based events hosted by Children’s Book Council of Australia. This year’s theme: Books Light Up Our World.

National Young Writers Festival
Newcastle, NSW
October 1-4
What to expect: ‘[T]he country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms’.

GenreCon
Brisbane, QLD
October 30 – November 1
What to expect: ‘GenreCon provides an opportunity for writers, editors, agents and other genre fiction professionals to come together for three days of networking, seminars, workshops, and more.’

Crime and Justice Festival
Melbourne, VIC
November 13-15
What to expect: ‘There is no other festival that combines the crime fiction genre with discussions on the law, social justice, human rights and general social commentary.’

Supanova
Melbourne: April 10-12
Gold Coast: April 17-19
Sydney: June 19-21
Perth: June 26-28
Adelaide: November 20-22
Brisbane: November 27-29
What to expect: ‘[C]omic books, animation/cartoons, science-fiction, pulp TV/movies, toys, console gaming, trading cards, fantasy, entertainment technology, books, internet sites and fan-clubs’ and the Madman National Cosplay Championship.

Oz Comic-Con
Perth: April 11-12
Adelaide: April 18-19
Melbourne: June 27-28
Brisbane: September 19-20
Sydney: September 26-27
What to expect: ‘Oz Comic-Con boasts a show floor packed with exhibitors, autograph and photograph sessions with the hottest celebrities and one-of-a-kind panel events’.

 

More Information

The above list represents only a snapshot of the many literary festivals held throughout Australia, with some major centres still yet to release dates. Keep checking festival websites for the most current details, and find further information at the following sites.

A comprehensive and up-to-date list on author Jason Nahrung’s website:
jasonnahrung.com/2015-australian-literary-festival-calendar/

An extensive searchable inventory on the Literary Festivals site:
www.literaryfestivals.com.au/index.html

A narrower list but more specific detail on the Australian Government site:
www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/writers-festivals

Elise Janes

Unnatural Selection

Melbourne Cup‘ The race that stops a nation.’ It’s a big claim by Racing Victoria, but is it really true?

Since its inception, and not even halted by two World Wars, the Melbourne Cup has been embraced with increasing gusto by every generation of Australians. But at some point during the 70s and 80s — when work was just a place you visited five days a week to fill in time and lunches were spent downing beers at the local pub — our attitude to (and love of) the race began a slow transformation into something much uglier.

Those heady decades leading up to Black Monday were a time of enormous wealth generated largely by a booming resource industry; a time when entrepreneurs like Alan Bond were showing the rest of us how they lived large in the ‘wild West’. A precedent was set and celebrating the Melbourne Cup ever more excessively became the new Australian way, the thing to do, iconic and culturally fitting.

Then, on the first Tuesday of each November, offices around the country would close for business from mid-morning. Old box televisions were wheeled into board rooms, canapés and flutes of French champagne were passed around with largesse by ruddy-faced directors, and there were always at least five sweeps on the go in any one place, giving every tipsy worker a fair chance of scooping enough cash with which to celebrate later. For those few hours, corporate tiers were torn down, bosses mingling (usually in more ways than one) with employees, the reception desk abandoned and the switchboard turned off — all for the sake of a three-minute horse race. What other nation on earth would dare to slow its production wheels for such a silly thing?

But if the race managed to grind too-rich corporations to a halt, there were plenty of industries that didn’t — couldn’t — stop to partake: teachers, doctors and nurses, emergency services, transport workers and the like. The adage that the Melbourne Cup ‘stops a nation’ didn’t then — and doesn’t now — bear scrutiny. How could it? But it’s a great marketing gimmick, and one that Racing Victoria clings to.

Even the most extreme measure taken by Victoria — declaring Melbourne Cup day a public holiday — hasn’t proved the claim true. In a number of regional centres it’s business as usual; they celebrate their own spring racing carnivals (Kyneton Cup) and they’ll take their holiday when it suits, thank you very much. Most Melburnians decide, since Tuesday’s already a holiday, they might as well bunk off on the Monday off too, so it becomes the longest of long weekends. A chance to get away. Race? What race? And for those Victorians who do give a damn; who plan a modest get-together of their own — the men tapping in online bets and beering it up around the BBQ while, in the kitchen (yes, even in 2014), women peel cling film from bowls of salads and supervise hordes of children — it no longer holds the same appeal. Because, just as it’s been for the last 40 years, celebrating the Melbourne Cup isn’t about watching a race. It’s about over-indulging and skiving off work. And when you’re already off work, what’s left to celebrate?

Flemington_main_stand,_2013_Melbourne_Cup (1)

Flemington main stand, 2013 Melbourne Cup by Jupiter Firelyte via Wikimedia Commons

Indeed, unless we ignore the race altogether, what else can Victorians do except attend the bloody thing?

So we do. In droves. Every year the numbers increase (over 104,000 in 2013) and one could be forgiven for thinking the enforced holiday nothing more than a clever money-spinning ploy. But there’s no denying that for many who frock up and flock to Flemington for the big day (or the whole week: 331,196 last year), the Melbourne Cup remains a high point on the social calendar. And it celebrates everything that’s wonderful, as well as all that is truly awful, about our society.

It’s about selection – the fastest horses, the best-dressed race-goers, the most expensive foods and wines, the most coveted of tents — the rich, the powerful, celebrities and dignitaries alike, all choppered and chauffeured to the track and separated by affordability and popularity from the untidy masses who collect on the concourse. It’s as much about selection as it is about rejection, and it isn’t hailed ‘the sport of kings’ for nothing. Charles Darwin, if he were alive today, might be more than a little bemused by the spectacle.

Because there’s nothing natural about the Melbourne Cup. It has become a day of wanton excess. A day where twenty-four of the world’s most thoroughly-bred and genetically engineered horses compete for brief accolade, and their owners and trainers compete for huge prize-money.

2013_Myer_Fashions_on_the_Field_(10705584675)

2013 Myer Fashions on the Field by Chris Phutully via Wikimedia Commons

It’s about breeding, and not just on the track. It’s about who’s-who and what’s-what and where to be as well as how best to be seen. It’s about gambling, about squandering that last fiver or throwing down another five hundred — because let’s face it, so many there can afford to — on a whispered tip. It’s a day that heralds every extravagance and every hope and every desperate dream. It’s a race that’s less about the majesty of the horse — its power, its grace, its extraordinary stamina — or the skill of the jockey, and more about a multi billion-dollar industry.

While it can be argued that the Melbourne Cup generates huge profits for all involved in organising and running the event (no, they don’t ‘stop’ either) and helps fill government coffers, it’s not all pretty.

horse_crash3

2007 Melbourne Cup race day – English import Bay Story put down after crash with Bling Bling in Race 3. Via Brisbane Times

It’s been impossible (for me, at least) to find any records stating the exact number of horses that have had to be euthanased as a result of injuries sustained on Melbourne Cup race day. Racing Victoria guards such statistics zealously. And this year, much has been made of the legal wrangle between the racing industry and The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses, when the latter erected a billboard depicting a dead racehorse over one of Melbourne’s busiest tollways. (It’s since been removed). Add to this any number of horror stories about what happens to these magnificent animals once their use — their money-raking days — are over.

melbourne-cup-2009 -3But there are other horror stories too, the derisive kind, those that mock ridiculous fashion and excessive drinking and spending, and next-day’s tabloids are filled with pictures of the plastered and the poorly attired and all the mess they’ve left behind. And for us Melburnians who have ignored it — who’ve escaped the city and are returning from our long long-weekend — there’s the after-race spectacle to endure as dishevelled, panda-eyed girls totter and weave their way home, while already drunk race-goers decide it’d be a ‘great idea, mate!’ to continue their carousing, crowding pubs and clubs before vomiting and defecating on street corners. Yep, it’s a glorious day for all.

So wherever you are tomorrow, if you’re watching, make sure you savour every second of those three minutes. After all, ‘the race that stops a nation’ is the real reason you’re there. Isn’t it?

Jane Abbott   

Happy Halloween, Australia

Halloween-picQ: I moved house a few months ago, and I’ve been enjoying my new neighbourhood. That is, until last week when I found a note in my letterbox asking me to put a couple of orange stickers (supplied with the note) on my gate so I can join in Halloween celebrations. I don’t even have kids! And isn’t Halloween an American thing? I don’t want to upset the locals and be the only one not participating. What should I do?

Spooked, VIC     

____________________________________________________________________    

A: Is there anything more un-Australian than our adoption of a not-even-American festival that’s been plucked from the depths of pre-medieval history to become a sugar-hyped free-for-all? Probably not. Yet, since none of us have any real clue what it is to be Australian (and without any re-worked traditions of our own), what else can we do but tag along? (It could be argued that has become our tradition.) But don’t worry because it’s hardly the same thing at all.

Cotton wool strung between ragged gum trees, badly carved fly-buzzed pumpkins perched on picket fence posts, unlit lanterns thrashing in a hot wind, sweaty little monsters swathed in metres of bed sheets — no, it doesn’t resemble anything close to Halloween. Here (thanks to a little thing called geography, and a not-so-little thing known as daylight savings) it’s celebrated under a scorching sun. No spookiness, no ghosts or goblins, no haunting shadows cast by flickering orange-tinged candlelight, no screams of delight or even fear. It’s nothing more than tiny gangs of over-excited and already over-fed children shepherded by over-indulgent parents, who trudge from orange-stickered house to orange-stickered house hoping to snag a few freebies. And where’s the harm in that?

Many years ago, my mother — a schoolteacher who, by the end of every day was utterly fed up with children of all ages and sizes (including her own) — opened the door to a trio of brave trick-or-treaters. After they’d made their demands, she yelled, ‘This is not America!’ and promptly slammed the door shut. I don’t know who was more shocked, and I was still too young to realise the erroneousness of her statement. Australia may not yet be America, but by God we’re trying our hardest.

So take heart and suck it up. Put those little orange stickers on your front gate – hell, paint the whole thing orange; grab a few pumpkins and relieve your frustrations with the biggest knife you have; buy kilos of chocolate (the cheap kind) so by the time the little darlings get home it’s melted to brown goo; pull a sheet off your bed and wrap yourself in it — not toga-like, of course; this isn’t a Roman orgy. And when you open your door to their sing-song voices and their cherubic smiles, smile back and thank all that is Australian that we haven’t (yet) adopted more outlandish traditions.

If there’s any consolation to be found, it’s this: you may never fully embrace or even enjoy Halloween, but you can be sure your role as the Grinch in upcoming neighbourhood Christmas festivities is already firmly established.

Jane Abbott   

 

Want to read more whinges? Visit Big Bad Words

Richard Flanagan wins the Man Booker Prize 2014

Deep Road to Narrow NorthThe Man Booker Prize for Fiction is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of literary prizes, awarded to an original work written in English and published in the UK. It results in huge acclaim for authors as well as their publishers, with longlisters, shortlisters and the eventual winning novel driving sales and propping the book trade.

While it’s not gone without its share of controversy, perhaps the most notable change to the Man Booker in recent times was its decision to open the competition to any English-writing author of any country (although the restriction of UK publication still remains). Thus the doors were nudged ajar, and this year’s shortlist included Americans Karen Joy Fowler: We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Two-time winner of the Man Booker, Australian Peter Carey, publicly decried the decision, claiming the competition’s ‘cultural flavour’ would be lost.

However he, and everyone else who worried about the encroachment of US writers (who already have access to their own Holy Grail awards, including the Pulitzer and the National Book Award), needn’t have bothered. Did anyone really suppose that these first-chance ‘interlopers’ — despite producing truly wonderful work — would snatch the trophy? The Atlantic may have been bridged, but it’s a long drive between coastlines.

No. This year’s winner, announced last night, is Richard Flanagan (an Australian from down-under-DownUnder) for his astounding and deeply personal novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (published in Australia by Random House Books), which centres on prisoners and their captors in a Japanese POW camp along the Thai-Burma railway. The novel — Flanagan’s sixth — was described by judges as ‘a harrowing account of the cost of war to all who are caught up in it’. Flanagan’s father, a survivor of the Burma railway, died the day Flanagan finished writing the book.

It’s a remarkable win for Flanagan, though not undeserved. He’s the third Australian to have won the award in its 46-year history. Previous Australian laureates are Thomas Keneally and, of course, Peter Carey. Twice. And it does perhaps underscore what all writers know — that even with the backing of prizes like the Man Booker, there are few ‘overnight’ successes, and perseverance does pay. Eventually.

Naturally, it’s already been announced that a new edition of The Narrow Road to the Deep North will be out tomorrow. It’s a great coup, not just for Flanagan and his publishers, but also for bookshops, who are racing to stock their shelves. And it’s a great win for Australian literature — we really do write some great stuff, don’t we?

But for Richard Flanagan — a seemingly unassuming man with a ready smile (who looks an awful lot like fellow Aussie, Clive James) — it’s the great nod all writers look for. Well done, Richard, and congratulations.

The Cringe