Life / Writing

Sydney Writers Festival 2012 – Thursday

Today was the  first day I managed to get down to this year’s Sydney Festival was today and sadly due to work commitments, I could only make 2 sessions.  Sydney turned on an absolutely beautiful day which was enjoyed by participants as they walked from session to session at Walsh Bay.

 I got there late due to work so watched my first session from the cool Viewing Lounge that the Festival had set up for sessions that filled up and still had people who wanted to listen. 

Session:  Am I Black Enough for You

The first session I attended was the always fabulous Anita Heiss talking about her memoir  “Am I Black Enough for You?”.  Anita talked to Anne Summers about her childhood, her family, religion and the challenges of being an educated Indigenous Woman. 

The discussion turned to the way your Heritage and Identity can be dictated to you by others based on the colour of your skin.  Well, at least they can try.  Anita asked the audience, how many of them have parents from other countries who consider themselves Australian rather than half.  It was an eye opening response.

Naturally the Bolt case came up, not surprising given it was the Bolt case that served as the catalyst for her memoir.  For those of you unfamiliar, “journalist” Andrew Bolt cast dispersions on the heritage of not only Anita but several others, claiming they were essentially making up their Indigenous status to suit their professional or personal lives.  Long story short, they take him to court, he loses. 

One of the most moving parts of the session was when Anita recounted the humiliation of being required to defend who she is.  Her voice broke as she asked what other group is required to do so.  She’s right and it’s appalling.

Anita was disappointed not to be able to tell her side of the story.  She wasn’t called because once she turned up and the other side actually got a good look at her they realised they couldn’t sell their claims about her not really having an Indigenous heritage.  Anita is a beautiful, well educated and well presented woman with a wicked sense of humour and a huge smile.  She is also clearly black. 

But really in the end, why should that matter?  I grew up a white child in a middle class white neighbourhood.  Yet my childhood home was filled with friends of all nationalities and colours.  A person’s skin colour was irrelevant and we  embraced the food, the customs and the variety of everyone.  Until I moved away, I didn’t realise how bad this problem was.  And I was horrified.  Anita’s fight is just one of many.  Since the case she’s been subjected to some pretty vile racial abuse, most recently on the Random House Website. 

Why, in this multi-cultural country is the colour of a person’s skin still an issue? I find it baffling.

If you’d like to know more about Anita and her other works, you can find her here or check out her blog

Session:  So You think You Can Write

The next session I attending was the Pitch Session “So You think You can Write”.  It’s probably my favourite session in the festival.  Wannabe authors get the chance to stand up and present a 3 minute pitch to members of the Publishing Community. This year’s judges were:  Nikki Christer (Random House), Philippa McGuiness (NewSouth Publishing) and Louise Adler (Melbourne University Publishing).  The always hilarious Lenny Ann Low was the Chair who kept everything going and tried to make sure everyone had an equal chance of being picked.

The pitching room is the coolest one in the festival.  Every year they have the coolest lights.  Last year it was bird cages.  This year appropriately it was books.

Every year I am amazed at people who just turn up and give it a go.  Then again, I’m also amazed at the ones who have been before, who have heard the feedback and yet still don’t have a clear pitch outlining who the story is aimed at (their market), the theme or key elements of the story or even who the protagonist is. 

Still, this lack of preparedness does sometimes make for an interesting session and the rest of us get to learn a lot.

The pitches included:

  • Ella with a fantastic idea on World Builders aimed at a younger audience.  Her story idea was fantastic but the judges agreed her pitche meandered to the degree that the key elements of the story were lost which was a shame.  She did have fantastic energy though which was in her favour.  It made me wonder how a shy, introverted writer would fare.
  • Travis was a well spoken 16yo with an intersting pitch on a murder set in the Egyptian tombs.  His story was likely still at the idea stage and the judges recommended that he work on the crime elements, work out who his protagonist was, how the puzzle would be solved.  They also noted that Crime sells best as a series so they told him to come up with several good plots featuring the same protagonist (for example the forensic anthropologist he mentioned).  I found that quite interesting as other genres such as Fantasy tell you not to rely on there being a trilogy.  The key of course to Crime writing is really understanding that world.  If you are featuring a forensic anthropologist and you aren’t one yourself, you need to be very very good friends with one.  The other interesting fact that came out of this pitch was that Scandinavian crime is really big right now, which isn’t really a surprise.  But if you are a writer of Scandi Crime, now is your moment!
  • Maree was a very stylish older lady with a cool silver pixie cut.  She had everyone from the start, and she’d been pretty determined to get her chance in the limelight. Maree’s story starts in Ireland and moves to Australia with everything from sex, vegetables and assorted sausage meats (which may or may not have been part of the sex), amnesia, a mystery and possibly a dodgy husband.  Her pitch, while not the mos concise, was hilarious and she had the whole room entertained.  The panel loved it.  She was advised to lose the backstory and start it from the woman losing a whole day (which I agreed with wholeheartedly) but in the end Maree was the day’s winner – the only prize being bragging rights.

There is tremendous variety in the pitches from genre to content.  To give you an idea some of the other pitches included some gritty urban poetry (hard to sell), a Horticulturalist with an idea but no clear direction on what he was selling,  A self-help/memoir on betrayal and infidelity (pick one, is it a memoir or self help), a kids book about a bubble who eventually gets too big and heavy (happens to the best of us) , the memoirs of a Mining Geologist (are you selling a view of history or a memoir?  hard to sell either for someone not already famous)  and an American girl who’s blog became an e-book and now she wants to publish as a book of short stories.  Her stories are funny but confronting and she was advised that Short Stories are hard to sell.

It was a great session and I learned a lot.  Can’t wait to see what next year brings!  Hopefully by the time I am brave enough to pitch, mine will be well-prepared.  Either that or I’ll talk so fast that I’ll be finished in 1 minute instead of 3.

Pitch in Progress

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