Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Emerging Writer's Festival part seven

Hi all,

This is the seventh – yeah I’ve milked my attendance for all its worth – post on the Melbourne’s Emerging Writing Festival, held in the last weeks of May this year. I went to nine sessions over the second weekend. In this post I cover two sessions, the first, Out of the Mouth of Babes, was about writing for someone else and the second was a debate Art Vs Craft.

After the Crashing and Bashing and Smashing Through session, I found myself sitting in the Yarra Room as panellists for the next session set up. I had no idea what the session was about, but having nowhere pressing to go I remained and hoped that science-fiction had been secreted into the programme, but judging by the quarter-filled room, it was more likely to be a session on poetry. Eventually, the moderator announced that it was about ghost-writing and writing for others. I thought they might have something interesting to say so I stayed and listened.

Rhod Ellis-Jones spoke about writing speeches for the lord mayor and other political people. He surprised, when asked by an audience member if he would write a speech about an issue he had opposing views to, by saying that he wouldn’t work for someone who had different views to his.

Matt Davies told us how in awe he was of the front of one of the people whose biography he had ghost written when he saw them on television explaining how difficult it was to write one particular section of the book. Amazingly, Matt seemed content with no one knowing he had written a number of so-called autobiographies.

Adam Rozenbach, a comic who writes for a lot of television programs, said he even wrote for shows he thought were crap.

It was time for lunch and to watch the crowd of gathering angry Indian students in Federation Square. They were protesting about perceived racist violence directed against them.

I was late getting back to the town hall and opened the door of the Yarra Room to see Bugs Bunny standing behind the lectern. Thinking I was about to step into an alternative reality, I watched as Bugs spoke for the art side of the debate. Bugs said that when writing art there is no need to worry about a plot. He used the novel The Road by Cormac McCarthy as an example. It’s about father and son wandering along a road a few years into a nuclear winter. I’ve read The Road and it is more a moment in time than a story where the main character set about achieving some life affirming goal. Besides survival, the father and son’s major goal is getting to the ocean, just to have a look, otherwise they would just sit down and die.

Bugs then ripped his head off revealing poet Nathan Curnow. He sat down, immediately stood back up and argued the craft side. I am not sure which side won.

Elmer Fudd did not follow, instead it was Kirk Marshall. He wrote A Solution to Economic Depression in Little Tokyo, 1953, a 2007 Aurealis-nominated graphic novelette. He spoke rapidly and used lots of academic language, rendering his argument incomprehensible to most of the audience. Somewhere in his stampede of words he probably defined what art and craft were, but I am not sure. He mentioned a letter of compliant against Jonathon Frazen’s award winning novel The Corrections – It’s about the lies four members of a family tell to each other, themselves and the world. The letter writer complained of the lack of story in The Corrections. I found The Corrections engrossing as the lies the family had survived on for years slowly unravelled. From memory, it, like The Road, did not have a central plot where a major goal had to be achieved.

So the main message I was getting was that art based writing paid little attention to plot.

Krissy Kneen, whose memoir Affection, a memoir of Sex, Love, and Intimacy will be published by Text Publishing in August 2009, was the last to speak. She said art without craft is just wankery, but craft without art becomes a template, the same old same old.

I have always leaned more to craft than art, or substance over style. I’m no fan of incomprehensible poetry. The science-fiction novel I am working on has a strong plot. It very much follows the template of the Hero’s Journey, but not by design, that just happened. Originally it was a novella with a hanging ending and the journey only just beginning, but as I expanded it into a novel it started going through the other stages of the Hero’s Journey. Is it also a work of Art? It is for me. As I wrote in an essay for my master of creative writing on the aesthetics of writing: the art worthiness of a piece of writing is decided by those judged to be judges (usually upper class, private educated, white males).

In my last post on the emerging writer’s festival I will cover a session called the Best Way Forward, where writers told us how they succeeded in getting published.


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