31 August 2008

Melbourne Writers' Festival at Federation Square

The last two weekends, I've been attending the Melbourne Writers' Festival at Federation Square in the city (Melbourne). This is the festival's first year at Fed Square, and I've had some debate with writer friends about whether we think it will be a better or worse venue than the Malthouse Theatre, which is where the festival's been held in the past.

I've been firmly in the camp that it will be a much better venue, for two reasons: commuting and space. The trouble with the Malthouse is trying to get a park -- hard enough in itself, but trying to get one for any length of time... More than once I've missed part of a session because I was out moving my car, joining the half a dozen other sharks doing the circle, looking for spots. And as for space, the Malthouse between sessions was sardine city. Literally, pushing through people to breathe, let alone move.

Fed Square means I can catch a train in, because parking in the city -- well, forget about it. It can be done, but be one minute over (or three as my husband found out the other day) and you'll find yourself ticketed.

So, what have I found? Fed Square is certainly more spacious, with more seating in the theatres, and a choice of coffee shops and, as a bonus, a second-hand book sale as well as the festival book shop. What I hadn't expected though was the fragmented feel. A lot of the people at Fed Square aren't there as part of the festival, and festival goers are spread all around the place. I can't even tell who's a festival goer and who's not. It's meant that I've felt far less sense of community, and I think that sense of community is something we all need. It's probably something I have more than many writers because I'm teaching writing and surrounded in my day job, therefore, by writers. And because I belong to two writers groups I'm mixing with writers outside my work hours as well. Over the years, I've gradually whittled away most of my non-writer friends -- something that saddens me, but that's just how it is. Given the choice of shopping with the girls and working on my novel, sorry, but the novel's going to win out every time.

But even so, my writing life can feel a bit insular. Attending writers festivals gives a broader picture -- small fish in a big sea stuff. Usually, at the MWF, I see a number of people I know -- people I've done courses with or been students with or whom I've met through other writers. This year I saw only two (other than my friend Ellen, who'd I'd organised to go with): Kate Eltham, Clarion organiser extraordinaire and representative of the Qld Writers' Centre, and Kathy, one of our students, but not one I'm teaching. It was lovely to catch up (no matter how briefly) with them both. 

So, better venue or not? I'm currently undecided. But my loathing of the parking at the Malthouse is such that I've often chosen not to attend, whereas now I'm much more excited about going back next year. Perhaps that's all I need to reflect on!

08 August 2008

The hardest but most important word for writers

I'm one of those people who hate saying No to people, so I hate it when people come asking for favours. Often it's because I work part-time -- so obviously I have a lot of free time on my hands. I don't. I'm currently teaching 0.6, but have taken on an online subject, which I guess makes me 0.8. When I was 0.4, my husband reckoned I did the same work as a full-time worker, which some weeks would be an over-exaggeration, but on marking weeks would be an under-exaggeration. I go to a writing group one afternoon a week and have stuff I have to do for them. I have home commitments (as most of us do), and writing commitments. Other people don't get that.

Writing commitments -- what are they? Surely, writing is that stuff you squeeze into your spare time -- and other people see their pulls on my time as more important than anything squeezed into spare time. Sorry, but they're not. Today, I had an email from someone who wanted me to look over a chunk of manuscript. Writing related, sure, but I had to say no. It made me feel rotten -- truly -- but I'm not getting enough time for my novel at the moment, and that *has* to be my priority. 

For others, other people (or tasks) demand time for less writerly reasons. It might be the neighbour -- whose concerns and needs are genuine. It might be a mother or father, a cousin or aunt. It might be the man in the butcher's shop, or the girl you see by the lake. In the end it's up to us: we have to decide whether we want to write or not. 

A few years ago, Robin Hobb spoke at a Melbourne SF convention. In her Guest of Honour speech she said something along the lines of: you will never have more time to write than now. If you put off your writing until you retire, or until your neighbour moves out or whatever, you won't write because there will always be new demands on your time. If I got nothing else out of that con, it was worth going just to hear that. It's one of the great truths of writing. Write it down and stick it by your computer and then think about what you want to be at the end of day. Do you want to be a writer or not? If you do, you need to make time, not excuses.