01 September 2008

My sessions at the Writers' Festival

I booked for five sessions, but because of a family crisis ended up missing one. Still, four isn't too bad.

The first of the sessions I attended was on creating worlds -- I was particularly looking forward to hearing Margo Lanagan speak, as I love her short stories, particularly the sublime "Singing my sister down". If there is one short story I wish I had written, that has to be it. This was a good session, except that a fair portion of the time was spent in writer readings, which I'm not a big fan of. I'd rather read the book myself, and have the extra time hearing the writers talk about their craft or their processes. I caught up with my friend Ellen, who I was meant to be spending the afternoon and attending an earlier session with but, regrettably, that was the session I missed.

The next weekend I had three sessions.

My second session was on love. Now, there was a separate session on the philosophy of love, so I was expecting this one to be on the craft of love scenes, but it wasn't. It had a philosophical bent and included the love of writing as a major component. I love how I go along to these sessions, and they're often different to what I'm expecting. Some (a few) disappoint, and some are unexpected gems. This was one of the latter. 

My third session was two writers (David Malouf and Michelle de Kretser) talking about the books they loved as kids: the books that inspired them. This also involved readings, but readings of passages from other authors that they loved, and I really enjoyed hearing them talk with such passion and enthusiasm. What I didn't enjoy as much was the introduction by the past editor of a highly esteemed literary magazine (which I won't name) who talked about the uselessness of writing courses. His take was they don't work, and he's in a position to tell because graduates of these courses used to send him stories, and most of these stories were unpublishable in his magazine. Okay, that predisposes that most of graduates want to write that kind of story. Most of our writers are not writing literary fiction, and really why would I encourage them to if it's not their passion? At book length, it's not as marketable as mainstream or genre fiction -- and, interestingly, in a conversation I was having with a book publisher last year, she told me how great it was that we had such strong stories coming out of our course. So, yes, publish in a lit mag with an erudite but low readership, or publish more widely to a less-educated audience? I have nothing against literary fiction -- I think there are some brilliant lit stories out there -- but I do believe that writers should write what they like reading -- I've had other writer friends who were doing courses receive low grades on genre fiction stories that ended up being published and winning awards. What a shame they weren't writing "literature" -- we have no such snobbery. This isn't to say that perhaps the said graduates hadn't done their research, but then there are always the people who send off something inappropriate anyway, but have it picked up because an editor wants to try something new. Go figure. Okay, rant over.

My fourth session was a reading. Let me fall over right now, because I never normally book in for readings, but this was a poetry reading, and I particularly wanted to hear one of the poets. I won't add details, but it's someone who's highly esteemed, and I don't get why. And, really, this didn't change my mind. I don't get it. All right, I don't get it. So, it was worthwhile going just for that... But I did enjoy the readings (most of them) anyway.

I must say the move to Fed Square has me looking forward to next year's festival!

1 comment:

Sherryl said...

Funny how the people who carry on about how useless writing courses are are the ones who have never taught in them, and know nothing about what we teach. Also strange that said editor had, for quite some time, a fiction editor who has taught successfully in many writing courses. Wonder if he ever told her she was wasting her time?