Beginning as a one-day zine fair in 2004, the Emerging Writers Festival has expanded to ten days of events, workshops, panel discussions and gala nights, as well as digital events using the #ewf13 hashtag — and it all begins next week!

I’m very excited to be a part of two events this year: hosting a masterclass on The Business of Being a Writer, as well as the Signal Express Young Writers’ Program for under 25s on freelance writing and publishing.

Before it all kicks off, I asked new Director Sam Twyford-Moore a few questions about this year’s program.

How was the experience of putting together the program – your first as Director?

It was incredibly exciting. I’ve worked with running events before but never to this size and with this many writers involved. It’s a huge program and hugely ambitious – but that’s Emerging Writers’ Festival. It’s been interesting to come in as Director for the tenth festival also, because it’s an occasion to celebrate and there was a need to honour the festival too, so we’re bringing back a lot of festival favourites and really engaging with our alumni from the last ten years – Rebecca Giggs, Jeff Waters, Jennifer Mills, Benjamin Law are returning, but there a lot of new names too.

EWF has a noted emphasis on digital spaces and social media, how will the festival unfold online this year?

This year we’re launching our first ever storytelling app, ‘The Unfinished Phrase’, which is part exquisite corpse, part Twitter aggregator – we’ve decided to launch it at the end of the festival so there’s something people can use to carry on the conversations they’ve had during the festival. Just because the festival is over doesn’t mean the writing stops. We’re also busy working on a Digital Showbag, which I can’t say too much about, but I think is going to be very exciting.

The title of the program launch this year was ‘The Discomfort Zone.’ Why did you choose this theme?

The Discomfort Zone was an attempt to get writers to challenge themselves, to write outside of their normal genre. So we had comedian Luke Ryan reading a very serious sci-fi story (actually a manuscript he had written when he was fourteen called Love Shall Sustain Me), the acclaimed novelist Toni Jordan writing poetry for the first time ever, graphic novelist Nicki Greenberg writing a cookbook and, my personal favourite in terms of discomfort, the childrens and young adult writer Andrew McDonald writing erotica. The whole point of this, while very funny, was to show writers that some of their most creative work will come when they test their limits.

Which events are you most excited about?

I’m really excited about the keynote by Astrid Lorange on opening night and the Sweatshop Stories event, which has been made possible by the support of the University of Western Sydney. We’re bringing seven writers down from the Sweatshop Collective, who are just the most dynamic and interesting collection of writers in this country. I mean, this was the description for the event they sent me: “Welcome to the sweatshops of Western Sydney, where every Aussie gets a fair go. Pockets are full and guns are empty. There are no racists here. No misogynists and no homophobes. Where the Wogs rule and the Anglos have assimilated.” It’s got me interested.

The Writers’ Conference is always hugely popular and is the place to go to get the most up to date conversations about writing. Emerging Q&A returns bigger and better than ever, with Benjamin Law doing his best Tony Jones impression as host. Turn The Music Up Loud is our chance to rock out – with Dave Graney and Angie Hart – talking about their work in both music and writing and how one might inform the other, that’s going to be a terrifically exciting night.

You’ve added several masterclasses this year – tell me about this addition to the program.

EWF has always tried to cater for as many kinds of writers as possible, and to capture as many genres. It’s a tall order, but we’ve managed to do it this year through some really exciting new partnerships with Poetry Australia, MTC, ACMI and VCA – who are all supporting us to expand the workshop program. Our event at ACMI is particularly exciting, with three screenwriters presenting parts of their work and then discussing them. I don’t know if popcorn will be available, but it’s really exciting that EWF is going to the movies!

One of the smaller workshops is just focusing on performing and presenting your work aloud – writing is increasingly being associated with public speaking, with either a performance element expected, or the writer being expected to front up as a public intellectual. I mean this is what the Writers’ Festivals are asking writers, but I don’t think writers are getting enough support to do this – we’re expecting them to show up and just be ready, but they don’t have training in this. So the performance workshop is definitely there to think about that.

This year’s line up includes an Abbottsford Convent program on the second weekend of the festival.  How did the idea come about for a second intensive weekend in addition to the Town Hall writers conference?

This grew pretty naturally soon after I came in as Director and was sort of the first big decision in programming. I wanted to provide a bit of a peaceful space for writers in the second weekend after the intensity of the Writers Conference and I also wanted to try and move the festival out of the Melbourne CBD for part of the festival, and see if we could travel. The Abbotsford Convent were really receptive to the idea of us coming out there, and so the programming kind of came out of responding to those beautiful spaces and grounds. There’s nothing like it and we’re so excited to be there. The wellbeing focus grew out of that, but also thinking about what support writers need. We’ve been great at providing professional development, but for me that’s only one part of the writing life. I wanted to kind of investigate some strategies for keeping writers healthy – mentally and physically – and so I think we’ve come up with a very unique program quite unlike what you would normally expect from a writers festival. I mean, I can’t wait to see what people think of the writing and yoga workshop.

You’ve got a session to welcome interstate guests — why did you feel this was important?

I’m originally from Sydney and I came down to the last two festivals, and you know, it’s a very long way to come. It’s really a big investment in their writing careers and I want to recognise the contribution that interstate guests make by attending the festival – they’re incredibly important to us and we want to make sure that we’re supporting them during their stay.

Melbourne isn’t a difficult place to get to know, but we want to have information ready about the location of our events for interstaters – we’re really spreading our reach this year and want to make it as easy to get around as possible. It’d be great if we could have some very simple instructions on Mykis!

The festival is being launched this year by Astrid Lorange — tell me about her work. 

Astrid is just amazing. She lives and breathes writing in this incredibly embodied way and I really wanted to put her in front of a big audience. Her biography in the program kind of captures it all, “Poet, researcher, teacher, essayist, home brewer, band member, small press aspirant, part-time book indexer, relational enthusiast.” She also gets the idea that emerging isn’t a funding category, it’s a state of being – and in creative practice the best state to be in. I’ve no doubt that her keynote will reflect this looking at the next ten years of writing in Australia, because Australia is emerging in this really interesting way on a planetary stage, and – no pressure on Astrid – but I think it’s really going to help the Emerging Writers’ Festival and emerging writers think about the next ten years.

— The Emerging Writers’ Festival runs from May 23rd to June 2nd in Melbourne. You can view the full listing of events here

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Peter Fray
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