The First Friday Club is a monthly event at the NSW Writers’ Centre, free and exclusive to Centre members. Each month a new guest speaker from the writing industry, be they author, editor, publisher or journalist, joins the club for a group conversation about writing.
For April’s First Friday Club Delia Falconer and Bronwyn Mehan joined us to discuss anthologies and their place in Australian literature. Delia Falconer is the author of two acclaimed novels and the editor of a number of anthologies, including the Penguin Book of the Road and Best Australian Stories 2008/2009. She also heads the student-run Writers’ Anthology at the University of Technology, Sydney. Bronwyn Mehan is the editor of Spineless Wonders, a small press devoted to short, quality fiction produced by Australian writers. They publish a range of forms including short story, novella, micro-fiction, prose poetry and, anthologies.
Both Delia and Bronwyn compared the editor’s role in an anthology to that of a curator. An anthology, they agreed, could be likened to an art exhibition. An editor, in many ways, must abandon their taste in order to create a collection of diverse and interesting works. In this sense, an editor can struggle between the desire to select the very best writing, the most polished, and the desire to include a range of pieces—works that experiment in form, theme, language and genre. One element of anthologies that excites Delia is the way in which they give works a new life.
Next on the agenda was themed versus open anthologies. Delia spoke of the freedom of editing an open anthology, as well as the excitement of, as a writer, having to write to a theme; of knowing your story has a home. As an experienced editor of themed collections including Stoned Crows and Other Australian Icons and Escape, Bronwyn Mehan sees each edition of Spineless Wonders as an invitation to writers to take a genre and write about what’s happening now. Both Delia and Bronwyn agreed a themed anthology is always an exciting challenge for a writer, sparking creativity through added constraint.
The discussion also touched on the future of print publishing and the problem of discoverability for collections put together by small presses. An audience member suggested that the short story as a form, along with the rise of e-books, could have a renaissance, that as a mode of reading it fits more and more with our busy urban life-styles. Bronwyn dubbed it ‘the commuter read’.
Bronwyn rounded out the morning by defining Spineless Wonders publications and other anthologies as essential platforms for showcasing short fiction—a form that has been left behind by many Australian readers. She suggested that Australians have been writing great short stories since Lawson and Baynton, and they deserve to be read. It’s not only Americans and Brits who can write great short stories!
The next First Friday Club will be held on Friday 2nd May. Program Officer Portia Lindsay will be in conversation with book industry all-rounder Lex Hirst, editor at Random House Australia specialising in digital first romance novels, and Co-Director of the National Young Writers’ Festival, Australia’s leading festival for young writers.
By Emily Brugman