If you missed out on attending our popular Creative Non Fiction Festival, we’ve put together a wrap-up of several panels.
First up, the panel on Travel Writing: But Not as You Know It, with Brendan Shanahan, Tim Elliott, Walter Mason and Delia Falconer
In this panel we heard from speakers who took four very different paths to a writing practice that, while geographically focused, does not engage with common travel writing discourse.
When writing about her hometown, Delia Falconer felt she needed to explore Sydney, a city that ‘loves itself,’ in a new way. She found authority to speak in the knowledge accumulated through years of living in the city, these prosaic and everyday details offering a new perspective on an iconic place.
Walter Mason was also drawn to the everyday, his first book evolving from a work about Buddhism in Vietnam to a wider study of Vietnam’s people and their stories. Walter’s exploration extends even to ‘boring places’, because in order to write about a place which appears to offer little on the surface, one must imaginatively or analytically ‘decode what people do there.’ He sees it as his writerly duty to tell of the lives that would just ‘go by the bus window’ if we didn’t share those stories.
Even the most seemingly exotic places are grounded by an awareness of the everyday. Tim Elliott found that working in the poorest country in South America gave him a unique perspective on the continent. A last minute job as an English language journalist in La Paz provided different access to Bolivia – the opportunity to go out and meet new people each day, learning about the country in a way that no traveller could.
Such cultural exploration offers non fiction writers a new perspective on place, in which the halfway worlds neglected by many travel writers are also worthy of being written about. This can even extend to our home places. Brendan Shanahan felt compelled to visit the Gold Coast when he learned of its existence. Its strangeness and the contradiction between a sense of timelessness but also impermanence is something that Brendan puts down to the city being a product of its time, a monument to the lifestyle industry that drove its development.
In the Don’t Look At Us, We’re Hideous; Explaining Australia session Monica Attard, Delia Falconer and Brendan Shanahan explore perceptions of Australia, our culture and society and how we write about our nation.
When Delia wrote Sydney she didn’t want to regurgitate the convict movement and she asked the question – how do you get past the tourist discourse surrounding the city and get under the surface? Finding a new angle was key.
In Brendan’s The Secret Life of the Gold Coast, he writes about the city in an age where lifestyle is a commodity, and he says Australians give ‘lifestyle’ an almost moral dimension. Monica Attard deduces that we see ourselves as sophisticated members of the international community, while the rest of the world sees us as far, far away, with good coffee, great beaches, a lot of crocs and no interesting politics; or when it is interesting it shows us as bogans.
As Australians it seems we’re obsessed with who we are and what we look like but with a “half-arse-ism” approach. We’ve been told we’re both sexist and racist. However, as a group we feel anxious about racial issues and the way we treat others does weigh on our minds, while the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care too much about our actions. Parallel to this is the fact that we have a high rate of inter-racial marriage and just about anyone can sign up to be an Aussie. Our social conscious has come a long way and at the same time has a way to go. We are a country of contradictions and the shift toward globalisation makes our issues more complex. So perhaps we’re not as hideous as we think, and, perhaps sometimes we are…
Phillipa McGuinness, Nadia Saccardo, Alyx Gorman, Wendy Harmer and John van Tiggelen divulged their insider secrets during the How To Seduce An Editor session. Although publishers and editors can receive hundreds of pitches a week and it’s not possible to read them all, there are things you can do to increase your chance of being noticed and even published.
Know the publication or publishing house that you’re pitching to, make sure it’s the right fit for your work. Have an understanding of the ‘voice’ of your chosen publication and read back-issues so you’re familiar with past content – don’t pitch stories or ideas that have had their day.
The panel were after more citizen journalism and reportage so don’t be afraid to get out and ask questions, gather facts and write meatier stories. Of course quality of writing is also fundamental. Build a strong voice and take the time to work on your writing and editing skills. Make sure you put the ‘gold’ up top in your story so it gets read.
The waiting game is hard – don’t give up. A friendly email reminder can be appreciated but try not to phone and put editors on the spot. And remember, it might be good news if you haven’t heard straight away – it’s easy to say no quickly!