For our September First Friday Club, we were lucky enough to be joined by Wenona Byrne, Director of Literature at Australia Council for the Arts. In a conversation led by our Executive Director, Jane McCredie, Wenona shared with us her career journey and insights on the publishing industry. With the deadline for the next round of Australia Council grants fast approaching (3 October 2017), Wenona also shared valuable insider tips with NSW Writers’ Centre members on how to apply for an Australia Council grant. Our Membership Intern, Mia Do, joined the event to catch the key points for those who missed it.
A Literary Career
Having always been involved in creative arts, and with Arts degrees from AFTRS and the University of Sydney, it is no surprise that the now Director of Literature started her career as a writer. Writing mostly for screen, the short drama Wenona directed in 2001, Saturn’s Return, even won the ACCTA’s Award for Best Short Fiction Film.
Now after eleven years working in the publishing industry, Wenona considers herself as having ‘a lucky little career’. Prior to working at Australia Council, Wenona worked closely with many Australians and international authors as Rights Manager at Allen & Unwin. She has also had experience working in literary management.
A Look into the Current State of the Publishing Industry
‘We are a very resilient sector’, Wenona asserted when asked about her outlook on the publishing industry. According to a 2016 Australia Council survey, people still dominantly prefer to read print books, and there is also an increasing trend in listening to audio books among the younger demographic.
Wenona also commented that now is a very good time for Australians to pitch their novels to international markets. ‘Somehow, all of a sudden, the world is starting to appreciate the Australian literary voice,’ she said, referring to the international success of authors such as Richard Flanagan, Christos Tsiolkas and Hannah Kent.
For the members in the audience who held concerns about modern literary festivals, Wenona assured the audience that ‘Not all writers are performers, and that’s alright. Reading a book is still an intimate experience that you have to engage in one-on-one.’
A Wealth of Tips (on Applying for Grants)
When preparing to apply for an Australia Council grant, Wenona suggests applicants ask themselves five key questions:
1. ‘Have I gotten at least a little bit of a track record?’ Your application is more likely to be approved if you’ve already had some previous work published, be it short stories or journal articles. ‘The Council shouldn’t be the first stop if you’ve just started out,’ said Wenona.
2. ‘Do I have a clear idea of what I want to achieve with my project?’ Ask yourself: why? Why should this work be published and why is this book important now?
3. ‘What funds will I need for my project?’ Wenona encouraged applicants to always be clear and realistic about the budget for their projects. Also, if you plan to collaborate with others for the project, state clearly how the money would be divided.
4. ‘Am I able to demonstrate how I will carry out the project?’ Make a detailed plan on how you will achieve your goals in terms of time and logistics. Be extra careful when dealing with topics you haven’t personally experienced, for example, when writing about different cultures.
5. ‘What could be improved?’ If your application is unsuccessful, this is the question to ask yourself. ‘It can feel quite emotional to fail,’ Wenona acknowledged, ‘but there’s always next time and there’s always feedback.’
The Australia Council grants are open to arts workers across all platforms and sectors. For writers, there are two main types of grants available: development grants and art project grants. As both grant streams have different assessment criteria attached to them, deciding which grant best suits you is the first step to applying. The Development Grants for Individuals and Groups offers funding between $5,000 and $25,000 to support a range of activities that benefit the career of an individual or group. The Arts Projects for Individuals and Groups Grants are specifically aimed at supporting activities that benefit the arts sector and wider public, such as development of a new work or project – funding ranges from $10,000 to $50,000. There are also Fellowships (there is only one round each year for this category) and International Residencies (for writers planning to spend time doing some ‘field work’ e.g. studying another culture for writing materials).