Sydney’s writing scene is often as maligned as its pubs. Four young writers handpicked by the New South Wales Writer’s Centre talk about the difficulties and opportunities associated with promoting their work in a city charged with literary lack. Whilst the majority of Sydney would have been in party preparations with the numerous sporting events happening over the Labour Day long weekend; the NSW Writers Centre sponsored four brilliant and very talented artists from Sydney to be on a panel at the National Young Writers Festival (NYWF).
Jess Bellamy (Playwriter); William Kostakis (Sydney Morning Herald – Young Writer of the Year); Jessie Cox (Emerging Artist and Co-Producer of the story-telling segment on FBI radio) and Peta Murphy (Young writer and tutor) gave their views on What Sydney Scene?
The event was scheduled at 4pm on Saturday afternoon at the Royal Exchange, 34 Bolton Street, Newcastle East. What started out as a beautiful warm morning with the sun shining, by midday had changed dramatically. It turned into a distinctive Melbourne day, overcast and raining. Yet the rain didn’t deter anyone. The small cosy space at the Exchange made it perfect for the 40 plus audience to stay warm and close, creating a vibrant atmosphere and inviting interaction with the panel.
When we think of Melbourne, we all acknowledge it is known for its remarkably buzzing creative life and arts scene. In turn the city is strongly supported by the Victorian Government and its communities, which ensures that the established culture keeps humming and continues to prosper into the artistic capital of Australia. William Kostakis published his first novel at 19. “When I first released my book, I was read and taken in more by Melbourne readers than I was in Sydney, and I was from here.” William’s comment sparked the long debate. Sam Twyford-Moore from the NSW Writer’s Centre who facilitated the discussion asked the panel “So we all say it and decide which one – Melbourne or Sydney? Is Sydney trying to copy Melbourne?” Jessica Bellamy commented: “There is definitely more support in Melbourne for theatre production as there are many more small theatres in Melbourne. There are not a lot of spaces in Sydney. However, in Sydney if you be patient and stick at it, you can last a long time in the business.”
The panel conversed strongly about the differences between the two cities, but I believe Jessie Cox hit it in everyone’s mind when he explained what we, as artists, should be doing and applying. “We have to look at a whole range of factors. We have to take ideas from everywhere and apply them to our city and make it our own. We can’t just take lane way bars from Melbourne and bike lanes from Copenhagen and shove it in Sydney. Our job is to explore these ideas and find which ones fit and are specific to our place, and make it unique to us.”
So what is it like to be a writer in Sydney? The room filled with laughter when William said, “If I type ‘writer friends’ in Google– it just doesn’t work!” However, it emphasised the difficulties and frustrations surrounding writers to find a community where they fit. Jessie said, “There is a feeling of branding occurring” and Peta Murphy added that she feels like she is pigeon-holed as a writer from the poorer community of Greater Western Sydney. “I don’t want to claim myself as a writer, if I do, it is looked amongst my peers as ‘oh look at you, aren’t you smart, you’re a writer!’”
Jessie opened up about some of his personal experiences. “Finding and accessing the community is much harder to find in Sydney. But it is really rewarding to you, when you find it. It is certainly becoming less hidden.” Jessica added “To be a writer today has changed, you can’t be just good at writing, you need to look at the business side. You need to be networking and social/likeable amongst peers.” Rebecca Giggs from the audience (Writer/Poet and lecturer), commented that she is from WA and writers are classified as artists. Yet in Sydney they seem to be classified as intellectuals. This comment directed the panel into the discussion of the misconceptions that communities have about writers. There is this perception from peers in the community that writers have this ‘wanker – I am highly educated, too cool for school’ status. However, this could not be further from the truth. It is because of these perceptions that occur that writers are deterred from opening up and meeting people.
The panel were incredibly passionate on this topic and gave the following advice: William said “Your voice and experiences matter. Your experiences aren’t lesser than anyone else’s, no matter where you come from.” Followed by Jessie powerfully saying, “Take off your mask and approach people as people. Coming out as a creative person. Legitimizing yourself as a writer. Just chat to people. Be open to a stranger and talk, just have a conversation a cup of tea or beer with someone.” “ You need to be writing and writing. Practice, put yourself out there. Trust yourself as a writer, be proud it’s what you do and your glad to do it.” – Jessica.
So where is Sydney now? “Sydney people are very driven and are doing. People’s attitudes are changing. We are bouncing ideas off each other and growing. We are not waiting for grants or someone to tell us it’s ok to do it, we are finding a means to do it” – Jessie. The panel discussed the changes occurring in the city, for example the Sydney Fringe Festival that is in its second year, has gained so much more awareness and momentum this year than last; the shift and focus on late night events in the museums/art galleries and most importantly people and communities are telling each other their ideas, then finding the means necessary to follow it through. If we look at these changes happening, we can see a wonderful substance has been created in Sydney, taking the city above and beyond the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. “Young people in Sydney are doing great stuff, because they are working together, collaborating with each other and sharing resources which are making it thrive.” – Jessie.
After seeing many events during the festival, this by far stood out as the most invigorating and lively discussion. With a small population of 22.5 million, it can be quite intimidating compared to Europe with a population of 857 million and the United States of 312 million. However, the Australian creative arts is wildly growing, and after speaking to several people in the audience, they all had a sense of relating to these artists and were inspired to create something; to explore the world and the different countries it has to offer, so that when we bring our knowledge back home, we can build something and make it our own, rather than copy something – we be different and not scared to follow through with our dreams as you never know where they will lead.
— Ashleigh Powell