Archive for australian newspaper

The Australian ‘right’ club strikes again

Posted in news regurgitation, rare political comment, writing with tags , , , , , , on May 6, 2012 by jason nahrung

queensland literary awards logoAnother day, another nose at the Australian newspaper stuck up the arse of Queensland’s new autocrat, Campbell Newman. Those boys are really enjoying Newman’s slaying of the literary dragon, in his cancellation of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards.

This time (in yesterday’s Weekend Australian) it’s Ross Fitzgerald sinking the boot, lambasting writing festivals — or at least a selection of them — for not paying attention to the nation’s up-and-comers; for not selling enough books; for making those garretted writers get out and talk about their work to the faintly curious, non-buying masses.

There are good points he makes about how writers are perceived to have to operate to make a buck. Some enjoy meeting readers, some do not; some like rubbing shoulders with their peers, others do not. Are festivals a cost-effective way to invest in a country’s literary industry? But he’s taken the Newman approach to a problem: if it’s not working, or perceived to be working, don’t fix it; axe it. That’ll learn’em!

If the Australian‘s editor, Chris Mitchell, is right, none of it matters anyway for the young, emerging writers: if they’re ‘good’ enough, those young guns will find their market. Ta-dah!

Fitzgerald wails about a ‘sloppy’ schedule at the Sydney Writers Festival that means he can’t see two people he’d like to — unfortunate, but, you know, diddums. I think he’s right, though, to question the audience the marquee festivals target — he could’ve also mentioned the prices most marquee festivals charge for admission that must impact on the money people are willing to spend on books, for instance, and indeed how many panels and events they can attend.

He questions the validity of foreign writers on the program, but that’s more problematic. Should no one here be interested in how others perceive the world — one of the reasons people read, one would think; those who don’t read selectively to have their world view reinforced, at least. Bob Katter’s book should sell well up Queensland way, for both reasons.

Fitzerald decries the Sydney festival giving Katter and Kevin Rudd a platform — we’ve heard enough from them surely, he suggests. Thing is, maybe we haven’t. Maybe the people who buy their books are looking for something behind the media veneer and pointed headlines. Maybe these pollies have just the same right for consideration to have their written opinions heard and discussed as any other scribe. Maybe.

Fitzgerald doesn’t talk about the Emerging Writers Festival, or the National Young Writers Festival. Genre events don’t get a look in. As Fitzgerald notes, being on a festival program is one of few ways a writer might hope to attract some mainstream media attention, but even then, good luck with that: unless you are someone like Katter, or Rudd, or maybe an award winner, say, a Vogel award winner.

Fitzgerald doesn’t note that the marquee festivals spread their net widely, relying on the headliners to draw an audience that, one hopes, will stay for a taste of the up-and-comers also on the program — a program that, again, hopefully, will work to provide them with that hard-to-get exposure. Exposure by osmosis, not just in front of an audience but in the green room, too.

A recent lit fest I attended was Adelaide Writers Week: I came away with a bag of books and knowledge of two Aussie debut novelists I’d never heard of before; one has just been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. A connection has been made. The festival panels were free; grazing was encouraged. Schmoozing was enabled. The signing queues were long. One book I wanted to get had sold out.

Fitzgerald and others decry the rewards given to established writers who, apparently, don’t deserve them, having already made their mark and achieved, presumably, some kind of self-sufficiency, and call for greater focus on the emerging writers — hear hear! — but yet fail to acknowledge that Newman’s applauded stroke has taken out two valuable, career-starting awards for emerging Queensland writers. And surely a university professor like Fitzgerald would have some opinion on Newman scratching the nation’s only prize for science writing. Nah.

Few have talked about the way in which Newman raced to kill off the awards, leaving Queensland the only state without such a program. A unilateral decision that left his Arts minster blowing in the wind like a dag on a sheep’s arse, her standing in tatters before she’d even been sworn in.

Unhappy with last year’s awards decisions, looking to save a buck, Newman’s answer was to scratch the whole thing. Not cut back on the cash, or maybe roll some awards together, which given the economic times most folks would’ve understood. Just kill’em off, taking with them the emerging writers manuscript prize and the David Unaipon award: two rare opportunities for starting writers (not necessarily young ones, mind!) to get a leg up.

How important is an award, really? Well, yesterday at the Williamstown Literary Festival, a panelist speaking to a packed room on ‘the path to publication’ told how she had been shortlisted — shortlisted, not won — for the Vogel award. The award is, ironically, supported by the Australian: yes, the paper celebrates the death of two such awards while sponsoring another, age-restricted one — the word you’re looking for is hypocrisy. Anyway, this writer was shortlisted for the Vogel and it was, combined with her CV of short stories and articles, sufficient springboard to establish a fledgling career in the literary industry.

Anyhow, the Queensland Literary Awards, set up by the writing community to replace the government’s, has extended its submission deadline until May 20. University of Queensland Press has continued its support of the emerging writers and Unaipon prize. A leg up for those with the ‘right’ stuff.

  • To find out more about the issue, see Queensland Writers Centre‘s list of links to some of the conversation about Newman’s action.
  • Calendar of Australian literary festivals
  • Campbell Newman, subsidised arts and the popular vote

    Posted in awards, news regurgitation, rare political comment, writing with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2012 by jason nahrung

    Sadly, today’s editorial in the Australian doesn’t surprise. Had it not been self-published, an editor would’ve have a field day cutting out the tired old tropes. The piece shows as little awareness of the reality of publishing in Australia, I can’t help but wonder if the editor was a board member of Borders.

    Good on Campbell Newman for cancelling the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. They deserved it. How dare they short-list a bio from that terrorist David Hicks? What do they think this is: a democracy?

    Scary stuff, literature, especially that high-falutin’ stuff that goes to pains to use big, fancy words and literary balderdash to criticise and question today’s society and the people who run it.

    First ones against the wall, that lot.

    ‘If (Newman) restores the awards in future, as he has hinted, he would do well to ensure they reward the best-quality writing, including that which appeals to the broader public.’

    What is clear from the editorial is that the editor has fallen for the PR from his own circulation department and believes that quantity is a measure of quality. He hasn’t eaten at McDonald’s lately, it appears. See, books aren’t one size fits all. It’s what makes them such an interesting product to try to market. There’s no accounting for taste. Clearly, the work of the Qld Premier’s Lit Awards hasn’t been to the editor’s taste, nor that of the LNP. Tough.

    As Nick Earls said in his response to the axing:

    While I’ve had little personal reason to love the Premier’s Literary Awards, I’ve been glad they’ve been there.

    It might not be my cup of tea, either, but I don’t doubt for a second that it’s important. Just as important as the popular fiction that I write. Maybe even more important, at certain levels.

    I wouldn’t mind if someone was throwing cash awards around for the stuff I write. Hey, here’s an idea. How about the Oz step up, take the editor’s philosophy and run with it. Out with the old men like Patrick White, a recent front-page feature of the Oz’s venerable lit pages, and in with the popular fiction. The crime, the romance, the YA. Dare I suggest, the horror? And before the movie gets made. That’d be a bonus.

    ‘Newer writers will also build loyal readerships, if they are good enough,’ the Oz says.

    Define good enough. And then tell me how they build that readership. I would’ve thought the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards with sections for unpublished manuscript and unpublished Indigenous manuscript was a perfect avenue for that new writer to be noticed. It’s back to the table outside the local bookstore, huh?

    Maybe the Oz can up the Vogel to remove the age restriction — after all, those young guns have got an entire lifetime ahead of them in which to make their career – if they’re ‘good’ enough. Maybe the Logies can add a book category and the Oz can print the ballot. Twilight for the win.

    Here we sit in 2012 still arguing about what makes a great read, and how to recognise the practitioners who provide it. The bean counters still treat books like tins of pineapple and tell us homegrown or imported, it doesn’t matter.

    The Oz is appalled at writers, and artists in general, sucking on the public tit. This ‘vocal minority’ should be standing on its own economic two feet.

    That’s an interesting precedent to set, isn’t it? No seed funding for industry, is what it amounts to. No subsidy for innovative new tech. Government-funded apprenticeships? You want a library? Better start charging admission and rental fees. Reading’s a luxury, after all, not a right. You want an oval? Build it and maintain it yourself — stand on your own two feet. If you build it, they will come.

    In a separate article in the same day’s Oz, the comment is made that Campbell isn’t planing to cut other government awards, not even for drama. I guess there’s something appealing about taking one’s lobbyists and business pals out to see a show, maybe do some deals in the intermission. No, he’s singled out the lit awards, and why?

    Because he knows that the ‘vocal minority’ that is the country’s writers don’t have a lot of support in the wider community. Not even in newspaper offices where economic rationalism reigns, and the idea of a good read starts at the back of the paper, where ‘good’ is measured by dollar signs. Campbell’s looking for easy money to bolster a bottom line, hoping those pennies he loves so much will become pounds. What a bleak hole he’s digging for Queenslanders.

  • The Queensland Writers Centre has compiled a great list of responses to Campbell’s axing of the awards. The centre has taken a very reasonable, proactive approach to the debacle. You can plug into it here.

    And there’s this thoughtful piece from TLC Books about just what lit awards offer, and why they’re good things to have, both for the community and for writers.

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