Monday musings on Australian literature: ACT Writers Centre

Do you have a writers centre in your neck of the woods? We do in Australia, but I’ve barely written about them before. They generally provide support and/or training for writers, via online and face-to-face mechanisms, some free-of-charge but most fee-paying, and tend to be membership organisations. Over coming months, I’ll share what’s happening in different centres around Australia, but I’m starting here with the one in my city, the ACT Writers Centre.

First though, a little anomaly – to do with apostrophes! I note that the ACT Writers Centre has no apostrophe in its name, while the Australian Writers’ Centre does. Whyfor this thusness? A quick survey around the various Australian state centres revealed that most do not use the apostrophe (with the Northern Territory appearing to have a foot in both camps, depending on which page you are on!) It’s like Mothers/Mother’s/Mothers’ Day. I prefer the no-apostrophe approach. As in, what sort of (adjectival) day is it? It’s a mothers day, that is, a day for mothers. Rather than, whose (possessive) day? It’s mother’s day, a day owned by mothers. It seems that most writers centres in Australia see it the adjectival way. Either that or they don’t know their apostrophes, and that would be a worry!

Enough pedantry, let’s get on with the ACT Writers Centre. It describes itself as:

the leading organisation of writing-based culture in the ACT. Our mission is to develop writers and their work.

How do they do this? Well, by running programs, offering prizes or awards, and providing services such as manuscript assessment, editing, and mentorship. Most of these are fee-based. They also have a blog, Capital Letters.

In this post, I’m going to focus on four special programs offered, but they also offer various courses. Currently, the ACT Writers Centre runs four main programs:


HARDCOPY 2015 flyerI’ve written about Hard Copy before, in a previous Monday Musings post. The first program was held in 2014, so this year’s will be its fourth. They describe it as “a national professional development program that helps build the capacities, aptitudes and resources emerging Australian writers need to reach their potential.”  Its aim is not specifically to achieve publication for its participants, but to help them with manuscript/project development, to arm them with an understanding of how the Australian publishing industry works, and to help them “build connections and relationships within the industry/writing community”.

This program, which is run by our local centre, receives funding from the Australia Council for the Arts, and is offered nationally, that is, not just to ACT-based writers. Also, it alternates between fiction and non-fiction writing. This year’s program, as the one run in 2015, is for non-fiction writing.

All this is pretty dry. For an insider’s perspective, do read Michelle’s posts on her blog, Adventures in Biography, on her experience of the 2015 program. She had a great experience – and I was pleased because I got to meet her while she was here! She found the program very helpful, to say the least.

Between the Lines

Hetherington and Webb, Watching the worldYou know that mantra, the one that says to be a writer you need to be a reader? Well, the ACT Writers Centre clearly believes it to be so, because this year they are offering “a facilitated book discussion group for writers with an active practice”. This sounds a bit like a reading group, but with two big differences. First, it has  a professional leader, in this case Professor Jen Webb from the University of Canberra (whose book with poet Paul Hetherington, Watching the world, I reviewed a couple of years ago). And secondly, the focus will be on “authorial technique and achievement, rather than subjective personal judgements on whether or not the book is ‘good’ or ‘bad’”.

The focus this first year will be Australasian literary novels. You can see the list on the link I’ve provided on the heading. There are 6 books, as it’s a bimonthly program: three are by men and three by women, three are by New Zealand writers including one by Maori writer Witi Ihimaera, and one is by a woman of indigenous Australian background (Melissa Lucashenko). I’d love to see their discussions written up on the Capital Letters blog!

ACT Writer-in-Residence

This is the program which, when I read about it last week, inspired today’s post. It’s a new three-year program offered by the Writers Centre in collaboration with the University of New South Wales (Canberra) and with support from the Copyright Agency Ltd. Again, you can read the details of what the program offers and expects on the link I’ve provided. Like HARD COPY it is not limited to ACT Writers. It is mainly geared to established writers, but “suitably qualified developing writers” were also encouraged to apply.

Last week the three writers were announced:

  • 2017: Isobelle Carmody, fantasy writer, particularly of the immensely popular, much translated, Obernewtyn Chronicles. (Daughter Gums was, and still is, a big fan.)
  • 2018: Jane Gleeson-White, prize-winning non-fiction writer who plans to research a novel set during World War II.
  • 2019: Angela Gardner, poet who apparently has a project on “Air” which will “include some novel public programs for Canberra – including balloon flying”.

I was initially surprised to see that all three writers have been announced now, but I guess it does enable the later writers to plan their lives, something I suspect writers often don’t get an opportunity to do!

ACT Literary Bloggers

And now comes the one close to my heart! It’s another new program, and another collaborative one, this time with the National Library of Australia. It “provides an opportunity for two emerging ACT-region writers to attend events at the National Library of Australia and document the experience for the ACT Writers Centre’s Capital Letters blog. The program, which will run from May to December, includes a mentorship with ….” yep, me, Whispering Gums! What an honour, and how interesting it’s going to be. The program is particularly aimed at writers who’d like to write about “the literary arts for the online environment”.

The two bloggers have been chosen: playwright and performance maker Emma Gibson, and blogger/podcaster and writer Angharad (Tinted Edges).

I am looking forward to working with Emma and Angharad, particularly to jointly exploring ways in which blogging can be used to further promote literary culture in the (our, any) community. You may hear more about this later in the year.

25 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: ACT Writers Centre

  1. The ACT Writers Centre really is at the top of its game – they do truly excellent, innovative work. I’m keen to hear more about your experience as a blogging mentor. Thanks for this informative post – and for the link too. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have found an agent, and a publisher for my Elizabeth Macarthur biography, if it wasn’t for the ACT Writers Centre. And I definitely hope you and I are able to catch up for a drink again one day soon!

    • I look forward to seeing what the other Centres do over coming months, Michelle, but it certainly seems to me that they do some really interesting, creative things. You don’t have to be big to achieve a lot. I’m certainly aware of what HARD COPY has meant to you! You’ve worked hard, and have deserved what you’ve achieved to date, but writers do need help to get there don’t they?

      I had my first meeting with the bloggers on the weekend, and I enjoyed it. I hope they did too.

  2. What a great post, Sue. The guided reading program with Jen Webb sounds amazing, as does the literary blogging mentorship. I look forward to more posts on writers organisations (I’m a huge fan of my local, Writers Victoria).

    Also, although I can’t say much yet, I’m excited to be working with ACT Writers Centre later in the year. Stay tuned…

    • Thanks Lisa. I must say my first reaction was, “what? who, me?” but it will be very interesting, and I think it will be great to explore more what blogging can achieve in this area, eh?

  3. It’s interesting how much hard work goes into generating/facilitating the OzLit scene, it’s not just writers on their own in garrets, and glad bloggers are seen to be part of that. And of course, congratulations!

    • It is isn’t it Bill. This is probably one of the reasons, I’ve continued with Monday Musings – I have fun sussing all sorts of things out, even if it’s often only at the superficial level. At least we know then about the things going on and can explore which ever ones meet our individual interests.

      Oh, and thanks!

  4. Oh my, I do need to raise the flag on Tasmania’s Writers’ Centre. Had to look… they use apostrophes some of the time and not others. My writing group meets there on Wed. afternoons. They have extensive events, writing in residence, competition info, lots of workshops and book launches. A very active group. Lots of writers in our little state. Perhaps I should spread a little more news of what happens here from our regular newsletters. I feel inspired now🐧🐧🐧

    • Thanks Karenlee. I think that we’ll all benefit from each other. I think the experience will be really interesting. And if we come up with some new perspectives or approaches I’ll be sharing them because I think the potential of blogs hasn’t been fully explored yet.

  5. Well done Sue, they could not have asked for a better mentor to take on such a role. Your interest and support of Australian writing is fantastic, and your blogs are the best.

    • Thanks so much Meg. That’s lovely of you to say. After being taken back initially, partly because I prefer the anonymity, I’m now looking forward to it because I can see there are things to learn and explore for all of us.

  6. Isobelle Carmody and my mum both announced as mentors/guides in the same post! It’s like Christmas! Congratulations 🙂

  7. Congratulations on the mentorship! Lucky recipients. I look forward to reading more about it as you go along. Great post on AWC too, by the way. I used to subscribe to their emails and even did a course through them once, online.

    • I’ve made a commentary error here! ACT, not AWC. I couldn’t have gone to sleep tonight without acknowledging this lest you think I’ve lost my attention to detail. I subscribed to ACT but did the course through AWC. It’s late, I read too fast!

  8. Pingback: Lost the Plot – Episode 16 | Tinted Edges

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