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Monday musings on Australian literature: Writing NSW

September 17, 2018

Today’s Monday Musings is the fifth in my little series on Australia’s writers centres, and it’s New South Wales’ turn. Originally called the NSW Writers Centre, it was renamed this year as Writing NSW.

Writing NSW was founded (under its original name) in 1991, as a not-for-profit organisation providing services to writers. On its Our History page, it says that it was created when writer Angelo Loukakis and others from the literary community “lobbied the government to establish a facility for the development of writers.” Clearly they were successful – and the Centre was officially opened in Garry Owen House in Callan Park in 1991.

Angelo Loukakis, The memory of tidesI’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know Angelo Loukakis, but Wikipedia does! Besides being a writer, and besides being the Centre’s founding Chair, he was also Executive Director of the Australian Society of Authors from 2010 to 2016. He’s been a teacher, editor, publisher and scriptwriter, and has written three novels, two collections of short stories, as well as several non-fiction works.

But now, let’s get to the centre itself. Like other writers centres, Writing NSW is largely a membership organisation, but also obtains funding from the government and donations. Its aim from the start was to support writers, particularly emerging writers. Emily Maguire (whose An isolated incident I’ve reviewed here) and fantasy/historical fiction writer extraordinaire, Kate Forsyth, credit it as playing a significant role in their early development.

Here are some of the things the centre does:

Courses

Courses – whether on-line or in-person, single workshops or over a period of time – seem to be the main services offered by writers centres, and Writing NSW is no different. Some of the courses coming up are:

  • The Year of the Novel, Phase 3 (with Emily Maguire, no less!): it starts tomorrow, and runs for 8 sessions. Members get a whopping 30% off the price, which more than covers the annual membership fee! The course is about making “your very good novel … brilliant.”
  • Finding the Detail: Research Tools for Writers (with Eleanor Limprecht whose novels Long Bay and The passengers I’ve reviewed): a 2 1/2 hour seminar about research (for fiction and non-fiction). The description says it will cover “how to organise your research, the ethics of research and how to put your research aside and just start writing.”
  • Bianca Nogrady, The best Australian science writing 2015The Secrets of Science Writing (with Bianca Nogrady who has also appeared in my blog):a 6-hour course on such topics as finding good science stories, the basic principles of science writing, and interviewing and pitching to editors.

These are just three of many, many courses, workshops and seminars they offer on topics that include, in addition to the above, playwriting, poetry, comedy, writing for schools, marketing, speculative fiction … you name it, in other words …

Events

  • Festivals: Writing NSW runs various festivals, including, the new biennial Boundless Festival, first held in 2017 and focusing on” Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers and writing”, and, coming up, Quantum Words, a one-day festival on the meeting of science and writing. Its speakers include astronomer Fred Watson (who has appeared here a few times, with the Griffyn Ensemble) and cli-fi novelist James Bradley.
  • First Friday Club: a monthly, free, members-only event that runs on the first Friday of the month from March to October. The event involves a guest speaker – such as an author, editor, publisher, journalist – and, they say, “a delicious morning tea.” October’s speaker is Bronwyn Mehan from the innovative Spineless Wonders.
  • Talking Writing: ad hoc panel discussions (as far as I can tell) on various subjects relating to writing. One held in April this year, for example, was called Make it Funny.
  • Ad hoc events: such as an all-afternoon Open House event with publishers HarperCollins and Harlequin at which members will get an opportunity “to meet one-on-one with a publisher to get feedback on your submission.”

Prizes and Grants

  • Quantum Words Poetry Prize: established in 2018 this prize is for “science poems”, that is, they must “include or address some aspect of science.” Pretty broad.
  • Boundless Indigenous Writer’s Mentorship: supported by Writing NSW and Text Publishing, for “an unpublished Indigenous writer who has made substantial progress on a fiction or non-fiction writing project.” It pairs the “emerging Indigenous writer (from anywhere in Australia) with a senior Indigenous writer in the same genre for a structured year-long mentorship.”
  • Writing NSW Varuna Fellowships: awarded annually for writers with a work that is “ready for the next stage of development.” It involves a week-long residency at Varuna (Eleanor Dark’s old home which I’ve mentioned here before.) Two will be awarded this year, with one specifically for a writer under 30.

The above is just a selection of what Writing NSW offers. Like most writers centres they offer a wide range of services, including a library, newsletter, manuscript assessment, all sorts of mentorships, space for writers groups to meet. They aim to specifically support regional writers, Indigenous writers, and writers with a disability. A lovely service that I suspect not all writers centres have the resources to provide is their Space to Write. This enables writers who have trouble finding quiet places in which to write the opportunity to book space or a room at Gary Owen House (some are free, and some involve rent.)

Oh, and they have run workshops on blogging (such as Power Your Blog), since at least 2012, though I couldn’t find any for this year. It’s good to see this type of writing and publishing also being recognised by writers centres.

… and that’s about it for another busy, active Writers Centre.

Writers Centres covered to date: the ACT, the Northern Territory, Queensland, and Tasmania.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. September 18, 2018 12:53 am

    The NSW sounds like it does a lot of worthy and important things.

    So many of these activities sound interesting. The Secrets Of Science Writing seems particularly fascinating. I read a fair number of science books. Putting one together seems so daunting even if a writer knows the subject matter.

    • September 18, 2018 7:50 am

      Thanks Brian. I enjoy doing these posts just to see all the courses they run … just how broad the writing fraternity they cover is. I rather enjoy science writing too.

  2. September 18, 2018 3:36 am

    I signed up as a regional member with Writer’s NSW. I have so many frequent flyer points and a friend there who does photography. Maybe I’ll get to one of their events in 2019 to combine an event with photography with a friend one week. I enjoy this series you are doing.🤠🐧

  3. September 18, 2018 3:08 pm

    I think these writers centres are invaluable, but I’ve never thought of joining an interstate one. Yet if they offer courses online, there’s no reason why not, eh?

    • September 18, 2018 5:32 pm

      Yes, I hadn’t thought of it either, but yes, why not if they’re happy to have others – and clearly they are.

  4. September 19, 2018 10:24 pm

    It’s great to hear that Australia has so many of these regional writer’s centres. And it’s also good to hear that they’re at least partly government funded. In the UK, so many good cultural programmes have lost their funding in the last decade or so due to austerity.

    • September 20, 2018 8:16 pm

      Thanks Andrew. I think it’s a struggle here but they seem to hang on.

      Recently the Tasmanian Writers Centre sent out a “help” message and are struggling to keep going. They have suspended membership payments presumably because they can’t offer services. However, I’ve just checked their page and they are hanging in – including with an offer of office space from the City Council which is good to hear. So, not completely a given here and never certain.

  5. September 20, 2018 10:46 am

    I wonder if all these resources writers have now – writers’ centres, creative writing degress, residencies – mean that we the reader are getting better books than we might otherwise. Reflecting on MST’s experience, which we were privileged to follow, I can see how the writer benefits, and perhaps that’s the point.

    • September 20, 2018 8:21 pm

      Yes, Bill, I think (though I don’t know) that the best programs do help. Hard Copy, which MST did, seems to be a great program geared to a very specific need and has had several good outcomes which I guess is why they keep getting funded. (Go, Nigel I say.) And all those writers retreats opportunities that many of these Centres offer seem to be well appreciated by writers. I often see them acknowledged in published books. How you measure effectiveness overall though is another thing. I think we have to accept that to some degree the arts can’t be measured.

  6. September 20, 2018 10:47 am

    It’s good to see you giving credit to Australia’s writers centres, and it’s great that there are paid positions and government funding. The ACT centre was a valuable support to me. During the time I lived in Canberra it relied, as I’m sure all the centres do, on the goodwill and generosity of a team of volunteers.

    • September 20, 2018 8:27 pm

      Thanks Dorothy. I particularly appreciate hearing the perspective of writers for whom these centres exist. I think most arts and cultural organisations rely to various degrees on volunteers, don’t they, though it looks like most writers centres these days have enough funding to be managed by paid staff – which is as it should be.

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