Monday musings on Australian literature: New Territory 2019

New Territory LogoFor the third year I am a mentor for the ACT Writers’ Centre arts writing program, which was called in its first year, ACT Lit-bloggers of the Future program, but rebadged last year as New Territory or, Adventures in Arts Writing. It was broadened then to include theatre, when the Street Theatre joined the National Library of Australia and the Canberra Writers Festival as program partners.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my role, as I’ve met some wonderful people – Angharad and Emma in 2017, and Amy in 2018. This year, we increased the number of participants to three, but one has since withdrawn due to being offered work in Kyrgyzstan! Canberra, Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzstan, Canberra … What would you choose?

So, to recap the program before I introduce this year’s participants. Its overall aim, as the Writers Centre says, is to develop:

a deeper conversation about the arts: why we make art, how do we engage in art, and to what end? We aim to develop the arts writers, thinkers and provocateurs of the future.

This is done by providing for the selected emerging ACT-region writers to attend events at the National Library of Australia, the Street Theatre and the Canberra Writers Festival, and post their responses (which “document/explore/critique the experience”) on a blog. And this year, we have a dedicated New Territory Blog for the writers. It is still managed by the Writers Centre, but is separate from their own blogWe expect each blogger to write around 6 posts over the 6 or so months that the program runs. The Writers Centre plans to populate this blog with all the posts that have been written for the program since its inception.

The three writers were chosen in May, and the program is now well under way, so I’d like to introduce the two continuing writers to you:

  • Shelley Burr is working on a novel, and took part in the ACT Writers Centre’s well-regarded Hard Copy program last year (the same program, though a different year of course, that helped Michelle Scott Tucker with her biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, which I’ve reviewed.) She is particularly interested in what she calls “drought noir”, which term sounds perfect for some of the crime coming out of Australia at present. Shelley has had her writing place well in the Stockholm Writers Festival First Pages program. She hasn’t posted to the blog yet as she wants to focus on the Canberra Writers Festival, which takes place at the end of August.
  • Rosalind Moran already has quite a CV, having written for anthologies, websites, and journals including Meanjin, Overland, Feminartsy, Demos, and Writer’s Edit. She has also featured in several festivals – the Emerging Writers’ Festival, the National Young Writers’ Festival, the National Multicultural Festival, and Noted Festival. Oh, and she’s the co-founder of a new literary venture, Cicerone Journal. Rosalind has already written three posts on the blog: on the National Library’s Inked cartoon exhibition; on a puppet show titled BRUCE at the Street Theatre; and on a play at the Street Theatre, A Doll’s House, Part 2. Rosalind has her own website, here.

As in previous years, I plan to ask Shelley and Rosalind whether they’d like to write a guest post here during the program. Regardless, I will also report back later in the year, but meanwhile please do check out their posts on the blog (linked above).

Until then, thanks again to the ACT Writers Centre, the National Library of Australia, the Street Theatre and the Canberra Writers Festival for sponsoring this program – and a special thanks to author Nigel Featherstone for initiating and overseeing this program. I love being involved. I reckon I gain as much, if not more, from meeting and talking with other local arts writing enthusiasts, as they do from my involvement.

Previous posts on the program:

20 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: New Territory 2019

  1. Do you think the programme is getting away from what seemed to be its original aim, getting 2 or 3 young people (don’t I sound like a condescending school visitor) started in Lit.Blogging?

    • Fair question Bill. To some degree perhaps, but the focus has been on emerging rather than young, and “Arts writing” specifically (moving from the narrower litblogging when The Street Theatre joined in.) Each year we’ve had at least one writer in her twenties, and most of the writers have had some sort of track record, though not always in the arts writing arena. It depends a bit too on who applies (which, btw, has been almost 90% women).

      Also, it’s a new program, this being its third year, so is feeling its way.

  2. I hear what Bill is saying…
    The issue of broadening the scope of any arts writing is a vexed one. It’s easy to forget that we who love reading literature are a very small proportion of the book market, never mind the arts market, and any program that’s training people to be writers, ought to prepare them to write across the arts to maximise their chances of getting exposure, and perhaps paid work.
    OTOH I’m not the only one who abandoned the Australian Book Review when it started reviewing arts other than books. Maybe broadening the scope will attract more readers, maybe it won’t.

    • Fair points Lisa, thanks. In this case, it was partly because the opportunity to work with The Street Theatre was too good to pass up. Last year, though, Amy did focus mainly on the literature side of the coin, while this year Rosalind, so far, has done an Exhitibion (cartoons) and two theatrical performances. Both though will do some posts on the CWF. We have a couple of “arts” writers in Canberra who write broadly, and then the more specialist ones who just do music, or dance, or art, and so on.

      I like to feature other arts here occasionally, as you know – which is partly why I chose a less specific name for my blog! – but I’m most comfortable with writing about the literary arts (obviously)

      I thought you and Bill abandoned ABR because it started doing more non-Aussie literature? Not having been a subscriber – because I never seem to keep up with reading journals/magazines and now don’t get any regularly – I didn’t realise it had expanded beyond books.

      • I can’t speak for Bill, but for me, the problem with ABR was both: I was already cheesed off because they were so often doing reviews of American books that were reviewed everywhere else anyway, and the shift to reviewing other arts was the last straw.

        • Fair point Lisa, re reviewing American books that tend to be well-reviewed elsewhere. I’m not sure I’d have worked about the arts, except that it is, I suppose, called Australian BOOK Review isn’t it? It would be interesting to know what overall impact their change has had on subscription numbers.

        • Indeed it would. I suspect that they get grants from here and there which would muddy the waters a bit.
          But look, I understand that all literary journals struggle in this country… subscription numbers are never going to be great and I bet many would fold if not for institutional subscriptions from universities and the like. We who like books generally agree that they are A Good Thing, but we don’t always subscribe (and when we do, we end up not always reading them!) So it makes sense that all of them try different strategies to try to broaden their readership base (even *wry smile* if it does mean an incongruous name. )
          But what used to frustrate me was that I wanted to read reviews of new OzLit and I couldn’t find it in the places I expected it to be. It doesn’t matter now, because I find what I want online. But that doesn’t alter the fact that professional book reviewing is diminishing, and I can’t help but feel that it’s not a good thing at all…

  3. Congratulations on a wonderful initiative. Could you please say a bit more about your role as mentor? You have focussed on the writers (very modestly) but I’d like to hear more about what you’ve done.

    • Thanks Dorothy. My role is fairly small really, but I meet with them around monthly, and we talk about blogging practice, ethics, style (particularly in the past two years when the participants had their own blogs), about how the program is progressing for them, and about any issues or topics that may arise with their current posts/writing. They are all competent, thoughtful writers, so I think my main role is to maintain some personal link and continuity for the program.

    • In the past, yes, Kate, they have had blogs. I think for them the program can do (or has done) various things – such as provided an opportunity for them to increase the visibility of their blogs, increased their understanding of blog design/use/promotion, as well as given them an opportunity to access more events to review.

      During our catch-ups we talk a bit about such issues as reviewing versus criticism, positive versus negative reviewing, and some of the ethical issues we all face (who can write what, who can review what, how do you review a form you’re not expert in, how do you handle editing of your work, etc.)

      However, this year is a new challenge for me because they don’t have their own blogs, so their focus is a bit different (although some of the above topics are still relevant, regardless.) As we all know, the media landscape is changing all the time so this program is changing/evolving too. The bottom line is that we want to increase “conversation” about the arts and that’s the hardest thing to achieve (or so it seems to me!)

  4. Thanks for responding, Whispering Gums. it’s an interesting question – how one passes on one’s skills. I’m running writing workshops at the moment, something I’ve done from time to time. This time it’s to support the Barwon Heads Library, which is threatened with closure, (but that’s another story). It’s very hard, I find, to put oneself in the position of a writer who is just starting out. I can’t divest myself of what I know, of all my decades of experience, but I have to try. It is rewarding!

    • Oh good for you Dorothy, for supporting the library. A workshop is another whole ball-game… But I guess the under lying issue of passing on skills is similar. It’s tricky too when they are not practical skills with logical steps like how to sew on a button!

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