Iconic Duos: The Next Chapter Writers and Mentors

Iconic Duos: The Next Chapter Writers and Mentors



good afternoon hello all of you that was such an emphatic welcome that the people make Store applaud alert which is good welcome to the Sydney writers festival session my name is michael williams i'm the director of the wheeler center and i'm thrilled to be here for this afternoon's iconic duos session there's a bit of stuff to explain about who we are why we're here what iconic Durer's means but you're all here anyway which is a pretty good sign it suggests that some of the explaining has been done already but I can say that on this stage amongst the seven people here are six people with the most incredible talent as writers that you're going to see in any session at this festival and just a spoiler alert I'm not one of the six in case you are confused I am very excited to have these writers here before I go any further I would say we are visitors not just to this festival but to this country this is the aura nation and I'd like to pay my respects to the gadigal people their elders past and present and the elders are members of theirs and other communities that are with us today we acknowledge country in part to acknowledge that the moral and legal implication of invasion remains unresolved to this day it's also funny that the writers festival takes as its theme this year lie to me and there's a kind of interest running through all the sessions about the ways in which writers construct the world for us and make up stories and there's no more acute lie in Australia than the lie of country whether it's the lie of terra nullius or the lie that we're somehow in any way reconciled it's worth us stopping and reflecting on this as we go into this and any session this week so how many of you have heard of the wheeler Center that's pretty good I can go home that is fantastic news we're here today because the wheeler Center is doing a scheme that we're very proud of that we're officially as of today launching year two of it's called the next chapter and it's what brings these six extraordinary writers together and it feels like a good place to talk about it because in a way a writer's festival is is supposed to be not just a chance to hear from the iconic single writers and jurors that you may already have heard of but a chance to discover new writers and a chance for writers to sit in the audience and hear from their peers hear from potential mentors so we wanted to use the opportunity of the festival to talk a bit about what the next chapters doing and to hear from these amazing writers who are mentors and mentees within the scheme so if you will indulge me for a minute I am going to explain the kind of parameters of what we're trying to do with the next chapter and then 2×2 will chat with each of these pairs of writers to hear about their experience of mentoring and being men teed I hate the word mentee it feels so close to manatee and and they're creepy I mean really you see a picture they may like cows of the sea manatees anyway I digress the wheeler Center's been going for almost 10 years now and we were set up by the state government of Victoria with a brief to celebrate and promote books writing and ideas both in Melbourne but also more widely in Australia to kind of build a community around around that art form and that's a kind of particularly abstract concept there's one of those things government like doing is setting up new centers with complicated names but what we discovered very quickly was there was already this incredible and rich community of writers who are working together in a range of different ways too often I think we think about writers only in terms of their commercial and publishing output whether we've seen them in the front shelf of the bookshop or in the Big W or in in the airport or whatever it is and thinking about the craft of writing the development of writing became a really important thing for the wheeler Center we wanted to make sure that beyond putting on public talks and introducing those writers to audiences in that way we wanted to find ways to have that relationship between the writing and the craft of it be something that we were involved with and so we built the next chapter as a scheme we launched it last year and the idea behind it is in a way fairly straightforward we select ten writers each year and what we try and do is kind of staged an intervention because let's face it writers need an intervention the nature of this though was to help them at the early stage of their career help them at the point at which they were honing their craft and finding their voice but were perhaps not ready to be put into the sausage machine that is kind of trade publishing because we feel that there's a danger in this country that publishing is inherently conservative inherently risk-averse that because very few people make money out of books whether it's the booksellers or the publishers or the writers themselves it's very very hard to make a living out of it it can become the domain of the privileged publishers can veer towards the people who write in a style that they think is a sure thing for the bestseller lists they they don't take chances and so they don't encourage true creativity true creativity is not rewarded by market forces so if you're lucky enough to run and not for profit with high-minded ideals like the wheeler Center it seems to us it's our responsibility to find ways to take that moment of developing as a writer and remove it from the market remove it from those markers of success and failure that make it perilously difficult and make people round off the corners of the individuality and the creativity that makes some amazing writers in the first place so we consulted really widely we talked to writers and teachers of writing we talked to people who ran community organizations and we talked to other arts organizations to work out what the best way we could stage this intervention might be and what we hit upon was that writers needed money they needed time and they needed people to talk to through the process so the recipients of the next chapter get $15,000 and they get assigned a mentor and what we ask of them at the point at which they join the scheme is that they slow things down for a bit for the first year of their involvement with the scheme rather than selling they're undoubtedly brilliant manuscripts to the highest bidder and the first publisher that came along we want them to use that time and take that time to work out what their voices what their markers of success and failure are to work out the ways in which their unique identity as a writer can be something that makes them stronger rather than makes them a liability when it comes to working out how they can get into the discount chains we were inundated with applications we prepared ourselves for the possibility of about maybe 500 tops we got 1,100 there was some weeping in the wheeler Center offices that day but it was so gratifying and so exciting it was the first time we'd done anything on a national scale and what we got was people who really wanted to find their voice they wanted to find a chance to kind of work and be able to stand up and say I am a writer something that was a leap that for many of them they hadn't made before we're also very clear that one of the intentions of the scheme was we wanted writers who one way or the other might have been let down or might potentially expect to be let down by conventional publishing and trade publishing marginalized voices voices from underrepresented communities people who were telling stories that might not be might not be thought by kind of the levers of mainstream publishing to be conventionally commercial as prospects we're not so interested in the commercial I mean obviously the three writers you're gonna hear from tonight who are part of the scheme are all gonna be bestsellers they're all gonna win kind of big prizes and lucrative kind of adaptation deals with Netflix and all of that but that's not the aim of the game the aim of the game is to find ways for them to be true to their own voices true to the stories that they want to tell so the second part of it was assigning mentors and that's what we're gonna hear a bit about today and discuss today because what we felt was the writing isolation was much harder way to do it and if we could attract the right group of established writers to work with our ten recipients then that would give them a much richer experience across the year I could bang on in case you hadn't already worked that out but I'm going to now throw to our iconic duo's what we're going to do is we're going to move through each of the three pairs on the stage and we're going to hear a little bit about what that mentoring experience has been like what the expectations were and really what that process of giving and taking criticism as emerging and developing writer is like and how that works and we're gonna start right down the fire in there Tony butchers fidgeting in his chair cuz he senses he's about to be names brought to the microphone Tony is the first of our mentors to introduce today he's the author of shadowboxing Father's Day blood the promised ghost River and common people he has a new book that is coming out in June called the white girl and he is an extraordinary writer and we were thrilled when he agreed to be one of our mentors please welcome Tony birch [Applause] you've set a precedent now everyone's gonna have to do that that's upsetting um everyone araluen is a poet educator and researcher working with indigenous literature's at the University of Sydney who work as well minakata Brophy pros for young Indigenous writers the judith wright poetry prize and the next chapter fellowship she was born raised and writing in derek country she's a bundle on descent and please make her very welcome Tony I'm gonna start with you and ask you whether you have or have had mentors as a writer yourself no not specifically as a writer but I think one of the things that I think it's important to me to be there for Evelyn is that I I went back to the education as an adult so I went to night school to do my year 12 when I was 30 and then I went on to university and what I would say is I had mentors in the form of teachers both at year 12 and at University who really shifted my level of confidence so most of my writing I hadn't had that one-on-one relationships I didn't do say for instance a PhD in creative writing but what was important to me and what I would say is great mentorship is that I found people who actually believe that I had value and talent and with that I was I felt much more confident about what I wanted to do and one of my roles I think with Evelyn is that you know I talk creative writing for 15 years and I've supervised phd's but that's a very formal relationship we've ever Lanaya and seriously mentoring a young Aboriginal woman is say there's also for me a community cultural a level of pastoral care that I would take very seriously because there are a lot of expectations on young Aboriginal women and my role is to to guide where I can guide and to keep it a bit of a distance as well because you don't want to stifle the energy of that young voice so I actually do see my role as similar to the support that I got into say Devon you can do this as simplistic as that sounds rather than just be there as a technical adviser I want to jump straight to asking you Evelyn whether Tony effectively does that but that seems a little mean so I'm going to instead first ask you when as so the way the process went is after the 10 recipients were successful it was a kind of iterative conversational process to work out the best mentors for each of you what did you at a gut level want from a mentor going in I mean the first thing and you might get this vibe that Tony's very well equipped to this I think that I needed someone to kick me in the ass and just sort of be like okay and you can't around oh sorry I told him not to swear I don't you're not a very good man I I think for me it was not simply looking for somebody who writes poetry that I love and poetry that I admire it was also understanding that there is work that I want to produce which has a cultural element to it and in fact is grounded in culture you know work that I also wanted to to understand in terms of my own identity and interests and responsibilities but also you know like I'm coming from a space where unlike Tony you know I went straight from high school and into university and I somehow haven't managed to leave university yet and so I negotiate in addition to the creative space and an academic space that Tony's got a lot of experience in and while I was looking for somebody who who wrote poetry that I loved and somebody who was preferably coming from a cultural background as well and also you know hopefully someone who's had some experience with publishers and had experiences with the industry I did also really want help with negotiating what it is to be in some ways affiliated with educational institutions and how you know I wanted to learn how to produce work which was holding those institutions to account and Tony's really good at that so that for me you know in addition to get the confidence and the motivation and the experience bringing to that you know I I wasn't interested in being taught how to be complacent within these systems and these structures I didn't want anyone to console me you know all these are some of the issues that you're going to encounter but don't worry it's fine just ignore them everyone goes through it it's just the nature of the industry someone who's critical of that you know that to me is is as valuable as the poetry in the craft and the education I can receive around that that's really interesting because it seems to me that you know part of your background before going into the scheme was about supporting other writers and developing their work and so the perhaps that oh don't be presumptuous here one of the pressures for you in the scheme is prioritizing your own work and when you work within academia that can be so channeled through expectations and requirements of others how do you carve out that space and say no it's time for me to be selfish for my own writing badly um it is it's so hard to get the space to learn in the in the actual space to recognize that just because I started going into academia and higher education very very very early on I still had a lot to learn and I still have a right to learn that when you're in a space where you're you're a marginalized voice attempting to speak to an issue that you know is structural and is is endemic to a lot of these different institutions you face a lot of really patronizing behavior and it's hard to take a position against that without just allowing yourself to become sublimated into that without just sort of going like oh okay you want to patronize me you don't want to give me space that's fine I'll just wait my turn and in in this scheme I think it was so refreshing to actually get the opportunity to put my hand up and go hey you know I never actually learned how to write poems like do you guys you realize that like I don't really know what I'm doing I feel working in Aboriginal literature and working in an area where there's a lot of under recognition and there's a lot of racism and there's a lot of complacency I am very interested in trying to make the space better for those who are yet to come and also for those who did come and were forgotten and we're left behind in that process but you don't want to be selfish and say like I just want I want this to fit me I want I want this to be a space for me now but when you have a mentor you're allowed to let them say that and you don't feel narcissistic because they're the ones saying no no no you can take advantage of this no you can learn from this so giving up a little bit of that responsibility is really nice I think Tony before you were saying the like I'm reminding you if your daughters because I'm just coming to you being like fix this fix my problems it's your responsibility now and I'm very happy to do that thank you see that seems like a symbiotic relationship there that's perfect that's it does I mean it it is interesting because again I I think I think some mentor-mentee ish relationships wouldn't have this component but the the cultural specificity of this is and for other people I think is really important so when I jokingly said to Everly the way oh yeah I've got four out old daughters I've now adopted the fifth one partly it's a joke but for me the greatest challenges one is I actually see working with Evelyn is a really strict responsibility that as we've other young Aboriginal women my four daughters I have a really strict responsibility to do give the best advice support I can the trick is or for me is the balances and I wouldn't say this say to a student I take on a what might seem like a paternalistic role which could be sound unhealthy yo an older male working with a younger woman then stifling that woman's voice but in the context of our community we both know where that balance is because the other trick to that is that with young Aboriginal women the last thing you want to do in any way is to stifle their creativity their anger their passion so you got to you've got to give a quite wide arc to that so I sort of prefer to stand back in regard to the poetry and just work with that technically and to say well the guidance say I'm going to give should never inhibit you from questioning that or for ensuring that your voice is strong so I like that because I actually I see it as a responsibility that I really enjoy and that I feel honored to take on that responsibility it's it's a real privilege that's that's really important and it seems to me to be an important part of the dynamic I imagine with all of you but I'm interested every when you say you'd never learn to write poetry do you find yourself to that relationship between wanting your own voice and wanting the traditions that you're fitting into I is that frustrating that light touch or do you does the confidence give you the space to do there's no poetry that you can learn you can just develop your own voice well what I've when I first spoke to Tony I think I was kind of like I need you to teach me how to write poetry I need you to give me the fools and then Tony was like I don't know them I'm sorry it felt a little bit as if you know as if you were kind of like playing a bit of a trick on me being like I'm gonna withhold this I know what's going on but I'm gonna withhold it I'm gonna let you work it out and I was very much like no just tell me please I have no idea what I'm doing but it's actually been really generative I think I always feel as a poet that that everybody else knows how to write poetry and I just didn't go to class that day and that everybody's doing really interesting things and I'm just sort of sitting around being like if I put a bunch of lines together and there's in German is that a poem but I think reading particularly in Reading Tony's work and learning from that form and learning from that innovation as opposed to just asking please tell me what to do you know it's it's as Tony's saying like you know it's it's giving me space to work things out myself and to also be motivated to try to push stylistic boundaries you know when you don't know what's the right thing or the wrong thing you're hopefully going to create something that's a little bit closer to home and a little bit closer to your own own voice so there might be times in which I feel like I just want a bit of a cop-out and I want somebody else to take authority over that but I think Tony's got more patience and resilience in that than I have so I know that I'm not going to be able to just give up and expect him to give me the secret list of poetic techniques that I've been waiting for this whole time and he's never gonna give me that I have to work that out myself frustrating but I appreciate it you know I just wanted a bit of a bit of a caveat because I don't want people to think I'm coming across as just a lazy doing nothing is not holding the poetry secrets from me know what I would say is and I taught poetry when I took creative writing but I'm more I am a reader another I'm not a great technician as a teacher I and I always said that the point being though the despite what everyone says the work is exceptionally good the work is exceptionally in my opinion technically very original and if I was thinking as a reader of poetry which I am a good reader of poetry this is gonna be a great book of poems so if Evelyn was failing that I wouldn't just sit back say look I'm your uncle so I'm not going to intervene here I'd say Evelyn this is not working so I actually would say that the reason why I feel confident to give her space is that I've read a lot of the work several times and it is really heart it's high quality so I don't have to do that so I I think it would be negligent of me or anyone here to think that I would let that go by because if yeah again we're here representing the wheel center and one of the outcomes is we want these young people to Purdue we want really high quality dynamic original work so my job would be to say if I thought that was a lapse or a failing in that I'd be pointing out very quickly what I've been very confident of four months in where we're going along very well the work is coming in it's great work I can see a book we're talking today we talked about our next phase is to literally print out pages put them on the floor look at a layout of a book change of things around so I'm at a level of what I'm saying is a high quality manuscript I'm not at a level of saying I don't actually can write a poem yet so I would hope people understand that yeah this is there's a real responsibility here as well to make sure you are producing good work that that's a really good and really valuable and clarification Tony and one of your not lazy you mean we get that now that's a that's a good thing and no it is an important thing that when you talk about a year's worth of creative or professional or artistic development that's not a question of fixing work that's broken or or turning people into something that they're not already at the start of the process it's actually about recognizing the limitations of the publishing system as it exists and trying to find ways to circumvent that but also armed the riders with what they need so that at the point at which they're facing the publishing world they're better equipped to do so I will say that in the selection process we had an amazing judging panel of of quiz das chokers Benoit maximum boniva Clark and Ellen burn Evan excellent work thank you just testing and the four of them independently read a huge range and came back with their short lists and there were very long very detailed conversations about hundreds of the work but it is worth learning that on their short lists there were something like seven works that were common to all four short lists and the the other three final recipients were all on three short lists the standard of the final work there that got through was incredibly high and incredibly exciting like we have been energized at every point of this process but possibly none more than when confronted with the amazing writers who we're proud to be shepherding through the scheme I'm going to move to our next iconic duo but you will get a chance to ask questions at the end of any of the people here Michelle Lee the second of our mentors to be introduced on the stage is an Asian Australian playwright and theatre maker working across stage live art and screen her work is largely narrative focused in comedy and drama and explores stories of women other nurse and found family's current works in development includes single ladies how do I let you die the monologues squishy Taylor going down the web series and a commission from Monash University the oh sorry I'm about to lose battery that's gonna be annoying previous works including assistants notes for a pandemic going down rice off-center the naked self and talam salon and rice won the 2017 Queensland premiers drama award the 2018 Victorian premiers literary award the 2018 Australian Writers Guild she's much awarded please welcome Michelle Lee I am the second of our next chapter recipients is Giselle onion new erm she's a Melbourne based Vietnamese Australian writer editor and bookseller marketing and communications manager for the feminist writers festival and an inaugural recipient of the next chapter she wrote a fortnightly column for daily life from 2015 to 2017 and a monthly fiction column force come throughout 2017 she's been published in publications including me engine the Saturday paper kill your darlings rookie and Frankie please make her very welcome I'm gonna kick off with you Michelle and the same question about the role of mentors and mentoring in the development of your own work yeah I well we with most of the plays that I've developed there's generally I have someone on board who's like a script editor a dramaturg so in terms of emotional support kind of championing me the playwright my story as well as the technical advice I've been fortunate just the kind of set up of theatre is that there usually is someone kind of in in my corner but I just went when he mentioned teachers I did think back to a high school drama teacher I had because it was funny the the in year 11 the drama teacher said essentially she's Canadian so she didn't say like this she said don't don't don't by the bottle of there's not going to be enough roles for Asian people and then the next year I had Garry fryer you know I was only 17 so I didn't really know actor and yet eventually becoming a playwright and Gary just was very supportive of whatever it was that he could recognize that I didn't recognize in myself that was burgeoning and out of school he attached me to some kind of community theatre development programs that he was working on and I look back on that then as I said like I don't think I knew what I wanted to do but Gary knew there was something in there and he just nurtured it in whatever form it was at the time so yeah that was a lovely opportunity to just reflect and he's still alive I'm speaking about him as though he's not here first I had I haven't thought about Gary until that moment and it was it really nice to think about it in in terms of someone who mentored me when I didn't even know I was being mentored Giselle what did you expect going in what did you hope for out of the mentoring relationship well I have often referred to Michelle as the older hotter version of me and what I wanted was somebody who shared a similar cultural background to me so we don't have exactly the same cultural background but because I'm writing a manuscript about my family there's some stuff that comes up that is quite delicate to handle and especially because I know that Michelle and I have similar lifestyles I just really needed someone who might help me navigate some of the trickier parts of sharing a story that can be sometimes be personal and maybe sometimes also paint people that I love and really care about in not the best light so it's been really helpful to have those conversations about what what I should include and what I should take out although at this at this stage I'm kind of just writing everything and I'll figure out what I need to take out later but yeah so I kind of what I wanted was somebody that I could have those conversations with also someone to read my work quite closely because I have lots of friends who are happy to do that but only to a point so do you of those friends who are readers for you are the ones who like a you part of writing groups traditionally do you have people who have explicitly challenged you on your work or are they friends who give you a supportive advice it's a little bit of both to be honest like I don't I think it's flattering and nice if I send a friend something and they just reply and say it's good but I don't think that that's very helpful in challenging me to maybe interrogate some things deeper and stuff like that I am part of a writing group but usually it's more just people that I can write with physically so I'm not so isolated but yeah I mean I I do have friends who read things really closely but again not many who have a similar cultural background to me and that is a perspective that I really appreciate that's a really interesting question for me and that actually applies to all of you in terms of the extent to which when we when we first conceived of the scheme in the early conversations we talked about assigning an editor to work with each of the writers they go one of the early conceptions was that there's a dearth of good editorial practice in our publishing houses and actually someone who was would really get him on a line-by-line level and work with the writers was gonna be more valuable and we we got lots of feedback and we workshop but in the end we decided that there are all kinds of ways you need support in that first year but for lots of people that won't be that kind of granular level it'll be something else as you said you're writing a manuscript which is autobiographical it's not theatre it's not it was more important to you to have that shared cultural experience than to be writing in the same medium well michelle has written a book before but what has been interesting actually to be working with somebody who writes plays is that because obviously plays kind of throw you into a seen a lot of Michelle's feedback has been like can can we go into this scene more or can we talk about things in an immediate way rather than me looking back now and being like and now knowing all the things that I know this is what that meant you know and also there's been a lot of talk about exploring grey areas and not going into things so black and white which I often do do that's so I think I mean also yeah I mean like I define myself in terms of being awry there as I write plays and I think what that also means is because I have less experience with publishing in a way like I don't I don't care in a sense if you write a manuscript at the end of this I know it's an it's important to you and if it's a goal to work towards but I I don't in a way I'm not burdened by that knowledge and that information I'm not kind of thinking in market terms or even in the that type of experience I guess I'm more concerned about where you are right now at this piece wherever you are in your life and in a more moment-by-moment way and Michael when you mention the agent the model of having an editor and a writer I think what works about this is as Tony said there's more of a pastoral care like I'm more interested in you as a person your voice and your artist and in a way like whatever you're generating is kind of bit secondary to me in a sense even though it's a it's a part of this program I uh not as fixated on on output and an outcome even though it helps guide our conversations that we have a point of focus but that's not as important as just you developing your sense of like what does it mean to be a writer and what Mitra's Didion yeah and I mean a lot of men Michelle's conversations have just been about like my life and what is holding me back and stuff like that so she's like my mom my actual mom's here but she's like my was like the mom you never had I feel if we kind of use that the family analogy that these guys were talking about I feel more like we're sisters peers because because of the age difference and we're kind of in cross crossing generations a bit I'm in that sense too maybe the feelings that you might have sometimes of like being an impostor like I I still share those as well so sometimes I'm feeling not being in the position of being an expert and being in the generation older I think sometimes perhaps that can kind of help you may not feel this but when I'm feeling terrified that some of the things you're talking about because I feel them too I'm hoping that I can you know tamp them down for myself and just kind of hold your hand a bit but like I totally get it as well yeah and I think like the other wake I message Michelle and I was like oh my god I'm sorry that I'm so behind on sending this thing to you because I don't know what I'm doing and you were like oh it's okay I don't know what I'm doing either and I felt a lot better he texted me and I was going through the same thing with with a piece of work that I was doing where I felt completely like a novice in that work so you know in fact like it yeah the relationship is not like I I bear bear all this wisdom it is you know it's it's two-way like when I look at Giselle another younger riders of color you in theater as well I'm really excited I'm really excited so for me you know in just practical terms I think these people are going to be employing me someday so I've also got to build those relationships like I certainly don't see it as though I hold all the answers did Giselle how's it changed your writing practice the past whatever it is four months five pounds in six yeah no I was just trying to be kind thank you Michael it's wrong well I am I have published a lot but most of the stuff that I've published has been media stuff which has a very quick turnaround so usually and not much editing as well so I might submit 800 words and it'll be online within an hour and no one's changed anything about what I wrote so to be able to work on longer things what I'm trying to do at the moment is just make kind of skeletons of the essays that will form the manuscript and kind of go back to them later and make them good but it is nice to be able to take my time and read really widely and I think in the past my work hasn't involved heaps of research so that's a skill that I'm trying to develop at the moment as well yeah it's just a different mode and I think the manuscript is something that I started working on very slowly a long time ago and ever since this has started and having conversations with Michelle it's really changed what I thought it was going to be especially because as a reader michelle has told me what she finds interesting and what might be less interesting which was different to how I had perceived it as well so it's just good to know what what shape it's going to take and I think it's going to turn out to be pretty different to what I imagined which is not a bad thing do you have particular goals you've set for yourself in the context of the scheme somewhere you want it to go are you happy to have it kind of a more exploratory process well I mean I think the main goal that I said was that I wanted to have a complete draft by the end of the year but I've been saying that for the last three years um but that is something that I'm quite serious about and as we are at the halfway point now I'm freaking out a little bit but you've got a road map you put together you know a document that says this is the aspirations of like what is going to fill those 60 to 80 thousand words so it's not a complete like you know yeah but ya know I think it's um the pressure is good for me because otherwise I would probably just languish so no it's good pressure and and Michelle's been really good to Michelle's your writing personal trainer kind of shouting at you occasionally yes saying really that for breakfast again I'm gonna throw to our third iconic juror now Alison Whitaker our mentor in question is a gamma ray poet essayist and legal scholars she's a research fellow at the john boehner institute in 2017 2018 alison was a Fulbright Scholar at a Harvard Law School where she's named Dean Scholar in race gender and criminal law her second book black work a collection of poetry essays and short stories is out and she delivered for the wheeler Center last week last week the f-word lecture and it was phenomenal it's up on the website you can watch the video of it or listen to the audio of it and I cannot recommend it highly enough please welcome Alison Whitaker and the Yuka Gauri is a goon akane gun tomorrow we're a jury and Yorta Yorta writer New Yorker writes social commentary and television comedy series three of black comedy was yours and you're working on series four at the moment please welcome the Yuka Gauri all right you've got to see the other two pairs go through it Alison have you been mentored are you currently being mentored yeah I've always been mentored in informal ways I think there's a tendency that when people have gone before you you don't want to pull the ladder up behind you so I've been mentored I guess in terms of my legal scholarship and a bit in my writing by Professor Lisa Behrendt who's although our relationship is informal and hours of employer and employee which is a weird dynamic it's been so enriching to have someone who can advise me on the things that are not just about career progression and not just about trying to figure out like you know what you want to do in terms of picking out a genre or picking out a technique but actually seriously thinking about the responsibilities that your work has which when you're a young writer is so important because there's lots of fun there's lots of people publishers especially who are willing to to use a horrible phrase like piss in your pocket who are willing to say anything they can to get you and to make it kind of all about ego and individual Drive and I think to some extent I've been sheltered by that because of people who've been willing to pull me up on what's appropriate at what stage and what's not I've also benefited from the mentorship of Ellen down even through the black and write project through the State Library of Queensland and also people in my family who you know from a very young age have given me a sense of renewed self image and again that relationship of responsibility it's everywhere it's not just people who are confined to your discipline I think it's a more holistic framework no you okay what did you want out of a mentor when you started in the scale someone to deal with my self-loathing no actually though I think so what I initially asked for it's funny so Sophie Sophie was one of the people Sophie Black said I lost that kind of helped things in the background she's on mat leave now isn't she yeah except he's gonna pop any minute she's sad not to be here holy cool that's exciting she's 14 months pregnant excellent so something I I knew who I wanted when they said you know there's gonna be a mentor as I knew immediately who I wanted and I said I want Alice Whittaker and so if he was likable we'll see if you know we can make it happen I'm like no it's gonna happen I'm gonna make it happen and I guess personally in Alice like I knew I wanted Allison for a number of reasons it's funny I think when we think of a mentor relationship we think of someone who's going to be older or much older than you but Allison's younger than me so like it's that's kind of I know that's kind of cool but from Allison I the reason why I wanted Allison was because like I think the way that she looks at the world is a way that I like lenses that I applied to the world so I knew I wasn't going to be some like weirdo which i think is good like someone who sees you for who you are so that was really important having a black fella was also really important because I know that once I go to the publishing you know once I yeah that stuff I feel like right now is a stage where it can be as big or as expensive and it's like you know politically whatever it can be it can do that right now and then as we go through the editing phase and commercial phase then it could like it I know that there'll be some reining in that's just the nature of it probably right now I know I knew Allison or a mentor I just wanted someone who would let me be as big as possible and like particularly having another queer black fella someone who thinks with an abolitionist kind of framework that was also really important as well yeah and someone I admire as well I think yeah I really it's weird to talk about Allison while she's right here but sorry yeah just someone who is doing the sort of things that I want to do eventually oh yeah so that's what I wanted and also particularly wanted someone who would recommend good books to read because I think that was I hadn't ever learned how to ride kind of like avi like hadn't learnt so I needed yeah kind of bibliotherapy as well I'm really interested in that idea of it being important and you've all touched on this in different ways important to admire the work of the person who's your mental that that's not to prejudge how challenged you want to be by them or whatever but that basis for respect has to be based around the work how much for you is it about seeing the stuff you're writing is fitting into a tradition and how much of it is about trying to carve out your own new territory and needing someone who's going to be open to that yeah I don't I think up until this year I didn't really take like if I'm honest I didn't really take my writing very seriously I think like I saw I think I approached writing in a very like hand-to-mouth fashion something happened so I'd write about it because I needed a place to put my feelings but I think doing this it's like I'm actually thinking like I know what kind of work do I want to create like if I can if I can do anything in the world what can I do and so like this year I think this kind of least prompted it but I've gone back and I'm studying creative writing at uni at the moment and that's I think that alongside being mentored is like actually so I don't I don't know if this will attract much of a readership in current generations but I'd like I'm even I were talking about it when we had our residency like I'd I feel like what I'm doing is hopefully creating some kind of archive that people will maybe pick up the way that I've picked up Audrey Lorde or I'm obviously not like Audrey Lorde I can only dream to be but yeah inspire like maybe there'll be a little queer weirdo in like 20 years time he'll find it and there'll be this snitch ten black people who read it and that's so fun but if that I don't know if that'll be like any kind of traditional form or I don't know what it'll look like but there is a tradition of awesome black writing in this country so it's not like it's not like there isn't already some kind of cannon or yeah I don't know did that make sense that was a lot of fun I really did I'm Allison for you that idea of that idea of the cannon and the reading list and that kind of providing a framework and a basis are there things that you tried to give to your mentorship with New Yorker that you wish you'd had when you were starting out as a writer I go you actively like plugging gaps that you remember yeah of course I mean I just one thing I wish I had when I was kind of beginning to write with someone to egg me on and to see the paths of potential I think I hope you'll forgive me for saying this but one of the the tricky things about writing within this mentorship has been trying to figure out what's what what's productive and what's not what's worth having caution on and what's not and just having that kind of closed space and intimacy to be bold and make mistakes and in making mistakes potentially leaving open something really exciting and new that might not have otherwise been thought of because you were to shame or whatever I think that's probably been the thing that's excited be most about seeing where your work is going is that it's bold that it's at the moment unfinished but we can explore ways that it can kind of snake out together and I'd never kind of seen someone else engaged with working that way before I hope it feels like kind of where we're walking together in this process but I definitely feel like it's a mutual relationship when you're talking about admiration earlier I think one of the first times we met was at Sydney writers festival 2017 and we're on this panel where we just mutually gushed yeah we all just mutually gushed about each other's work and for the first time felt that feeling that you say that you want to feel about someone else picking up your work in ten years time I felt like damn I'm a queer weirdo and here's another queer weirdo and we're just kind of getting one another and it's it's messy and it's got slippage but it's there and it's really I don't nurturing one of the things that was an interesting learning for us at the wheelers and it was when were announcing the intake of the first ten there's this natural impulse even though we were trying not to fit things into boxes there's a natural impulse when you're talking to funders or you're talking to other people of okay so this person's writing poetry or this person's writing you know nonfiction or this is that it was best to put it in terms that could easily be understood by where at feet in the kind of publishing landscape and one of the things that was exciting about your work New Yorker was we'd seen and the judges are senior journalism that senior comedy writing and you and you're not alone in this having giselle it strove as well I think everyone's work sits outside kind of generic expectations about what a poetry collection would be it was kind of anti generic in its way it was that there were ideas that you wanted to get across there were ways that you wanted to engage with the world and that came ahead of pre determining what kind of book it was going to be how I'm port or if it was going to be able how important is maintaining that freedom through this process versus turning it as you say as part of the narrowing it down turning it into something that can then be a next step I think right now it's weird because I can't untangle this from going to uni and so it's hard to know yeah I feel like I kind of it feels like it's just potential like when I had first put it in though it was just pure potential and now it's like you have to really think about what it's going to be or whatever I still I want to maintain that freedom but now that I'm also learning it kind of part of me kind of hates what I'd written but then I'm like ah that's I don't know I have an answered your question but I think freedom is really important because all the all the other bits can happen later like someone's going to come through with a red marker right now just need to be like propelled forward and I think the other thing is like actually fight just do it and show someone your work I think a big I don't know if anyone else feels this but like if you're used to being edited particularly if it's online stuff you're naked with one person and then it goes out but like it feels like being naked with another person before being naked with another person so it's like this weird vulnerability and like I just respect Allison so much that I'm yea afraid to get naked I don't know I this metaphor is excellent I do need to clarify for people considering entering the next chapter for next year you don't have to get literally naked it's important that I just make that clear it's a metaphor but just in case I don't want to scare anyone I think that's really terrific and I think we might throw it open to the floor because I think that idea of the ways in which you are may bear going into the writing process whether it's submitting an entry for a scheme or whether it's sharing a piece of work with a friend or formally finding yourself a mentor I think is a good kind of note to take us through on there I think there's a microphone for audience questions that is coming up from the back so if you put your hand up I don't know if you've noticed there's a little sound issue in this room so it would be good if you waited until the microphone came to you and that way we will all hear and you shouldn't be scared or maybe you sure however what processes do you go through and this is for the entire panel to get past writer's block so the question for anyone who couldn't hear was around the processes for any other panel for getting past writer's block go to the movies or go to a photographic exhibition I think Michelle has often told me that I need to maybe go do some other work if I'm feeling stuck with the current work so I'm currently doing a very boring copywriting project so that has taken up time and then when I'm not doing that then I might feel inspired to write something that I actually care about yeah alternatively I've also said you gotta give yourself the time and just do it yes stay at the computer oh yeah I think just maybe summing up the the courage to write absolute crap even if it's just gibberish to get it on the page and if that fails just turn the brightness on whatever you're writing on all the way down and don't look at what you're writing until you if you know at least smashed out ten minutes or so one of the things that I was trying to do this year and have failed to do was to write at least 300 words a day I'm trying to get back on that but even if they were bad words then I would know at least there was something and I might be able to pick something good out of it I'm just another thing I sometimes do is when I don't know what in my case the scene is sometimes I just write about the writing so that I'm doing something like I think I want them to walk into the room and I know this is a color over here this is what's happening in the day so just feel like I'm circling around the thing and it will eventually inform and prepare me to write the thing to write about the thing to start with I think yeah actually like living like going out and experiencing the world like yet being a part of life because I think that kind of helps keep things ticking over and actually experiencing things and also sometimes writing drunk can be useful if you know if it's not a Python it to you yeah and just like it yeah be like it's not going to be good if that's like unless you you know sometimes it is but like it's not it's okay to be a bit at first and then just keep going and then you know that's the marble from which you do the other stuff or whatever yeah doing any of you think you're good judges of your own work like that question about letting yourself be shared no I'm a terrible judge of my own work I think it's all sheet and everyone's made a horrendous mistake and it's going to be revealed soon I think what helps me is to come back to it later and not rewrite it straightaway so there's stuff that I've sent to Michelle that I haven't touched again and I probably won't for a few months so I have spaced away from it and then can come back to it and look at it with fresh eyes so I don't feel so attached to it yeah when I when I talk creative writing I actually did say to students it's really good to know when you're writing well to learn that because if you just think it's bad it's that negative is it's problematic but learning to know when you work well you start to recognize the bad writing before it gets to the screen or in your notebook so now that I'm writing well occasionally I know my bad habits and terrible tics and they make it to the the screen far less because you know what a good sentence looks like and if you've written something well and not to be an egomaniac and this everyone this is what she hasn't learned so I'm a bad mentor is to say this is good writing I enjoyed this writing I'm happy with it and that satisfaction is not egotistical its motivational what if you hate yourself Tony what if you just hate well they should employ psychologists for that not a mentor we do that's the next phase we're now ready to announce that there's quite a bit of therapy here too so good luck I want to just jump injured serving into that and just kind of like reflecting on sort of you know the role of a mentor in that I think I think like what's fantastic about the relationship that I have with Tony is that like and this is what you want from a good mentor like they know what you need and they're not just gonna give you what you want and so you know you're like me demanding like no no I'm anxious and I hate myself I need you to tell me that my works bad so I can rewrite it and then tell me how to rewrite it and then that that sort of thing of like step outside of yourself someone else is responsible for this now they can be the ones pulling that in and making you you you change that lens and for someone like me I need that maybe not everybody else needs but that's something that that has at least made me sort of go okay what I have is not I don't need to throw it away and that in terms of like writers blog I have no actual advice for that but I don't delete anything I just gradually shift it down lower and lower into a page like some sort of purgatory maybe I'll go back there and revisit it one day if I'm really desperate but just keep on blank paging until that's that's just somewhere far away related 10,000 words why because I hated it and now I still I think I still have it like it's in some other file path somewhere in the ether like and then I caught up with Alison last week and I was like Alison hi delete it it's 10,000 words and I gave these other words I was like why and now my god that was stupid but anyway that's a better idea I mean there's no room for shame you that's an understandable part of the process I think yeah allowed to admit that vulnerability and what's right it is genuinely one of the core things that we hope the next chapter can achieve is actually helping the recipients be good advocates for their own work you know whether it's about finding the confidence to see when it's good or everything else I think one of the real dangers in publishing is we have many very good publishers in this country who are very good at identifying potential and so a a manuscript half as talented as any of the samples that we saw from the writers who are in the next chapter scheme will get offers and it'll get off as fast and the problem is that doesn't mean the publisher is the right publisher for it it doesn't mean they have the capacity or the resources or the way with all to turn it into the piece of work that it should be it just means they've spotted the potential and the real danger there is if you're not confident and if you're not confident and you're not a good advocate for your work then you let yourself get on a conveyor belt you let the publisher tell you how it should be marketed what the cover should be how you should talk about your work and think about it and before you know it you're a rider is down a track that's not the one that represents your stories your community your ideas your voice and that's what we want to get in the way of it and that's where I couldn't be more confident that if you are mentored by Tony Birch Bayh or some Whittaker by Michelle Lee or by any of our seven other extraordinary mentors I just can't see how you would let yourself be pushed around by a publisher who wasn't the right person for you at the end of it and that's a big part of what we want and I ask you to join me in thanking these six there are reams and reams of information about the next chapter and what it is and how it works entries are open for year two today it's important to say that it's not a scheme where the writers are involved with the wheeler syndrome with us for just one year the first year is where there's the formal mentor relationship but they are with us for life they're stuck with us and what we're keen to do is work with these writers indefinitely to do all the things the wheeler Center doesn't work with publishers and work with at some point with booksellers and find ways to get their works in the hands of the readers who need to read it we are super excited by the possibility of introducing audiences at writers festivals around this country to the next generation of their favorite writers and I'm confident we've got ten of them already working away at what they're doing we're gonna have ten more later this year that does make me feel tired when I say that out loud but it couldn't be more exciting if you think you've got a book in you if you know someone who you think has a book in them that but not the confidence to advocate for themselves you can nominate other people for this we want people who are terrified of self identifying as writers and need that push to get to the next bit it's national there's a lengthy period that you can apply in there are some fliers around here that you can have a look at or go to the wheeler Center website and follow the links to the next chapter thank you and have a good festival visit wheeler Center calm for the best in books writing and ideas from Melbourne Australia and the world

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