Fringe leather jackets, olive oil, Marian apparitions, the perils of writing family. Is this a deranged shopping list? These are just some of the things lingering in my mind after attending the Emerging Writers’ Festival. It’s fair to say they lack relevance to the art of writing, the festival, or Melbourne in winter, but they are what remains of my experience and experience is one of the few things which cannot be dictated.
Firstly, I’d like to thank everyone at the Wheeler Centre and those involved with EWF for their kindness, hospitality, and generosity with their time. Every room I stepped into over the week I visited had the warm glow of welcome reserved for Christmas time. When any project lasts as long as EWF has, an impressive twenty years, it is largely down to the love and care given by the people behind it.
It’s rare that I’m anywhere at 8:30 AM and enjoy the experience, but the Morning Pages session I attended at No Vacancy was one of those rare moments. The coffee was good, the space was inviting, and I learnt enough to justify getting out of bed in the middle of a Melbourne winter.
Attempting to build story ideas through descriptions of place, characters, and mood was a new method for me. Focusing on the environment let the story brew under the surface, almost too easily. I would give a lot, some say too much, to have such an effortless experience every time I write. You can’t win them all.
I attended night schools that helped with the personal hell of editing your own short stories and touched on how to write about your family without being tossed from the will. I witnessed a conversation about sport and those who love and play it that belongs in every sporting club in Australia. At the beautifully placed Library at the Dock, I saw artists discuss their writing and how it plays with other art practices. It was freeing to see how nourishing it can be to experiment, for the artist and the admirer.
I’m not a travel expert but I managed to balance all these fine learning experiences with things less taxing. Mainly eating, with a little bit of art. Coming from the country it’s wonderful to go to an art gallery and see pieces you’ve heard of but never dreamed of seeing, like Rothko’s Untitled (Red). It’s also wonderful to eat your body weight in pizza and gelato. Very different kinds of fulfillment but both equally important. You can do worse than spend a day at the National Gallery of Victoria, followed by pizza at DOC Pizza and Mozzarella Bar. Perhaps a sweet treat from Fluffy Torpedo and then home, fully fuelled, and ready to learn the ins and outs of literature the next day. Also, The Next Big Thing is my new favourite thing, and everyone should attend whenever it’s on. And buy a copy of everything for sale.
These things were wonderful, yet what struck me most at the festival was the dedication. Everyone was varied. In background, age, goals, and skills, yet one constant everyone shared was the need to write.
Everyone was experiencing varieties of the human experience and the only thing they agreed on unanimously was that they were here, they had seen their part of the world, and they wanted the world to know about it. It’s an old urge running from cave paintings through to Renaissance sculpture, through to the modern wild west of artistic expression enabled by the internet. It warms the heart to know that what we do is not isolated and individual, but part of the human tradition of storytelling which faces little threat of falling away anytime soon.
Music needs no context, no story. An A note played against a B minor will make you feel sad and wistful whether the composer is thinking of a shepherd or Shanghai. Visual art may need a subject, but often beauty rises from a canvas or piece of marble without the need for understanding. Enough of the relationship between artist and subject is hidden within the piece to stand on its own. Writing is different. It can’t happen without the presence of life. A painting of an apple can be a fine thing but four pages describing its spots bores everyone. Leonard Cohen believed that “If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” I agree with him.
The practical tips and beauty of literature are wonderful things, but what I found most useful about the EWF was the chance to see so many people with fires burning well, and to be given the chance to grab myself more wood for the fire.
Josh King attended EWF as a participant of Regional Arts Australia’s Regional Scribes program in partnership with EWF. Regional Scribes is an initiative of Regional Arts Australia supported through the Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government program that supports sustainable cultural development in regional and remote communities in Australia.