What a brilliant way to commence Day Two of the 2013 Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, a motivational yet grounding discussion with screenplay writer and author of The Rosie Project Graeme Simsion, winner of the 2012 Eric Rolls Nature Writing Prize and author of Mr. Wigg Inga Simpson and Creative writing teacher at the Canberra Institute of Technology and author of Snake bite Christie Thompson.
The highlight of the session for many was the announcement of the 2013 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival/Varuna Unpublished Manuscript award, presented to Russell Eldridge. His manuscript Shame, is reported to have the ‘feel of To Kill A Mockingbird, of decent people struggling for justice inside a political system founded on injustice’. Congratulations Russell!
The atmosphere was electric as the first-published authors spoke fondly of their experiences leading up to this moment in their careers, some with a smoother journey than others.
“Hard work,” said Christie Thompson, “[It’s] head down, bum up for many years.”
Inga Simpson revealed that she “put off writing for a very long time” and confessed that she had “enrolled in a few professional writing courses and never turned up”. It wasn’t until her late thirties that she started to take writing seriously.
“The day my life changed,” voiced Graeme Simsion, “was the day I was shortlisted for The Victorian Premiership Unpublished Manuscript Award.”
That was the first moment he received public feedback that what he had created had some merit.
The discussion shifted to the idea that when a novel has a strong protagonist that its character traits are somewhat reflective of the author’s own.
“People call me Don,” joked Simsion. “I reckon that the Don Tillman character is about 45 percent a good friend of mine, about 45 percent me and about 30 percent made up.”
Yes, he did noted that his discrepancy in percentages could be put down to the overlap of common characteristics shared by both the author and those who inspire him.
Thompson has a different experience. By using social media and watching a measure of reality television, she was able to observe those within the same age group as her character. To add a greater depth to character, Thompson made a note to study popular feminist theory, outlining the themes of ‘the contemporary girl’.
Thompson noted that the protagonist, seventeen-year-old Jez, “was way cooler than I ever was as a teenager”.
A lot was said about the promotion of your newy published novel and which approaches were effective. Inga Simpson said that when it came to the business end of writing, “the writing itself is 90 percent, the promotion is 10 percent”.
She has a Facebook for Mr Wigg and that “he tweets occasionally about the cricket.”
Simsion said he wanted to make a name for himself within the industry, much like Jodi Picoult, as there is a mass market where readers collect and read books by a particular author, irregardless of the actual book’s story or theme.
The key take-away for the audience was the importance of supporting our fantastic homegrown Australian authors. We can do this by purchasing our newest reads from Australian distributors instead of from popular international companies such as Amazon or iBooks.
Get out there and support your local bricks and mortar bookstores, after all, it may well be your own publication perched proudly in their window display one day.
Ashley Colhoun is a Creative Writing student at Southern Cross University.