There are three questions you should never ask an author,” Frank Moorhouse, acclaimed author tells us.
“How many copies have you sold? How long did it take to write? And how many times have you been to the gym? The last one used to be how many drinks did you have, but the culture has changed.”
Moorhouse arrived stylishly late to the Making our Culture session at Byron Bay Writers’ Festival 2014. He joined Mem Fox, author of both children and adult books, Henry Rosenbloom, founder of Scribe Publications, and Susan Wyndham, literary editor for Sydney Morning Herald.
While Fox contributed a little about her childhood in Africa where her family lived, though still stuck to Australian culture. In fact, they even had gum trees planted around the house. She told how she wrote books for young Australians because she felt there was a distinct lack of literature that Australian children could identify with.
When Moorhouse was asked about Australian culture, he pointed out that festivals such as the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival were actually a growing facet of our culture. Nearly half a million people attend these kinds of festivals in Australia every year, Moorhouse said.
Moorhouse then suggested that the rise of intellectually-focussed festivals was happening because people are looking for something the mass media is not giving them. Wyndham could not resist remarking that attendance at writers’ festivals did not necessarily translate into book sales.
This may be because the culture of book publishing is changing. As sales of books drop and bookshops close en masse, publishers are becoming a lot more cautious. This means it is more likely that the most popular genres will be published, and less experimentation in writing tolerated.
Rosenbloom agreed wholeheartedly and added that publishing and writing is a lot more like ‘sudden death’ now. The current climate of publishing could potentially stymie new cultural movements in Australia by being driven by money concerns, where the old and reliable are chosen over the new and experimental.
Another interesting topic was broached when Fox brought up the move to ebooks. Fox bemoaned the idea of her beautiful pictures being subjected to digital technology. Fox rightly pointed out that children’s picture books were more about generational relationships than the book itself.
And perhaps this kind of art is not entirely suited to digital renditions. But as Wyndham pointed out, newspapers cost a lot of money to print and that means that content quantity is limited. A digital shift by newspapers would end these problems, and save a lot of trees.
RP Stoval is a creative writing student at Southern Cross University.