8. On festivals

Who chooses the writers we see at writers festivals, and how do they decide? Do they create their programs with gender and diversity in mind?

We talk to the women behind the legendary Auckland and Melbourne Writers Festivals, the North Texas Teen Book Festival, and Australia’s new Feminist Writers Festival.

Listen here:

About our guests

In May each year, the Auckland Writers Festival stages over 120 public events, gathering together 160 of the best writers and thinkers from New Zealand and across the world, with over 22,000 festival goers and more than 5,000 young readers.

Director Anne O’Brien has been with the Festival since 2011. A trained journalist, Anne has worked on the legendary radio show ‘Nine To Noon with Kim Hill’ and with Women in Film and Television.

Rose Brock is a librarian and academic, and one of the founders of the hugely successful North Texas Teen Book Festival. It’s a free, one-day event featuring over 70 writers for young adult and middle grade readers talking with each other and 6,000 fans about books. It also includes a workshop day for teachers and librarians.

We spoke to Anne and Rose on site during their festivals (hence the audible excitement in the background!).

Auckland Writers Festival theme for 2016: Read the World

Auckland Writers Festival theme for 2016: Read the World

Then we brought committee members from the recently announced Feminist Writers Festival and the director of the Melbourne Writers Festival into the studio to talk with us about their processes and decision-making.

The Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) is an annual, two-week celebration for writers, readers and thinkers, held in August. It includes events for people of all ages and its Schools’ Program is Australia’s biggest literary festival for students. Last year over 56,000 people attended the festival – its biggest year ever, after thirty years of festivals.

Lisa Dempster is the Director of the Festival, and prior to that was with the Emerging Writers Festival, and worked as a writer, editor and small press publisher.

Joining us from the Feminist Writers Festival are Veronica Sullivan and Stephanie Convery.

Veronica is Prize Manager of the Stella Prize. She is a 2016 Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, and was one of Melbourne Writers Festival’s 30 Writers Under 30 in 2015.

Stephanie is the festival’s Sponsorship Manager, and is a writer and the deputy editor of Overland. She was recently appointed as the deputy culture editor at The Guardian.

Image of Melbourne Writers Festival theme for 2016: Identity

Melbourne Writers Festival theme for 2016: Identity

7. On process

What do writers actually do?

We talk to two acclaimed writers of fiction about their process: where do they start, what do they think about, how does it feel, what on earth do they do all day?

Between them, Charlotte Wood and Paddy O’Reilly have published more than a dozen books and countless short stories, essays and articles, and have survived to laugh about it. They both think deeply about the work of writing, teach or mentor emerging writers, and share their experiences with us on Unladylike.

Listen here:

(If you’re on a mobile device, use iTunes, Audioboom, Stitcher or your favourite podcast app.)

About our guests

Photo of Charlotte Wood

Charlotte Wood
Photo credit: Wendy McDougall

 

Charlotte Wood is the author of five novels and two books of non-fiction, as well as essays and features – often about food, nature, or writing.

Her latest novel is The Natural Way of Things, a parable of hard-won friendship in a nightmarish prison farm for women. It won the 2016 Stella Prize, the Indie Book of the Year and Novel of the Year, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.

Her next book is The Writer’s Room, a selection of interviews with Australian authors.

 

 

Photo of Paddy O'Reilly

Paddy O’Reilly

 

Paddy O’Reilly is the author of three novels, a novella, screenplays, and two award-winning collections of short stories, including her recent collection, Peripheral Vision.  She is the editor of a series of memoir collections, beginning with It Happened in a Holden.

Her latest novel, The Wonders, is the story of three people whose bodies have been artificially altered, and who become global superstars. It won the Norma K Hemming award and was nominated for the Kirkus Prize.

 

Here are some of the writers’ tools Paddy and Charlotte mentioned:

Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is published by Allen & Unwin in the UK, Australia and New Zealand and Europa Editions in the US. The Writer’s Room will be published by Allen & Unwin in August 2016.

Paddy O’Reilly’s Peripheral Vision is published by University of Queensland Press, and The Wonders by Affirm Press in Australia and New Zealand. Her comic novel The Fine Colour of Rust was published by HarperCollins in the UK and Australia. Both were published in the US by Simon & Schuster.

Cover of The WondersCover of The Natural Way of Things

How to start a writing podcast

We’ve learned so much over the months since we’ve set up Unladylike, we want to share it in case anyone else is thinking of starting a podcast.

 

So here’s what we did.

 

Planning

First, we workshopped a wishlist of topics and writers who could match the topics. It includes JK Rowling and Ursula Le Guin on magic. We don’t think small. And besides, you never know.

 

The way we work is to bring a couple of women together in conversation. It’s like programming a world-wide writer’s festival, combining people who could have something to say on a topic, or might spark each other. They might be very different and have never met or be old mates, or even fans. If we can’t get people into conversations for practical reasons, we will do solo interviews, but then we try to have some other kind of dialogue, such as vox pops with readers or other writers on a related topic.

 

At last count we had a list of 67 possible themes with one or two potential names against them. That’s five years of monthly recordings, without any new ideas which, of course, keep popping up.

 

We have a spreadsheet for that.

 

Then we have to figure out who is actually willing and able to talk to us in the near future. Given various world time zones this isn’t always simple. Many writers like to go into deep cover when focused on a project and only pop up for a few months or weeks at a time. So we have to figure out who’s where for upcoming festivals and events, who’s got new books/plays/films coming out on what themes or in what forms, and talk to publishers, agents or event organisers, or to writers directly.

 

We have a spreadsheet for that, too.

 

Once we’ve agreed on schedules, we get reading. If we haven’t read a certain writer’s latest work, we need to get up to date. We read articles by and about them, and other interviews so we don’t ask the same questions as everyone else.

 

Then we figure out what we’d like to know from them, and create questions to help guide the interview.

 

We keep all our spreadsheets and scripts and artwork in Google Drive, so we can collaborate easily and from anywhere.

 

Of course your podcast might be on something altogether different, or not have any guests, but it’s still useful to plan topics ahead and script or semi-script rather than just blurting (especially if you’re new to broadcasting).

 

Lead-up

A year ago, we went to a podcasting workshop at the Emerging Writers Festival, led by the Re-Readers. They suggested, among other useful things, that you launch with six episodes ready to go, so people can get a sense of what the podcast is about from the first day.

 

That is great advice, and it also meant an awful lot of work in the weeks and months before our chosen launch day, but we made it. Just.

 

Three months before launch, we prepared our website and social media profiles and released them and the podcast name, so people knew it was coming. We emailed publishers, writing organisations and festivals to tell them about Unladylike. We’ve had so much support on social media since that day – it really has been incredible.

 

We have resisted the temptation to try to cover every platform, and at this stage just use Twitter, a Facebook page, and Instagram for fun. So far, Twitter is the platform on which we’ve had most direct feedback from listeners, but we’ve had more people share and link to episodes on Facebook. It might be different for podcasts on other topics.

 

We probably should have done lots more promoting and networking like other people but (and this may seem contrary) we’re both a bit shy. But you should totally do all that.

 

Recording

If possible, we invite writers into the studio to sit together and talk. We have questions printed out, but because it’s a conversation, it might go in all sorts of directions, and that’s all part of the fun. So it’s a semi-scripted podcast: we write our introductions including the biographies of each writer, we plan a whole series of questions, and sometimes we ask them all and sometimes we don’t, but we certainly never ask them in the order we imagined. We like to leave plenty of room for tangents and discussion.
kathleen syme recording studio

Kathleen Syme recording studio (Photo: City of Melbourne)

 

We usually record in the studio at the magnificent Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre. It’s a fully equipped studio, but because there are only two of us and we are both participating in the conversation, we take our own gear rather than using the mixing desk (so nobody has to sit behind the glass and feel left out). It’s not as cool, and the sound’s not as crystal clear, but it’s cosier. (Also, frankly, the desk is a little scary, with everything else we have going on. But one day we’ll come over all Linda Perry and start mixing. And wearing interesting hats.)

 

We’re not sound engineers. And we don’t make money from the podcast – in fact, it costs money (of which more later). So we don’t have fancy software or equipment. But we do our best with basic kit and lots of patience.

 

We have:
  • A Blue Yeti multi-directional microphone
  • Laptops (we are the living embodiment of the Mac/PC argument)
  • Audacity software for capture and editing
  • Pamela software for recording Skype calls (though we can never quite get it to work properly)
  • Sennheiser headphones we always forget to use in the excitement of the moment.

 

When we’re on the road or at literary events, we use portable digital recorders (we both have a Zoom H1, with tripod and windscreen). We also use that as back-up in the studio in case for some reason the laptop fails to capture the interview properly.
Usually one of us keeps an eye on the sound levels and the other keeps an eye on the questions.

 

Mysterious technical things

Here is what we use to create and present the episodes. There are other options and lots of resources online about podcasting to help you find solutions that suit you.

 

  • Our website is built in WordPress.com and the theme/template is Motif
  • Our audio files are hosted in AudioBoom, and fed from there through to iTunes and Stitcher
  • Most other podcasting apps draw a feed from iTunes, so we can relax about them
  • We edit in Audacity, a free but very powerful audio editing tool.

 

These are the things, besides the gear mentioned above, that we had to include in our budget:
  • We pay for premium licenses to WordPress and AudioBoom, because we believe in supporting the platforms on which we rely – and also we get more functionality
  • We also bought our domain name
  • We asked a designer friend to produce artwork, which needed to be in all sorts of specific shapes and sizes for different platforms, and paid her to do it – again, because it’s important to invest in things that matter and we don’t mind working for free but don’t see why anyone else should.

 

If we had funding or any income at all, we could pay for a sound engineer to edit the recordings and they would sound heaps better. But we don’t. Mind you, we’ve discovered we quite like doing it, so we’ll keep practicing and keep studying and hopefully we’ll get better and faster at it.
 Recording

 

And then…

So now it’s launched, and we continue to program, record, edit, publish and promote. It takes us both a few hours a week, but it took a lot more than that in the lead-up and there are times, such as writers festivals, when it’s intense.

 

But it’s a labour of love, we think it’s important to talk about writing with women, and we have a lot of fun.

 

We hope you do, too.

 

Adele and Kelly

6. On translation

Ann Goldstein has one of the best literary jobs in the world, as chief copy editor at The New Yorker. But in her spare time, she translates some of the planet’s most popular books from Italian into English – the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante.

Kelly caught up with Ann Goldstein at her first major literary event, the Auckland Writers Festival. (That faint sound you hear in the background from time to time is distant applause and discussion in the main theatre.)

And we also asked some readers at the Festival and beyond: what makes the Neapolitan novels so compelling?

Listen here:

(If you’re on a mobile device, use iTunes, Audioboom or your favourite podcast app.)

About our guestPhoto of Ann Goldstein

Ann Goldstein began her career in publishing as a proofreader at Esquire in 1973. A year later
she joined the editing desk at the
New Yorker, and has been the chief copy editor there since the 1980s.


In 1986, she and some colleagues decided to learn Italian.

Since then, Ann has become one of the world’s leading translators – in her spare time. In the last few years, she has edited new translations of the complete works of Primo Levi, and translated In Other Words, the new book by Jhumpa Lahiri, written originally in Italian.

But she is perhaps best known as the translator of the phenomenon that is Elena Ferrante, especially the dangerously addictive Neapolitan novels, beginning with My Brilliant Friend. These four books chronicle the lifelong friendship of two women – Elena and Lila – born into poverty in Naples, and growing up and growing older in a post-war Italy affected by crime, politics, identity, ideology, modernity and loss.

Book Cover of My Brilliant Friend

The novels have sold more than a million copies in English and led to Elena Ferrante being named as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine.

But Ferrante doesn’t want to reveal her real identity. Nobody knows who she is.  Not even her translator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ann Goldstein’s translation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words is published by Bloomsbury. Her translations of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child) are published by Europa Editions in the US and UK, and Text in Australia and New Zealand.

The Auckland Writers Festival is held each May. The 2016 line-up included Hanya Yanagihara, Gloria Steinem, Jeanette Winterson & Susie Orbach, Vivian Gornick, Tusiata Avia, Helene Wong and Eleanor Catton.

One day soon on Unladylike

We’ve been plotting.

Now we have a few live episodes, they ought to keep you occupied for a day or two.

We’ll release a new one each month – or more often if we get a bit excited.

Here’s what we have in mind for a few future episodes of Unladylike.

Image of recording studio

On translation
Ann Goldstein on the art and science of translation, and her work on the novels of Elena Ferrante.

On festivals
Do writers festivals create programs with gender and diversity in mind? We talk to women making decisions for festivals in the US, New Zealand and Australia.

On labels
Anita Heiss and Jessica Walton on perceptions, constraints, representation and freedoms.

On heroines
Malinda Lo and Rebecca Lim on creating kick-ass protagonists.

On process
Charlotte Wood and Paddy O’Reilly on dreaming, plotting (or not), drafting and redrafting.

On rebellion
Lee Kofman, Silvia Kwon and Maria Katsonis are possibly not such dutiful daughters.

That’s the plan for the next little while. We’ve already recorded some of these, but others are in the calendar-juggling phase. It might turn out differently. Certainly themes can change or emerge when we get into the studio and start talking.

But we want you to know how we’re thinking and what might lie ahead.

5. On swearing

Our guests in this episode create very different work. Patricia Cornelius writes uncompromising, realist drama, while Toni Jordan is the author of best-selling contemporary fiction. But we’ve brought them together to talk about something close to both their hearts – swearing.

(Note: This episode may include swearing. A bit. Well, actually, a fucking lot.)

Listen here:


(If you’re on a mobile device, use iTunes, Audioboom or your favourite podcast app.)

About our guestsTIny Useless

Toni Jordan has been a newspaper columnist, a writing lecturer, molecular biologist, quality control chemist, and  door-to-door aluminium siding saleswoman.

Her first novel, Addition, was an international bestseller, published or about to be published in eleven countries. It was a Richard and Judy Bookclub pick and long-listed for the Miles Franklin award.

Fall Girl (2010) was published internationally and has been optioned for film, and Nine Days was awarded Best Fiction at the 2012 Indie Awards. Her latest, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is out now.

 

Patricia Cornelius is one of Australia’s most innovative and acclaimed playwrights. She was a founding member of Melbourne Workers’ Theatre and has written over twenty-five plays including Savages, Slut, Jack’s Daughters, Max, and Lilly and May. She co-wrote Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?  and its film adaptation, Blessed. Her novel, My Sister Jill, was published in 2002. 

Patricia’s many awards include a Gold AWGIE and Green Room awards, the Jill Blewett Award,  the NSW and Victorian Premier’s Awards for Drama, and the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award.

Patricia’s play SHIT was presented by the Melbourne Theatre Company and at Forty-five Downstairs and was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.

Cast photo of SHIT


Peta Brady, Nicci Wilks and Sarah Ward on stage in SHIT.
Production photo: Sebastian Bourges

 

Toni Jordan’s essay ‘Blue Meat and Purple Language’ appears in the anthology Purple Prose,  edited by Liz Byrski and Rachel Robertson and published by Fremantle Press. Her new novel, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts, is published by Text.

The script for Patricia Cornelius’s play SHIT is published by Red Door.

4. On romance

Just as her heroines break conventions of their era, historical romance writer Tessa Dare dares to break the conventions of her genre.

Adele caught up with Tessa at the Romantic Times Booklovers conference in Las Vegas.

We also asked some readers what they love about the romance genre.

Listen here:

(If you’re on a mobile device, use iTunes, Audioboom or your favourite podcast app.)

About our guest

Trained as a librarian, Tessa Dare’s writing career began after winning the first Avon FanLit competition in 2005.  The Romantic Times called her first novel, Goddess of the Hunt, ‘… a daring debut…From the hilarious opening to the poignant climax, Dare uses wit and wisdom, humor and sensuality .’

Photo of Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare.
Photo: Raphael Maglonzo

She is now the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirteen historical romance novels and four novellas. Her books have won numerous accolades, including Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award and multiple Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards.  Booklist magazine named her one of the ‘new stars of historical romance,’ and her books have been contracted for translation in more than a dozen languages.