Words – Kate Forsyth

Photos – Kate Forsyth and J Forsyth

Emerging Writers Festival – Q&A

I’m on a mission to win things. This directly correlates with my current monetary diet, embarked upon in order to pay for a just-purchased house. So don’t cry for me Argentina, it’s all very first world.

But this is how I came to attend the Emerging Writers Festival Q&A event last night (Monday 27 May). I phoned up Triple R late one recent eve to win a double pass to… well something to do with emerging writers and what I thought was the ABC program, Q&A. Winning replaces financial outlay!

Surely with my words on this blog, I am an emerging (though slightly mature) writer and my very good gentleman friend enjoys Q&A, so what could go wrong?

Nothing, until I recalled with horror that if there was one topic I could write a 50,000 page rant on, it’s Q&A sessions. My distaste is noted in previous blog posts for this here very blog. And I loathe watching Q&A.


No one ever really asks a question. On the whole, they make overblown statements with a distinct air of superiority mixed with a dash of smug, in a bid to prove their intellect is greater than those on the panel, the person sitting next to them, the Queen, their mother, you, me, everyone. It’s the ostentatious show of wealth/white Land Rover of the political/arty/intellectual crowd.

So with extreme conscious bias, I attended The Edge at Federation Square, which is a lovely space, and thus a good start for my stumpy expectations.


Hosted very capably and humorously by Benjamin Law, the panel included Melbourne Writers’ Festival Director, Lisa Dempster; concert pianist and writer, Simon Tedeschi; writer and former Triple R breakfast radio champ, Jess Maguire; writer, performer and artist, Khariani ‘Okko’ Barokka; and former Triple J alumni and current ABC kids program host, Paul Verhoeven.

Starting with a performance poem from Khariani Barokka, my expectations didn’t immediately go north, but I am pleased to report that it was actually a fantastic, engaging event and I was riveted. There were laughs and it provided much motivation to get on with this writing gig now – not at some magical future time ‘when the time is right’, which of course, doesn’t actually exist.

The number one reason this was a great event was there was only a few questions from the audience and via the Twitter hashtag #eqanda, which part way through the evening, began trending in Melbourne which got a cheer from the audience.

With Law’s seamless moderation, it was more of a discussion of key themes about being a writer, with a few questions thrown in for good measure. And there was only one really terrible and stupid question, where a lady asked the panel’s concert pianist why he doesn’t just take up drinking. It made no sense, and not in a good way.

So what did the emerged writers have to say to the emerging?

  • Just do it
  • Start now so you can stuff up and learn and grow
  • Similar to having a baby, there is no right time to do it
  • You will be poor but happy
  • The panellists have no plan B
  • They have no advice on procrastinating, though Paul Verhoven did suggest that Procrast-abation was one way to get you moving.
  • Jealously of your fellow writers is a strong motivator. So is desperation. To pay the rent, for instance
  • You gotta hustle to make it
  • You’ve got to put yourself out there for critiquing and feedback, but do ignore the trolls and the meanies, or get used to spending time in the foetal position
  • The trend towards big media agencies not paying for writing is not OK.

This last point really ignited the panel because while there is most certainly a case for writing for exposure and experience only, the feeling is that it’s getting out of hand and at some point, the rent’s gotta get paid.

Which did lead to a slightly doomy end to the event, but being realistic is more beneficial than some silly sugar coating. It also made me feel terribly guilty for accepting free tickets. I am just like some giant media baron, robbing the creatives to fuel my lifestyle. Shame on me. I promise to only win things from large organisations from this day forth.

Overall, it seems the road to being a full time paid writer is unpaved, poorly lit and plagued with charlatans and rip-off merchants. However, it does sound like you’ll travel it with some interesting, funny, worthwhile people who are giving it a red hot go instead of letting the degree of difficulty hold them firmly in a job or career that will cause ugly regret on their death bed. Good day.

The festival continues until 2 June.

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