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‘Writing, making, drinking, thinking’: Interview with NYWF co-director Pip Smith.

I asked co-director Pip Smith a few questions about the program and what we can expect at this year’s festival.

This interview is cross-posted from NYWF where I’m one of the official bloggers this year. 

Pack your bags and books, and someone alert the locals — the National Young Writers’ Festival begins next week! I asked co-director Pip Smith a few questions about the program and what we can expect at this year’s festival.

Tell me about the National Young Writers’ Festival and its aims?

The National Young Writers’ Festival started in 1998 as an alternative to the extended blue rinse luncheons that were passing for Australia’s writers’ festivals up until that point. It was started by Marcus Westbury and co. (Shameless plug #1: You’ll be able to hear a story about that first festival by Marcus at the Storytelling Expo), and since then expanded into all sorts of nooks and crannies across Newcastle, finally becoming the glorious sprawling beast it is today: over 80 artists, an international guest, ideas and debauchery all over the place.

At this year’s festival we’re putting the emphasis on actually generating new work, strengthening connections and creating situations where ideas can collide. And by ‘creating situations’ what I mostly mean is ‘luring people with the promise of food.’

So, what’s the NYWF? A banging three and a half days of writing, making, drinking, thinking, listening, getting inspired up to your eyeballs… and eating.

What are its aims? To render you exhausted by the end of it all, to hook you up with some sweet new connections, and to encourage, nay to insist, you have a damn good time.

This year NYWF is running an eZine fair in addition to the annual paper-and-staples zine fair. Can you talk about this move to digital platforms?

I guess it’s not so much a move, as an extension built on an already excellent house. Geoff, Ben and I all agreed that the future is here. We’re in it. Have you seen what your phone can do lately? It can practically write your books for you. We wanted to extend the zine fair out to include the kinds of books people are increasingly making at the moment.

The eFair that Connor O’Brien of Bkclb has put together taps into the DIY spirit of a zine fair. If you want to write a book, you can. You don’t have to have a PhD. You don’t have to apply for a grant. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to wait for the intern at a publishing house to use your manuscript as a coaster, before realizing they haven’t emailed you their form rejection notice. And just like at a regular zine fair, you can sell your book (so we’re not talking blogs here), for a price of your own choosing, to a community of like-minded folk.

Christian Lander from ‘Stuff White People Like’ will be the international guest of the festival this year. How was Lander chosen and what do you think he will bring to NYWF?

Dom Knight of Chaser and Hamster Wheel fame (and who is also, incidentally, on our board), sent Christian an email asking for suggestions of international guests at our festival. Christian responded so enthusiastically in support of the festival, that it was clear he was a perfect fit for this year’s line up. He’s had a career that mirrors many of our home-grown artists’ careers, in that he is multi-skilled and has written across web, print and now writes for TV. Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire both maintained blogs before they made the leap into publishing, and Ben Law and Lawrence Leung are also great examples of writers who can write across multiple mediums, just as Christian does. We feel both very lucky to have him, and that he is in good company at this year’s NYWF.

There was much controversy last year over Newcastle council’s lack of funding for TiNA and the resulting Pozible campaign. Did NYWF run into any funding problems this year? 

Thanks to the incredible grant writing powers of our festival co-ordinator Zoe Norton Lodge, the NYWF has been safe this year. And on the TiNA front, the new TiNA Co-ordinator Sarah Thrift, and the Octopod’s new Strategic Business Planner David Cranswick have been doing heaps of work on the ground in Newcastle, ensuring TiNA and the NYWF have a sustainable future.

The only problem we faced was that we couldn’t pay for the Large Hadron Collider we were hoping to install at Staple Manor, but sometimes you just have to pack up your dreams and scale back, you know?

Which events or projects in the program this year are you most excited about?

I’m personally really looking forward to some of the more hidden projects we have running – such as Briohny Doyle’s workshop for ‘impossible ideas, unfinished or unformed narratives, speculative visions, absurdities, performances and other non-naturalistic modes of writing’, and Toby Fitch’s 4 hour long Poetry Games workshop, which will be taking place in a pub, and will require participants bring their own glue. I’m also looking forward to the projects our writers will need to roll up their sleeves and get dirty for, such as the Collaborative Novella, where Adam Hadley, Simon McInerney, Sam Cooney, Rosanna Stevens and Fiona Wright will be slaving away over the course of the festival to write one book together (is this possible?) under the guidance of Seizure’s Alice Grundy.

I guess the projects I’m most pumped about are the projects which are the most likely to fall apart, but for that reason I think they’re also the projects that every festival needs –moments of organized chaos where highly skilled people have to climb their way out of a series of problems, and in the process make something they, and you, could never have dreamt up alone.

For those not able to travel to Newcastle, are there other ways to become involved and follow the festival?

This year we’re turning the festival into fodder for the internet. Most of our main events, and a few on the periphery, will be audio-recorded or filmed, edited on the fly, and uploaded onto our Press Room website as fast as our internet connection will let us. We’ll also be posting reviews, photos, and invite punters to write their own reviews of events as well.

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