Learnings from Australia

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Cate Blake, Edwina Johnson, Fiona Henderson, Laura Kroetsch, Margot Lloyd and Stephanie Siriwardene, moderated by Wendy Were

 

By Arjun Bhatia, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Blogger

 

The Jaipur BookMark (JBM), which began as a two-day sister event of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in 2014, has grown into a full-fledged parallel festival this year. Over its three editions, JBM has hosted delegations from the US, the UK, Israel, France, and Norway as well as regional Indian language publishers. Taking the legacy of the festival forward, the Durbar Hall welcomed the third business delegation of literary festival directors, publishers and representatives from the Australia Council for the Arts as they shed light on the literary landscape of Australia.

‘Over 87% Australians read a book a week,’ Chief Executive of Sydney Writers’ Festival Wendy Ware opened the discussion with this staggering fact from recent research. As a result, the country offers fertile ground for publishing houses – and consequently literature – to thrive; there are over a 1,000 publishing houses in Australia. While they face the risk of operating in a market being ‘swamped with works from the US and the UK’, a significant 25% market share has been captured by independent local publishers, which allows them to be ‘creative and exciting’, remarked Cate Blake, a Commissioning Editor with Penguin Random House Australia.

Australian readers are no strangers to Indian literature either. Laura Kroetsch, Director of the Adelaide Writers’ Week, said that readers constantly look for something new and India, being a country that widely attracts Australian backpackers, offers her a ‘great opportunity to bring Indian writers here and provide a rich experience’ to local readers. Edwina Johnson, Manager of Programme and Operations at Byron Writers’ Festival, recounted an incident from the festival where a group of Indian women writers of a Tamil anthology received a standing ovation with loud cheers. ‘It was a privilege to present them,’ she added.

Literature festivals go a long way in providing such encouragement to emerging writers. By offering a platform for authors to build a relation with their readers, literature festivals are assuming an ‘increasingly important role in the cultural fabric of a society’, which is evident from their rising number as well as that of their attendees, Johnson said. Emphasizing the importance of such festivals, Kroetsch remarked that it is a ‘luxury’ to see people gathering to discuss writing in a world where everything is expected to go digital. She summed it up cogently by adding, ‘Literature festivals are safe places to have hard conversations.’

However, writers require more than just a morale boost from packed crowds. The practical and financial travails of a career in writing are universally known. Literature festivals also offer sessions on the technical aspects of writing and practical concerns such as getting published and managing finances, said Blake. She further talked about the vital financial support offered to writers and publishers by the Australian government. ‘I spoke to a lot of publishers in India. Such support is lacking here at the moment,’ Blake added.

The session drew to its close with Blake offering advice for authors from an insider’s perspective. She suggested that aspiring writers must also work on their marketing skills, be able to edit and promote their work and network well. ‘A much larger skill set than writing ability is required for success. That’s the job description these days.’

Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill

 

 

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