Ep 74 Mark Latham’s weird appearance at Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Chocolat author Joanne Harris on getting paid, beware of Amazon Prime, the perils of RSI for writers, and we talk to Random House publisher Meredith Curnow. Should you use Periscope and what to do about late paying clients.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 74 of So you want to be a writer: The 2015 winners of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, 10 things we think we need to do before we start writing, Mark Latham being weird at the Melbourne Writers Festival, author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris, forthright about authors’ rights and responsibilities, beware Amazon Prime, preventing writing related injuries, three common mistakes when writing dialogue, Publisher in Residence Meredith Curnow, Allison’s “Where I Write” Periscope recording, how to get your copywriting invoices paid now, and more.

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes
Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards – 2015 Winners Announced!

10 Things we think we need to do before we start writing #Writer #amwriting

Mark Latham brings his bite to Melbourne Writers Festival event

Joanne Harris interview: The Chocolat author is in militant mood when it comes to writers’ rights

Broken, Not Bitter. An Author’s Life with Repetitive Strain Injuries

Unnecessary Discourse, Talking Heads, and the British Butler Syndrome

Publisher in Residence 

Meredith Curnow

Publisher Meredith CurnowMeredith Curnow is the publisher of the Knopf and Vintage imprints at Penguin Random House, looking after both fiction and non fiction. Meredith has been with the company for twelve years. She was also the founding director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival from 1998 to 2002.
Find Meredith on Twitter

Random House on Twitter

Allison Tait on Where I Write

See Allison’s Periscope recording for Where I Write

Working Writer’s Tip

Have a late paying client? Get your copywriting invoices paid now

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

 

Allison

Meredith Curnow is the publisher of the Knopf and Vintage Imprints at Penguin Random House, looking after both fiction and non-fiction, and has been with the company for 12 years. She was the founding director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival from 1998 to 2002.

 

Welcome, Meredith.

 

Meredith

Thanks, Allison.

 

Allison

Let’s just start with a quick run-down of your duties as a publisher, because I think there’s some confusion out there of the difference between an editor and a publisher, et cetera. Does a typical day for you entail hands-on editing or are you more involved in sort of project management and finding new talent and that sort of stuff?

 

Meredith

That’s a good question because there is no typical day, because there’s so many different parts to the role. But, yes, more days are spent in sourcing new books, managing all of those end projects, managing books. That said, I spent the whole of yesterday, from 9:30 ’til 10 to 6:00 in the room with an author, working on a manuscript.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Meredith

At very much a structural edit stage.

 

Allison

Right, so you are structural editing as well as doing all of these other bits and pieces that you do?

 

Meredith

Look, it’s a bit of a Random House policy, actually. Well, I should say, it was when I started and so if that… your practice is that you keep it up, I suppose. So, we were always expected to do the structural edits on our books. And most of my colleagues still do, actually, including our publishing director. She generally would do the structural edit on her books too.

 

Allison

Wow, OK.

 

In the role that you have you must do an incredible amount of reading. How do you fit it all in?

 

Meredith

Yeah, look, I try and read in the morning, when perhaps healthier people than I are out running or at the gym or meditating. I try and read in the morning, fresh manuscripts, not things that I’m working on, because I just find that I’m brighter then and I have better concentration. Then once I’m at the office I’m working on books that are already signed up or on our list. That tends to be my process.

 

But, yeah, you’ve got to keep reading all the time, of course one of the things that I think is really important in my role is that I’m also reading all around the books that I’m publishing. So, I’m really trying to stay on top of Australian fiction and non-fiction too, although I’m better at reading in the fiction area.

 

Allison

I mean that was a question I was going to ask you, so you’re kind of reading for work constantly. Like, even when you’re reading for pleasure you’re also reading for work, aren’t you? I mean do you still enjoy reading? I guess that’s my question.

 

Meredith

Yeah, look, it’s a complete and utter pleasure, it only takes a good book, or ten pages into a good book to remember why reading is one of the most exquisite joys in life. But, everyone I know in publishing, whenever we’ve got a few days off, and indeed I’m having a long weekend not this weekend, but next weekend, and I already know the two books that I’m taking. You’re always planning ahead for your personal reading, just to get those moments in, because of course we are all reading all the time for work.

 

Many books that come out I will have read it eight times, it’s perfectly standard to have been through a manuscript before it’s in that final bound form.

 

Allison

Now I have to ask you what two books you’re taking, because clearly they must be good if they’re on your list, right?

 

Meredith

I’m taking Lila, the Marilynne Robinson novel that’s on the long-list for the Booker. I’ve read all of her other novels and absolutely adored them. So, I can’t wait to read that.

 

And Sofie Laguna, The Eye of the Sheep.

 

Allison

Right, my book club has just read that, to rave reviews and the notion that it should actually come with a warning it’s so immersive. So, there you go. I’m sure you’ll love that.

 

Meredith

Perfect, then. A good flight reading.

 

Allison

Yeah, exactly.

 

Meredith

I’ll probably do some crying in public — is that true, do you think?

 

Allison

Probably, yeah. I think so. Yeah, that should be good.

 

When you’re actually reading a manuscript, like you said you read in the mornings and you’re looking at submissions, how much of it do you need to read to know whether or not you want to read more?

 

Meredith

I probably read too much and I’ve never been able to… I’ve reduced it, but I’ve never been able to cut right down. In the non-fiction area a lot of it is proposals, so a broad outline, a few chapters, and that’s obviously much easier to manage, so you can get through those. Although, I would generally try and read one and if I’ve finished it then great, I’ll read the paper that morning or something. But, you know, I try not to read two in a row just so you’ve got a clear head and can recall what you’ve just read.

 

Fiction, it’s much harder, because we all know that you can chuck out the first three chapters of something and then a novel can really start. So, I tend to read at least 50 pages, and I know that’s not recommended. People are always telling me, “Oh, you should be able to tell in the first two pages…” “…the first ten pages…” this that and the other. But, I would generally read 50, sometimes 100. Often I will read a whole manuscript knowing that I’m not going to offer, but I just think it’s a really quality manuscript.

 

Allison

Oh, right.

 

Meredith

Unfortunately it’s just not right for my list, but I just keep thinking, “Oh… oh… oh…” and read the whole way through.

 

Allison

What will you do in a case like that? Will you just go back and say, “Look, I really loved your work, but it’s not right for me?” Like, “Keep going…”? Do you get to that, or do you send the form letter?

 

Meredith

Oh, no. We don’t have a form letter, as far as I’m aware. No one has ever given me one. I mean certainly the person who manages non-solicited manuscripts that come in via the mail room, they probably do get a form letter, I think.

 

But, anything that actually comes direct to me or through an agent… I will usually just send a paragraph or two, and there is no doubt that I do… if I’ve really enjoyed it and I think it’s publishable but just not right for me or not right for us at that time, I will write a couple of paragraphs and encourage them to continue to pursue publication. But, there is no doubt that you will be trying not to engage in an on-going communication with that writer, if I think the writer or the book isn’t right for my list any time in the future.

 

If it’s just that manuscript is the one that I think is not right for me, but I think they’ve probably got another one in them that is, then I will write more, that’s for sure.

 

Allison

Yeah, OK. I think one of the things that frustrates aspiring authors who are submitting a lot of work, or even probably people who’ve been published before is the fact that the process can feel like it takes a very long time, and there’s that notion that perhaps you send it in and it’s sitting on someone’s desk and it’s going to sit there for months and months and months.

 

But, I guess it’s important to remember just how much care and time that you are taking. Like, you are reading at least 50 pages, you’re taking the time to go back to people, I guess if authors can keep that in mind it might make the whole process maybe of the waiting less painful, do you think?

 

Meredith

Absolutely. I can completely appreciate the agony of it, I really do, but that is the thing. If they want proper consideration of every submission I really do believe if they just stop and think that through they’ll realize that it’s going to take time. They only need to talk amongst their peers and they’ll realize that they’re not the only person who’s sent something in.

 

Managing submissions and the work that you’ve already got underway is a really tough thing. And, I’ve always struggled with that, “Should I be looking ahead for new manuscripts today or should I be working on all of those manuscripts that are in chain?”

 

You know we publish at least 15 new books a year and then there will be second formats that come out as well that may or may not have an extra chapter, but they’ll certainly have a new cover, all of those things you’re managing, as well as looking for new writers and new authors, and doing that journal reading, keeping in touch with the industry. So, there’s a lot going on in the day, but I absolutely appreciate that it’s really difficult for people who are waiting.

 

Allison

I think it’s easy to sometimes forget how big of a project a book can be, and how many words… if it takes you ‘X’ number of months/years, whatever to write them, it does still actually take quite a bit of time to read them as well. So, I guess that’s important.

 

Having said that though, have you found a gem in the slush pile in recent memory?

 

Meredith

I brought in a novel from the slush pile this year.

 

Allison

Well, there you go.

 

Meredith

Yeah, I know. I know. I can tell you it’s great to be able to say that. And I hadn’t brought one for a while. But, I do think that probably we would find something in the slush pile once a year, at least, that certainly my colleague, Beth, who publishes fiction, she’s our commercial fiction publisher, I think she would get something almost every year. We certainly pull the occasional piece of non-fiction out of there as well, which we do get an extraordinary amount… it’s quite overwhelming, but we do have a meeting once a month and there’s about 20 people that attend that meeting to go through the submissions.

 

But, I do believe that the submissions are becoming better, in fact there’s more and more information on our website, and on pretty much everyone else’s website, there are so many different avenues for getting direction on how to submit to publishers, I think. The submissions are becoming more targeted and clear. So, I think that’s probably why we’re picking things up more often.

 

Allison

Yeah, that was something that I wanted to ask you about, because as you say, like, you read things that are great, but not for you, and that you’re getting more targeted manuscripts and things, but can you explain briefly how imprints work? What aspiring authors need to know about them, and how to find the right publisher for your particular manuscript?

 

Meredith

I think that bookstores, be they online or the ones on High Street are the best place to do research for writers who are looking to be published. You need to go into a bookstore, give yourself a couple of hours, half an hour perhaps if that’s all you’ve got, just browsing the shelves, looking at books, looking in the section and just think, “Where in this store do I want my book to be? Is it in the memoir, is it in health, is it in women’s fiction, is it in literary fiction?” And then just look at the books around that and look at who published them.

 

On the inside of a book, on the imprint page, it will give you full details of the publishing house, including their address, the acknowledgements page of a book is always a source of a lot of information, they will often mention their editor or publisher, not always, but often they do.

 

Note the publishing houses that you think are right for you. A book that I have published, almost everything that I publish almost always has Vintage or Knopf on it. Knopf is only a hardback imprint, so we don’t do a lot in that. But, if I’ve published it will usually say Vintage, so a Vintage Australia title will be me or Nikki Christa our publishing director. If you find a few books that have Vintage Australia, and you think, “Gosh, this is just like… it fits right in the area that my novel sits as well,” then you should think, “Oh, I’m the right person,” if it’s an Allen & Unwin book that most kind of strikes at your heart, contact Allen & Unwin, or indeed contact both, Random House and Allen & Unwin is probably a better idea.

 

Making sure that you tell each of them that you’ve also submitted to another house, of course.

 

Allison

Of course. Of course.

 

Meredith

But, imprints are… we do discuss them a lot. And the ones that I work under are longstanding, Vintage has only been in Australia for only about 15 years, I think it is, but has existed in the UK and the US for longer than that. Knopf has been around for 100 years, this year. Alfred A. Knopf established it.

 

Allison

There you go.

 

Meredith

Yeah, so longstanding imprints. Here at Random House we also have Ebury, Heinemann and all sorts of other — Bantam is a really longstanding one as well. So, really they’re just trying to give you… the imprint tries to give you an idea of what you will find within that group.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Meredith

So, if it’s Vintage, you know it will be quality writing, writing of a certain standard, probably not a piece of writing that you’re going to whip through at 100 miles per hour. There’s going to be a good few hours reading in that book, I would imagine. Other books, of course, they want you to just read through and have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter, kind of thing. They’re like brand, an imprint is like a brand.

 

Allison

Yeah. So, you basically need to think about where… because I think that’s the other thing that often happens is that, you know, if you can’t really describe where your book might sit on the bookshelf, you might have to think a bit, like maybe clear it up a little bit in your thoughts, do you think?

 

Meredith

Yeah.

 

Allison

Like, if there’s no clear spot for it…

 

Meredith

Yeah, absolutely. And, that’s why I do think bookstores… I mean you can do this online as well, obviously search around in the different categories, and there are, gosh, meta-data these days gives you so many categories of books to go through. Perhaps you just haven’t thought about it particularly clearly.

 

I was talking to some writing students just earlier this week and they had all put really specific genres on the pages I had read, and I said, “Were you told to do this?” And they said, “Yes.” And, I don’t think about books in genres, I really don’t. I look to the writing, I look to the voice of the writer. I suppose I really do think in my imprint, who knows which came first, because I was kind of trained in that way. But, I don’t think about it… within in Vintage I have published thrillers, I’ve published high literary fiction, I’ve published mainstream fiction, I’ve published humor. I probably haven’t published much in the way of… I don’t think I’ve published any romance, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, if I didn’t feel like the writing and the voice fit into that.

 

Allison

Yeah, OK. It’s almost like a tone and a quality that you’re looking for as opposed to a style of writing, per se?

 

Meredith

Yeah, yeah. And, certainly, if you think about Kate Forsyth, an author who I published, whose work always has… it’s almost impossible to classify. At the moment she’s been with this publisher for a third of novels that…

 

Allison

The fairytale retellings…

 

Meredith

Exactly.

 

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Meredith

But, they’re not even straight that, of course, either. And the current one is set in World War II, so it’s historical fiction, but it’s retelling a fairytale, what’s the genre for that? The first one in this series, Bitter Greens had a lot of magic in it, and so, of course, because of the fairytale thing, people here were saying, “Is it speculative fiction?” And I was going, “No, because you’d believe that is real.”

 

So, things aren’t always classifiable. But, I still do think that bookstore hunt will give you a really good feel of where your book should be on the shelf.

 

David Mitchell is someone I think about as well, his books aren’t genre-books so much, but they’re more about a kind of writing and a kind of world he creates.

 

Allison

What are some of the mistakes that you see over and over again in submitted manuscripts. I mean beyond sending it to the wrong place, are there certain things that you see regularly happen and you see it and go, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that.”? Like, what sort of things do you see?

 

Meredith

You’re absolutely right, the number one, that you pointed out, sending them to the wrong house.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Meredith

We say we don’t publish science-fiction, we don’t publish poetry, and of course we get poetry and science-fiction. We also get things that are YA or children’s books, and our children’s division has a completely different set of submission guidelines. So, that’s the biggest
time-waster.

 

But, then letters, the cover letters, which they are… it’s the first time we approach your voice, and some people will just say, “This is bigger than Dan Brown…” you know? “… E L James… “… the Bible…” Blah, blah, blah. You wouldn’t believe how often that happens. And, we all know that’s not true.

 

Allison

I’m really surprised by that.

 

Meredith

Look, they happen so rarely, that kind of zeitgeist moment, something that just takes off and everyone wants it, but they’re not created, they really come out of nowhere. No one knew E L James was going to take off in the way she did. So, rather than just… and we read that over and over and over again. So, people are much being targeted… I would say think about it as a job application.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Meredith

You get one chance, polish it, make it the best it can be. I think starting out with “Dear Sir” is a little bit of a pain, given the constitution of most publishing houses.

 

There’s just a few things that can just be off-putting when you are going through hundreds of submissions in an afternoon. So, just try and keep it as targeted, as honest as possible, you know, rather than building yourself up, be really honest in there and just talk about yourself, talk about the manuscript that’s attached, be warm and friendly and encourage people to go through it. Yeah, and not being a smart-aleck kind, but someone who is just…

 

Allison

Right.

 

Meredith

You can get quite a shock. And, ideally don’t handwrite. We get handwritten things and it’s just that it can be hard to read. We see so little handwriting in our lives these days that it just can be hard to read hand-written submissions.

 

Allison

I don’t hand write anything anymore. I can’t read my shopping lists.

 

Meredith

Yeah, I know. It’s terrible. I do still handwrite some things, but my hands hurt afterwards.

 

Allison

As a publisher do you take an author’s profile or platform into consideration when you’re deciding whether or not to publish a manuscript?

 

Meredith

Yeah, absolutely. It’s relevant, but certainly it’s not… and it’s relevant in a different way for different books. Non-fiction it’s pretty important because generally they’re going to need to have some kind of an authority in that area. I mean it might just be the point of, “Is this really the person they say they are?” So, you need to understand that kind of stuff. Or, “Are they the right person to be promoting this idea?” “This event?” “This…” whatever.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Meredith

So in non-fiction it’s particularly important.

 

In fiction not so much, but, of course, you want to know that they can talk about their work.

 

I’ve never looked to actually see what someone’s Twitter following is, or checked their LinkedIn profile or their — I can’t remember the name now, or that score you get when the amount of social media…

 

Allison

Oh, it’s Klout…

 

Meredith

Yeah, Klout.

 

But, of course, when I’m taking it to acquisitions and our marketing people start to talk about if that’s high, if they’ve got lots of followers, that’s fantastic. But, a constant discussion, again just came up the other night when I was talking to some writing students, “How many Tweets do you have to send to sell a book?”

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Meredith

I see on Twitter discussions along those lines all of the time. I think it’s useful, but I hate the idea that people are spending so much time on social media that they’re not writing their work. They’re not being true to their own work, that they’re…

 

I think it works best, Graeme Simsion is amazing, and it’s so perfectly natural to him.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Meredith

To promote his work. It’s just him. It’s part of his character.

 

But, to create this whole other persona to be able to promote your work, I just think it’s flawed, the idea of it.

 

Allison

Yeah. I think it has to be an extension of who you are, and it has to be whatever you find easy, that’s always been my premise with it.

 

OK, so with non-fiction are you mostly working in the areas of, like, memoir and biography? What are you looking for in that area?

 

Meredith

Any great ideas really. Narrative non-fiction, I’ve done a little bit of military history. I worked with a writer called Stephen Dando-Collins who’s fantastic at discovering undiscovered people and facts in Australian history and exploring those in different ways. He’s also written some family history, that was indeed his most successful book. It was just amazing. It’s incredible when you put your own emotions into a story in that way, when it has really affected your family.

 

I love a book that just explores an idea. I published this narrative non-fiction called The End, looking at death.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Meredith

Exploring all of the different approaches to death. It started when this wonderful science journalist Bianca Nogrady was sitting at her grandmother’s bedside and she and her cousins were laughing, sometimes they would forget their granny was there. And just how it brought them together. It really made her think about all of the different ways of approaching death. It’s just the most extraordinary book, and a really challenging book to work on, of course, to ensure it’s comprehensive.

 

I’m working on an adoption memoir at the moment, co-written by the biological mother and the woman who discovered when she was almost 50 that she had been adopted.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Meredith

So anything that’s really a strong idea with great writing behind it.

 

Allison

OK, so a memoir doesn’t need to be written by a well-known author for you to be interested?

 

Meredith

Oh, no. No, not at all. It’s just got to be a great story.

 

Allison

 

Meredith

And obviously the writing and my imprint, so the writing has got to be really strong as well. Writing has got to be good in all imprints, of course.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Meredith

But, to be in Vintage the writing…

 

Allison

It’s a cornerstone for you?

 

Meredith

… has to be…

 

Yeah, it is. It is.

 

Allison

 

You’ve also worked on some amazing biographies in your time, is this correct?

 

Meredith

Well, an amazing autobiography last year, Julia Gillard, if that’s who you…

 

 

Allison

Yes, yes. That’s… yes. That’s where I’m going with that.

 

Meredith

That was a really extraordinary thing to do. I’ve worked with people in politics before, but never anyone who had been to quite that level in their career.

 

One of the things that was so challenging about that was that it was so soon after some really, really torrid events, well, really three years of torrid events…

 

Allison

Still going on, really.

 

Meredith

Yes, that’s right, it hasn’t stopped. So, that was a really… I must say I had three challenging non-fiction books last year. You think, “Oh, I’m going to work on non-fiction this year, that will be a nice change for me. It will be a bit of a relief…” and wow, wow.

 

Allison

Not so much?

 

Meredith

Each book is just as hard as another one, all in different ways.

 

But, yeah, that was a really fantastic experience. And just looking… I did all of the structural work on that book as well, Julia Gillard was amazing to work with. She met every deadline. She listened and responded to every single comment, but had strong ideas herself.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Meredith

It really was… yeah, an exemplary working process, really.

 

Allison

Because I imagine there would be some challenges faced in getting, I mean particularly that’s, as you say, a torrid story in itself, but getting the best story from a well-known face. Is it difficult when you’re dealing with such a…

 

Meredith

What can be hard to push someone beyond where they want to go. You’re right. If they’re a well-known person that’s a little bit harder.

 

I was meeting with the people writing the adoption memoir last night and one of the things that I said to them, and it’s exactly the same with Julia Gillard, whoever it is, “I’m going to ask you to give me things that you don’t want to give me, but you just say ‘no.’ There will be privacy issues related to this… you can say ‘no,’ but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try and push you to put as much in here as you possibly can.”

 

 

 

Allison

Because I think the temptation would be with those kinds of stories to gloss over the bits that really hurt to write, because writing can be very painful, can’t it? So, as you say privacy…

 

Meredith

Writing is painful.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Meredith

Yeah.

 

Allison

I know, myself, just from being edited that sometimes someone is shoving you to push it further and push it further, and it’s just like, “I can’t do this, it hurts.” Like, “I don’t want to do this… it hurts, because I did it the first time and now I don’t want to go back there.” You know?

 

Meredith

Absolutely.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Meredith

That is so true. You’ve hit the nail on the head. We are asking you to relive some of the most difficult experiences of your life and relive them publicly in writing and publicly. That’s sometimes why you’ve signed a book up, of course.

 

Allison

Yeah, of course.

 

Meredith

So there’s an obligation to go there. But, always to go only as far as you can.

 

That said, there have been some very famous cases of public persons who left very large holes in their books, and that’s really not on.

 

Allison

No.

 

Meredith

And those books don’t fly, because they don’t sound true.

 

It’s such a weird thing to try and explain, but one of the overarching rules of writing for me is the work must always read as true. If it’s fiction or non-fiction, it needs to sound authentic. It needs to sound real. It needs to sound true to who the writer is.

 

 

Allison

That’s excellent advice too for everyone to be taking on board.

 

Just segue and changing the subject slightly, let’s talk about writers’ festivals and conferences, because I think you spend a fair amount of your life at these things. And you’ve of course directed the Sydney Writers’ Festival. But, when writers corner you, first of all do you hate being cornered at festivals and conferences by authors? Let’s just get that out of the way first, shall we?

 

Meredith

No, I think good on people for pursuing conversations with publishers and editors whenever they can. I mean toilets can be hard.

 

Allison

Oh, stop! I’ve heard about that. I have heard about people pursing…

 

Meredith

Yep, I’ve been tapped in toilets…

 

Allison

Oh, no.

 

Meredith

Certainly just recently I was talking at South Australian Writers’ Centre with a couple of other publishers from other houses and one of them had a manuscript put under the toilet door while she was in there.

 

Allison

No.

 

Meredith

I’ve had people wait for me outside of the toilet and talk to me in the toilet, but never put a manuscript under the door. I’m not sure hygienic that is, really, floors and toilets.

 

Allison

“Just while you’re in there, if you’ve got a few minutes… here you are…”

 

Meredith

But, look, I do think good on them. I think that the publishing process can be difficult to unpack, to understand how it all works, what goes on inside there. So, I’m absolutely open to it. But, I think just like in any kind of approach that respect is due to whoever you’re talking to. So, if you are trying to go to the toilet please let someone go to the toilet. If they’re getting jiggy it’s for a proper reason.

Allison

What kind of questions are people asking you most frequently? Is it, “Will you read my work?” Or are there others that come up regularly?

 

Meredith

Yeah, it’s not just, “Will you read my work?” Funnily enough I think that one has dropped off. People aren’t trying to push work at you so immediately. It’s more questions of process and how it’s going on and who should they send their work to and why should they be published? Or sometimes, of course, it’s challenges about, “You’re the gatekeepers of…” blah, blah, blah, “Why can’t I get my work published?” That kind of thing.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

 

Meredith

But, I think as long as there’s respect in the engagement, on both parts, of course the publisher or editor should be respectful as well. I think it’s fair enough.

 

Allison

Fair enough, OK.

 

Meredith

Take your chances.

 

Allison

All right, so when you were directing the Sydney Writers’ festival, as someone who has directed a festival, what kind of things did you take into consideration when planning the program? Like, I’m just thinking from the perspective of authors who might be interested in getting onto the radar of a festival director, how would they go about doing that?

 

Meredith

Because it was the first years of Sydney Writers” Festival, obviously it was smaller than it is now.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

 

Meredith

It’s enormous now. Mostly… then I was very open to partnerships. So, I always dealing with, say, the New South Wales Centre, the Australian Society of Authors. Pretty much… poetry societies, all of the organizations going, I would meet with them and I suppose they were a funnel to help me curate a program.

 

Allison

 

Meredith

It was always important for me. I maintained that I had been employed to curate a program, that the board who had employed me were keen that I had a vision and I followed that. So, I didn’t feel that there was an obligation to a particular writer or a particular organization to push forward whatever their agenda was at that time. It is still a curated program, as far as I’m aware, but it certainly was when I was there.

 

But, there are things going on in the world, if there’s a trend, you probably want to make sure that that’s addressed. Obviously writers’ festivals have become almost festivals of ideas at the moment, sometimes I worry that there’s not as much literature in the festival as I would like to see.

 

Allison

Oh, OK. Just putting that out there.

 

Meredith

Yes, that’s right.

 

But, I think that’s brilliant as well. That they are providing forums for conversations, conversations between the stage and the people in the audience. I would like to call them readers, and believe their readers. But, it’s not just all about talking up there on the stage, that they are going to pursue ideas further, not just get ideas of the person who is speaking, but ideas around that as well.

 

But, yeah, I do feel like the writers’ festival directors should be given room to kind of push readers further, push the audiences further, without being really restricted.

 

Allison

 

Meredith

To be given obligations, “You must do this…” “You must do that…” “You must do that…” I just think that’s impossible to cover every kind of genre and sub-genre out there, and every group going. But, that said, I think it’s great to bring different things to their attention, because life at those festivals are big, life is busy, it’s pretty easy to miss something. So, I think, um, people should submit to festivals as well.

 

Allison

Because, generally, publishers submit on authors’ behalves, is that how it usually works?

 

Meredith

Yes.

 

Allison

Yes. OK, so you would need to let your publisher know that you have something to offer?

 

Meredith

Yes, certainly they get direct submissions as well, there’s no denying that. And, I presume they’re reasonably welcomed, but I would check with the festival first. Don’t go sending in a heap of stuff to all of the festivals without checking with them that they’re open to that.

 

Listen, it’s not just publishers by any means, it is all of those different organizations are doing the same.

 

Allison

I think it’s probably, would you agree, a good idea too that if it’s something that you’re interested in as an author that often starting with a small… because there are so many literary festivals and writers’ festivals and things now, that starting with smaller ones and kind of practicing can be a good thing?

 

Meredith

That sounds like a great idea. We didn’t sort that through before, which is terrible.

 

But, if I think about the smaller festivals, yeah, the audiences are more open to them, and certainly the free festivals as well, you’re more likely to get an audience than you are to the ones where you have to buy a ticket to every session. If you’re new and unknown, that’s at a lot of the festivals also will mix the lesser known writers with some of the more prominent writers to bring attention to new writers too, which I think is really exciting and really important to do.

 

Allison

Yeah, fantastic.

 

Meredith

But, yeah, I think some of those smaller festivals can just be fantastic.

 

Allison

All right, well, that sort of brings us to the end of our interview. We have to do the final ‘what are your top three tips for aspiring writers’ thing, which I’m throwing at you, because I hadn’t warned you about this at all. I’ll just give you two seconds to think about that.

 

Meredith

Certainly, I know what number one is — read, read, read, read, read, read, read… read.

 

Allison

Maybe you would just like to put that for one, two and three.

 

Meredith

Number two is write, write, write, write, write… and write.

 

And three is probably re-read your work and edit it after having a break, put it in a drawer, step away, come back to it, get it out. Read it again, and rewrite.

 

Allison

Are you seeing manuscripts that you think, “Oh, I wish you had edited this a least once and then sent it to me.”?

 

Meredith

Yes, absolutely.

 

Allison

 

Meredith

Someone just asked me the other night, “So, I can submit my manuscript and then after you send it back I can submit it again?” I went, “Well, yeah, but why wouldn’t you just do all of that work on at the first time before you send me it?”

 

Allison

So do as much work as you think it needs and then probably another bit of work before you send it in?

 

 

Meredith

Well, yeah, and one more final read, just to make sure that the spelling is reasonably correct and you just haven’t left a redhead character just lurking there that had no additional role that the rest of their story had been removed, but they’re still lurking.

 

Allison

Just the random character?

 

Meredith

It happens, it happens.

 

Allison

The random redhead…

 

Meredith

It happens to the best of writers as well, so why wouldn’t it happen to newer writers?

 

Allison

I’m sure it’s happened to me many times.

 

All right, Meredith, thank you so much for your time today. I’m sure that our listeners will have got a lot of our conversation today. I really appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

 

Meredith

My pleasure. Thanks, Allison.

 

Allison

Bye.

 

Meredith

Bye.


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