Monday, 24 May 2010

TwitterFEST and the 'Australian' novel

With the Emerging Writers' Festival introducing an online program this year, you don't necessarily have to be in Melbourne to take part (although I do recommend going to live events if at all possible, have been to two so far and have loved two so far).

Though it does help if you're on Twitter (which is easy).

This afternoon, while Dylan slept, I jumped into TwitterFEST to join the discussion "What is an 'Australian' novel?" I'm not sure I have an answer to this (do you?), although if I use their list of suggestions, I'm inclined to think an Australian novel is one written by an Australian.

There were certainly some interesting ideas presented, including whether novels are 'Australian' due to setting, theme/s, style and voice. Not to mention categorisation for awards where a requirement is that the story 'is Australian', but I'm not going there.

At some point the discussion veered towards diversity in voices of 'Australian' writing, and writers and I was asked to comment on my thoughts about same, given I'm reading novels by Aussie women only this year. Now, I'm not sure I'm qualified to say much given I'm only reading about 2 novels a month, and perhaps it has more to do with me trying to read them for pleasure than to pick them apart, but I'd say there is definitely variety in what I've been reading. I think this because I'm sure I'd put the next book down if it sounded or felt too similar to the last or another recent read.

As for short fiction, I feel confident to say there's plenty of diversity.

Though it occurred to me later that this is perhaps a reader's response and part of the reason the question caused so much confusion for me. Especially as compared to when I came to it as a writer.

As a writer, it all seems somewhat pointless as I'm going to write what I'm going to write in the style and voice that I write it in. It's going to be hard enough to score a publishing contract trying to do the very best writing that I can without introducing concepts that might make me think I should be writing according to a certain constraint, whatever that might be.

And despite the various awards scattered around the place, I find it hard to imagine that writers would really write with award criteria in mind.

Though please do let me know if you disagree. And share what your idea of an Australian novel is.

6 comments: said...

I'll take any idea that comes, they are so few and far between I'm certainly not going to turn them away because they mightn't be Australian.
I'd like to think an Australain novel could be identified by its honesty and raw treatment of the subject matter, but maybe that's just my preference regardless of country of origin.

Tiggy Johnson said...

Excellent Mark, and you've articulated that better than I managed to. 'Take any idea that comes.'

During the discussion, Kathy Charles suggested even though her novel is set in LA, she hopes it has an Australian 'sensibility'. Again, I think you've articulated what she might have been referring to: honesty and raw treatment of the subject matter. The lack of bulshit. I like it.

A shame you didn't come by for the online discussion. Today's (2pm) is 'My iPad won't sit on the bookshelf...' and tomorrow's (also 2pm) is 'How is Twitter helping writers?' I'll be putting Play School or the Wiggles on to make sure I can participate in tomorrow's. I have much to say :)

Kylie L said...

Great summary- thanks. My first novel is coming out in the US next month and I have been told a few times by various in-house readers that it is "very Australian". I didn't think it was at all, though it is set in Melbourne, where I (usually) live. Maybe Ausralian-ness sneaks up on us? Or maybe any book seesm foreign when it's not set in our own country? Unsure, but couldn't change what or how I wrote anyway, and wouldn't want to.

Maxine said...

Interesting discussion - wish I'd caught it. I'm more interested in what we're defining 'diversity' as - and what kind of diversity you're encountering (stylistic, cultural, thematic) etc.

I've been told my work is 'unAustralian'. I'm kind of chuffed about that :)

Tiggy Johnson said...

Thanks Kylie. What I like most about what you say is that despite many people referring to your book as being very Australian, you can't pinpoint what it is about it that makes it so. Perhaps when it starts getting reviewed in the US the reviewers can offer their own defenitions. Maybe we need to not be Australian in order to define what an Australian story actually is?

Tiggy Johnson said...

hey Maxine, I can see why you'd be chuffed to be told your writing is unAustralian, although I don't think that's the case. I mean, if 'Australian' has something to do with honesty and the raw treatment of subject matter, how could your work not be considered as Australian?

This idea about diversity. I'm not so sure either, I feel more confused about the whole conept the more I think about it and the more I hear people talk about it.

For me though and the books I've been reading, I'm referring to diversity in themes and styles more than anything else. This might be particularly because I'm reading both Young Adult and Adult books. If I really analysed it, I could stretch it to say there is some cultural divesrity, but this isn't true in the big scheme of things.

The funny thing is, and your comment made me realise, that the book I've struggled the most to get into would be classed as the most Australian of the lot given any kind of traditional definition of what Australian might mean. I have been stalled on p85 (of 294) since some time in February.