Support for solitaries

support-teamAlthough the act of writing is solitary, its ultimate purpose is to communicate – which a lone individual can’t achieve unaided. Reaching a wide readership requires concerted effort. So three cheers for organisations that give practical support to writers!

These are difficult times for the book industry. Most authors, publishers and retail outlets are struggling, and it would be hard for some of us to keep our heads above water without the reliable ancillary service provided by various support organisations.

At a national level several bodies do indispensable work, most notably the Literature Board of the Australia Council, the Copyright Agency, and the Australian Society of Authors. I’ve had good reason to be grateful to all of these. But it’s at least equally important  to find encouragement close at hand, in one’s own community. Even a writer who isn’t inclined to be gregarious will sometimes be glad of assistance from a group of other writers.

For those of us who pursue our literary vocation in Western Australia, at a daunting distance from the HQs of national organisations (most of whose facilities, meetings etc. are beyond reach), there’s a special value in the support that locally-focused groups can give. Several of these operate in and around Perth, where I live. Having been involved with most of them at some stage as member, workshop leader, guest  speaker or attendee at events, I respect what they do and I’m grateful for their  contributions to the literary scene here.

Among the organisations that come particularly to mind, two have now been around for a combined total of 50 years, which is all the more admirable in view of their heavy dependence on volunteers. In the hills east of Perth, the KSP Writers Centre has provided a range of development activities for 30 years, while the Peter Cowan Writers Centre is now marking the 20th anniversary of its similar work in the northern suburbs. Each recognises in its name a significant WA fiction-writer from the past – Katherine Susannah Prichard and Peter Cowan. Both Centres have enjoyed loyal backing throughout this period from stalwarts who contributed to their establishment.

Within the last couple of years I’ve given an invited talk at KSP and a workshop on editing at PCWC, and I could see at first hand what a nurturing ethos both groups have created for their members.

The literary organisation with the longest and proudest tradition of service to writers in this state is the WA branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, founded in 1938. As a member of FAWWA, I’ve given presentations (e.g. to the Book-Length Project Group), attended readings (e.g. by the Well-Versed poetry presenters), listened to notable fellow-writers such as Amanda Curtin and Nicholas Hasluck talk about their recent work, and chatted with many people at informal social gatherings. Through these interactions I’ve struck up friendships, received (and shown, I hope) collegial support, acquired useful information (in particular from the online newsletters), and generally felt the value of belonging to a literary community that is equally welcoming to tyros and eminent figures. The positive spirit engendered by FAWWA owes a lot to the energy of its President Peter Bibby, its Past President Trisha Kotai-Ewers, and its Administrative Officer Pat Johnson..

It takes nothing away from the work of FAWWA, KSP and PCWC to say that the advent of WritingWA has brought a higher level of statewide coordination, strategic thinking and energetic advocacy to our writers. It has many member organisations, including the three I’ve just mentioned, and represents every link in the whole book industry supply chain. WritingWA has been especially active in ensuring that regional writers and readers don’t miss out on services available to their counterparts in urban areas. For a state as large as WA, that’s no mean feat. The Board of Writing WA (chaired by Dennis Haskell) has worked hard to give CEO Sharon Flindell and Regional Engagement Officer Deidre Robb plenty of scope for their excellent efforts.

I admire the enterprising way in which WritingWA manages to maximise the range of practical benefits it offers through active partnerships with other local and national bodies. Here are five examples from my own experience:

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  • The strong working relationship between WritingWA and Westlink TV has resulted in an outstanding publicity vehicle for writers – Meri Fatin’s monthly “Cover to Cover” program, showcasing Western Australian writers and reaching out to many regional locations. As Meri’s interview with me is about to be telecast (next week), I’m particularly conscious at the moment of the value that this service brings to writers and readers.
  • WritingWA works closely with the organisers of WA’s literary festivals. As a guest of the Perth Writers Festival in recent years and Geraldton’s Big Sky event in 2013, I saw how productive this kind of liaison can be, and I’m sure I’ll see further evidence of it next month as a featured writer at other regional festivals in the Avon Valley and the Kimberley.
  • Last year I took part in a thoroughly worthwhile Market Development Skills Workshop run jointly by WritingWA and the Literature Board of the Australia Council. This was an exemplary partnership, and I’m sure other participants gained as much from it as I did. It helped me to think in more practical ways about commercial aspects of the work I do, and this has been a useful focus in the lead-up to the release of my latest book.
  • At a time when national newspapers and magazines are generally reducing the space allocated to literary reviews, I and my fellow writers have good reason to thank WritingWA for the way it links up with The West Australian to ensure that the paper maintains a good prominent coverage of books produced by authors in this state (including recently Will Yeoman’s interview-based article on my new novel).
  • WritingWA collaborates with public libraries to assist with payment for writers who give talks and readings in libraries. I’ve been glad of the fees generated in this way. (Incidentally, the fact that the WritingWA office is located in the State Library building, where I’m currently working on my Battye Fellowship project, has made it convenient for me to make more frequent personal contact with its staff. They are just a few paces away from the Library Theatre where I’ll be giving a public lecture next week.)

Through these and other leveraging partnerships, WritingWA extracts plenty of value from every dollar of funding it receives. At present it is holding its breath (like other literary organisations in WA) as it awaits the result of crucial funding applications. I trust it will receive substantial government grants so that writers and the wider public can continue to benefit from its vital work.


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