The Review of Australian Fiction is rapidly establishing a reputation as one of the most exciting and innovative new fiction journals around. Emerging as the hyperactive brainchild of Matthew Lamb and Phil Crowley, the journal has already corralled an impressive and eclectic array of established and emerging Australian literary talent. I would love to say more, but in light of what follows, it seems a little redundant.
Speakeasy recently pitched a few questions at the RAF kingpin, Matthew Lamb. His responses were expansive, to say the least, but we forgive that (in fact we encourage it) because they offered an entertaining insight into the beer-fuelled birth of one of Australia’s most intriguing literary projects.
Speakeasy: How did the idea for the Review of Australian Fiction emerge?
Matthew Lamb (ML): The idea for the RAF came from a number of sources, and evolved slowly over time. The RAF (version 1.) was actually to be a print journal, published monthly in a book format. It would have looked a bit like Kill Your Darlings, but probably not as cool. It was to contain fiction and essays, reviews and author profiles.
The key to that version was that each issue also contained a book-notice for every work of Australian fiction published in that month, as well as a review of every work of Australian fiction published in the previous month. The ad was to replicate what people did when they browsed books in a bookshop (read cover, blurb, and first page of text), which is actually the main way most people choose what books to buy (other than recommendations from friends). Reviews are actually one of the least important ways that people learn about new books (so we were going to have them in the subsequent issue).
The idea behind this was to develop a model that consolidated all the arms of publishing fiction in Australia: publishers, bookshops, reviewers, authors, and readers of Australian fiction.
But when we approached publishers with the idea that they paid a nominal sum for us to run these ads—thus helping them sell their books, while they helped us publish our journal—they baulked. Some even said that, if anything, we should be paying them for allowing us to print the first page of text from their books.
I guess the idea that advertising is not about persuading people to buy what they don’t need, but is actually about informing people about things they want, but may not know what is available or where to get it, is strange. But that is what advertising used to be about. And it’s a pretty good bet that anyone reading a journal called the Review of Australian Fiction, which actually referred to every work of Australian fiction published in that month was already predisposed toward reading Australian fiction, and the only question left facing them was, What to read? We would then—or so we proposed—provide a near complete range of choices available to them.
Such a journal may seem strange, maybe new. But it is actually an old idea. It is the format that journals and periodicals first took when they emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries in England. We just wanted to replicate the old ‘book-notices’ idea. All this other stuff—reviews, essays, and so on—historically, came afterwards. And it is what aided in the development of a reading culture that has shaped pretty much everything we today take for granted in the publishing and reading of books, but which we are also at the risk of losing today if we don’t work together in coming up with some ideas (either new or old) that will help us all reconstitute this waning reading culture, particularly in Australia…
That’s the sort of drunken rant I would launch into at the slightest provocation, back in the day, and they would often be patiently listened to by the now manager of RAF, Phil Crowley. He doesn’t rant as much as me, because it eats into his drinking time. But I am a faster drinker, and can multi-task, so we can pretty much keep up with each other. Phil was doing a PhD in economics at the time, on Arts funding: film funding, in particular. He would offer a real-world economic counterbalance to my often directionless meanderings into the cultural history of publishing and reading, and this then formed the basis for what was essentially a beer-plan, guided by the question: what would an economically viable lit mag look like?
Thus RAF (version 1.) evolved slowly into RAF (version 2.), which we stripped down to the bare essentials: good authors, good stories, and cultivating good readers.
The first step was the realisation that we would need to go digital rather than print, because we could not rely on external funding or advertising to allow us to print and distribute (that said, The Lifted Brow does exactly that, and brilliantly so, but Phil and I, combined, are still less than the sum of the parts that make up one Ronnie Scott).
The second step was the idea that we would publish two stories every two weeks, because the phrase two stories every two weeks has a certain alliterative appeal, and because such regularity is what helps create a readership. It is why, traditionally, daily newspapers usually have more readers than monthly or quarterly publications, and why, in the 19th century, they took precedence over early lit mags, among the reading community.
The third step was to decide what stories to publish. If we wanted to build a readership, and we wanted people to think it worthwhile to spend $2.99 every two weeks for two stories, then it probably wouldn’t work if we had unknown authors, regardless of how good their stories were. So it made sense that we would need to have established authors, if only to give the journal some marketable credibility, otherwise lacking in its editorial and management staff. So we would need to invite submissions from established authors, and it followed from this, almost as an intuitive consequence, that we could ask the established author who they would like to be paired with in their issue of the journal.
This allowed us to bypass one of the most cumbersome aspects of running a lit mag: the slush pile. My friends at Island Magazine more diplomatically refer to it as the diamond mine, but let’s not shit ourselves, it is more often than not a pile of slush, with the occasional solid to be retrieved, rinsed off, and published. We, however, had neither the time, the money, the critical faculties, the patience, nor the inclination to have an open submissions policy. But I’ll have more to say on this below.
The fourth step was the knotty problem of how we would attract established writers and persuade them to risk letting us publish their work, especially as we couldn’t pay them what their work is worth. So we decided to transpose the royalty system, usually kept for publishing full-length monographs, to the serial world. We offer our authors a small advance, we offer them quite a good royalty rate (50% of cover price is distributed to the two authors in each issue), and we allow our authors to retain 100% copyright on their work. As an added bonus, we let the established author choose who they want to be paired with. And for emerging authors, having an established author tap you on the shoulder and consider your work worthy of being published alongside their own, is a great boost to your confidence.
What we didn’t find out until later, however, is that for many Australian authors, such persuading was not necessary. Many are—especially those who have published with the RAF—exceedingly generous with their time and their talent, and they would have contributed regardless of our proffered trinkets, if only to support the merits of the project itself (real or imagined), rather than for anything they could gain for themselves. It is a generosity we feel inadequate in reciprocating, but we are trying.
The fifth step was how to take all of this, bundle it up into an operating digital journal, and send it out into the world. The problem is that neither Phil nor I have any real grasp on such technical questions. So we worked out what we wanted, with pencils and papers and crayons, and then looked around for someone to help transpose that to the digital world. And then we found Booki.sh, which was doing almost exactly what we wanted to be able to do ourselves, but a million times better, and classier. So I contacted Virginia Murdoch at Booki.sh, and to our surprise, she understood immediately what we wanted to do, but more importantly, she also knew how to do it. And the rest, as they say…
Speakeasy: What space in the Australian literary scene do you see the RAF as filling?
ML: I suppose it would be more correct to say that the RAF does not aim to fill an existing space, but rather to provide a new space for Australian writers to fill with undomesticated fiction. One of the main sources for inspiration for the RAF was an article I read many years ago by the Tasmanian short story writer, Geoffrey Dean. (We were privileged to be able to posthumously publish one of Geoff’s stories in RAF Vol 1: Issue 5.)
In Are Aussie short story writers an endangered species? Dean argues that short stories in Australia are restricted through external pressures—small allocated print space, narrow windows of time for editors and competition judges to do their work, and so on—which results in Australia having among the shortest short stories in the world, 1500-3000 words, as the norm, but sometimes up to 5000 words, while internationally this figure usually begins at 5000 words and often goes up to between 8-10,000 words, or more.
Dean argues that these external restrictions become internalised by writers who then place artificial brakes on their own creativity, especially if they want to be considered for publication in this or that journal, or to be eligible for this or that competition. And, as we know in Australia, being published in journals or being successful in winning competitions or receiving awards is a necessary step toward being taken up by a book publisher or by an agent. Such achievements, however, are often generally gained through compromising our imagination.
So we wanted to create a space where there were no such restrictions, or at least, as few as possible, which meant working with a small number of stories—two stories every two weeks—and allowing our authors to write as many words as they needed.
It is interesting to see how Dean’s hypothesis was confirmed in our dealings with writers. Invariably one of the first questions they ask us is: How many words? What’s the word limit? And we always tell our writers the same thing: There is no word limit, just make the story as long as the story needs to be. And usually they get back to us, as if wanting to clarify: But really, how many words?
Of course, I understand that for professional writers there is a required balance between how much time they spend writing a piece, how many words it needs to be, and how much money they will receive in payment for that amount of time and for that number of words. That’s understandable. But I think also, and particularly, in terms of fiction, applying such a standard is not the best thing in terms of developing your creativity.
So some writers don’t do so well without such limits, but many flourish. What is satisfying about editing the RAF is that the feedback we have received from many of our writers, even the seasoned writers with many books to their name, is that writing their story for the RAF was the most fun, the most invigorating, experience they have had writing, precisely because they could put their full attention to following the dictates of their own imagination, to the limits created by the story itself, rather than having to worry about externally imposed restrictions.
Perhaps my favourite story in the first volume of the RAF is Meg Vann’s ‘Provocation’ (RAF Vol 1: Issue 6). This story, at 10,000 words, would not be eligible for most competitions or journals in Australia (maybe the Sleepers Almanac). To reduce the idea of this story to fit these available outlets would require pulling out the heart of the story, emptying its guts, and leaving but a crumpled shell. It would die. And the idea, if stretched out, or diluted with other ideas, would probably not sustain a novel-length work. So without an outlet for this to be published, it probably would not have been written, and the idea would have festered in the back of Meg Vann’s brain, keeping her awake nights and making her grumpy during the working day. So, in that respect, RAF is providing an invaluable community service, if nothing else.
But let’s be clear here, this isn’t about quantity versus quality. I’m not suggesting that an 8000-word story is necessarily better than a 2000-word story. What I am saying is that telling a story without a predetermined limit on what shape or theme (don’t get me started about themes!) that story must conform to—regardless of if that story ends up being 2000 or 8000 words in length—is often better, or more interesting, or more imaginative. And it certainly helps in distinguishing between those writers who are good at what they do, because they are good writers, rather than those that are just good at playing the game of writing (and getting published) in Australia.
Now this is all possible for us because we are a digital journal. The idea that the internet has brought back a space for short stories to flourish is, of course, not new. However, this is usually accompanied by the argument that digital short stories are potentially more popular than digital novels because they are short, and we, in our digital age, have shorter attention spans, and less time to devote to reading. Short stories, then, provide good, disposable fodder. Or so the argument goes.
This argument is, of course, pig-ignorant. And I wish people would stop repeating it (you know who you are). It is wrong, firstly, because it misunderstands the digital medium, which is primed for longer stories rather than shorter one. It is, as we know, the new home for long-form. And, secondly, it misunderstands fiction, and short fiction in particular. Short fiction is a concentrated form of writing. It requires a concentrated form of reading. It requires occupying a certain mental space for the duration of the story, reading it in one sitting, as a coherent whole, in order for the effect of that whole to have an impact upon the reader. It is often a slower form of reading, and so one that takes time (which is probably why slush-piles are so daunting and mentally draining to wade through).
It’s novels that you can pick up and put down, read in snatches, lose the thread of and pick up again in the course of the following chapters. Some novels have the power of pulling you in to such an extent that you read it in one, long sitting. That’s true. But that is not a necessary condition for novels. I think, however, that this is a necessary condition for a good short story. And it often requires ‘longer’ rather than ‘shorter’ short fiction, which the internet has provided the elbow room for writers and publishers to explore.
Let’s be clear here, this isn’t about digital versus print. But what digital has allowed us all to do is to re-imagine and to reconsider how we tell stories, and how we can publish and distribute the stories we tell. And this involves also re-imagining the possibilities of print. The Griffith Review, for example, are in the process of finalising a Novella Project. This is for works up to 30,000 words, with up to three winners having their novellas published in their annual New Fiction Edition (their print edition), as well as being available separately as e-Singles. Likewise, Seizure, a great new print mag of Australian writing, is holding a ‘Viva la Novella’ comp for novellas between 20-50,000 words. (See Speakeasy’s previous interview with Seizure’s David Henley.) Again, these will be available in print and online.
I reckon it would be pretty cool if one day the RAF became one of the first digital-only lit mags to put out a print edition. And I still, in the back of my mind, would like one days for RAF to resurrect the version 1. idea: containing fiction and essays, reviews and author profiles, as well as a book-notice for every work of Australian fiction published in that month.
Hmmm, in the meantime, maybe I could convince The Lifted Brow, which is proudly print-only, to re-publish one of the RAF Omnibuses (12 stories) in a special issue of The Lifted Brow, and we in turn do a special issue the RAF re-publishing in a digital format the contents of one edition of The Lifted Brow? What do you think?
Speakeasy: I understand that one of the aims of the RAF is to eventually get emerging writers back as established writers. What do you think this established-writer/emerging-writer dynamic offers to the feel of the journal and to the wider Australian literary community?
ML: There’s three aspects to this part of the model, worth pointing out.
First, as I said previously, from a logistical (and selfish) perspective, this model of pairing established/emerging writers has allowed us to avoid sinking into the quagmire of the literary slush pile. I’ve had retired editors from lit mags from the 1980s and 90s congratulate me on this aspect of the journal. (They still had that thousand-yard stare.)
Second, this model taps into an informal network of mentoring that exists in Australia. I mentioned previously the generous nature of many Australian writers. I think this is where that generosity really begins, and is nourished: in the relationships between writers. These relationships are also what sustains many writers, in a very difficult publishing culture. So to be able to tap into that is very gratifying. And it is a privilege.
The third aspect worth pointing out is an outcome of the first two aspects. I have made some flippant comments regarding slush piles. Although largely true, it is also a reality that many times good work, worthy work, fails to surface, or remains buried. It is unintentional, but it happens. One of consequences of the RAF model is that some good emerging authors, who may have gotten lost in various slush piles, are given a hand up by these established writers. And we’re very pleased that some of our emerging writers—such as Meg Vann, Craig Billingham, Sandra Hogan, Jarrod Boyle—have actually had their very first published work with the RAF. That’s special for us, but even more special to emerging writers is being published for the first time, while, at the same time, being publically endorsed by an established writer. The four writers mentioned, for example, were endorsed by Kim Wilkins, Mark O’Flynn, Susan Johnson, and Rodney Hall, respectively. And who wouldn’t want to be endorsed by one of them?
Some of the emerging writers published, however, have already had books published, and some are even on the cusp or are already in a position—like Zoë Foster or Kirsty Eagar—to be asked back as primary authors in their own future issue, and, in turn, to be able to introduce to the reading public another emerging writer worthy of notice. I think this gives the RAF a certain dynamism, creates a potential for continuity between authors, across volumes, for years to come (if we survive that long), and it helps consolidate the otherwise informal relationships which already sustains the wider Australian literary community.
Speakeasy: How do you go about selecting your established writers and do you provide any editorial guidelines or suggestions regarding their content?
ML: We have a rather arbitrary standard for what distinguishes an established writer from an emerging writer. We say that three published books equates to being ‘established’, and two books or less is still ’emerging’. I believe the Australia Council suggests five books as being ‘established’, while saying that two to four books is ‘developing’, and one book or less is ’emerging’. Well, I think that if you can publish three books in Australia, then you must be doing something right.
The internal debate we sometimes have is whether or not these three books all have to be works of fiction, or whether they can be a mixture of fiction and non-fiction. At the moment, they all have to be fiction, because I am a hard man to please, and I think that the two styles of writing are very different. It is not necessarily the case that writing good non-fiction means that you can write good fiction, or vice versa.
How we selected the writers then simply involved putting together a list of writers with three or more fiction books published in Australia (which is not as long a list as you’d think), and then we set out contacting them. The only other criterion we deployed was an attempt to have an even split between male and female established authors within each volume.
Regarding editorial guidelines, the only thing I tell them is there is no word limit, just make the story as long as the story needs to be. There are no restrictions on the content (including genre).
Speakeasy: Do you provide any guidelines for established authors in selecting their pairings, or is it entirely up to their discretion?
ML: There is no restriction on who the emerging writer is that the established writer chooses to be paired with. It is entirely up to them. We certainly don’t ask established authors to choose along gender lines, like we do when choosing established writers, which is why across the six issues of volume one there are five emerging female writers, and in volume three there are four emerging female writers.
One interesting development of this model of pairing writers is that on a couple of occasions now we have been approached by emerging writers who have reverse-engineered the model and requested an invite from us, if they can locate an established author to endorse them and to agree to be published in an issue with them. I like this creative thinking. And if there are any emerging writers out there who can get in touch with and persuade the likes of David Malouf, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, or Peter Carey to contribute to an issue, then please get in touch!
Speakeasy: Can you give us any hints regarding who some upcoming RAF contributors might be?
At the moment, we’ve been pretty much focused on the current issue, which contains stories by Melina Marchetta and Kirsty Eagar. We’re very lucky that Marchetta has allowed us to publish a 15,000-word story based upon her internationally acclaimed fantasy trilogy, the Lumatere Chronicles. It is already our best-selling single issue, and it’s only been out for a week.
But I am equally excited about the next issue, which contains new stories by Tony Birch and Amy Espeseth. The RAF sponsored a panel at the 2012 Emerging Writers Festival in Melbourne. The panel was about mentoring, and it had Tony Birch and Amy Espeseth speaking about their experiences. Tony is Amy’s mentor, but he was very explicit about these relationships being a two-way thing, and that quite often the so-called mentor learns as much from the so-called mentoree, as the mentoree learns from the mentor.
But we are now poised to start rolling out the issues for Volume Four, which will take us up to Christmas. The established author in each of these issues is: Jennifer Mills, Elizabeth Stead, Paddy O’Reilly, Ryan O’Neill, Patrick Holland, and Lenny Bartulin.
As for whom we have in the next year: well, I’m as curious about that as you, but that is a question for our curators… I’ll have more to say about them below.
Speakeasy: A number of bloggers/reviewers have commented on the RAF‘s innovative and successful use of e-publishing. Can you say something about the benefits of being a pure e-publication and your use of the Booki.sh platform?
ML: For us, initially, the benefit of being a purely digital publication is financial. Printing, distribution, investing in stock that may or may not be sold, and so on, is something that we could not do on our own. We have no external funding. Phil Crowley and I have put up the cash for the whole project, and we are totally reliant now on sales from the reading public in order to continue.
We also have full-time jobs outside the RAF, so we can only work on the journal at nights and on weekends. We now both live in different states, too. So also in terms of time management, being digital has benefitted us.
Being digital also gives us the space to explore longer works of fiction, while keeping the price point low enough to attract readers, while still offering a good royalty rate to our authors.
This is where Booki.sh has been a big help. They provided the whole infrastructure that we required in order to get RAF up and running. They designed the website for us, they had the Booki.sh platform already functioning, to enable us to sell and distribute the RAF, and they also had, behind the scenes, a piece of software called Blueprint, which I use to create the e-pubs. What is important for us, however, especially as we are basically techno-illiterates, is that these systems, already in place, are easy enough for dolts like us to use.
We also like the people behind Booki.sh—Virginia Murdoch, Joseph Pearson, and Peter Haasz—and we admire their philosophy and approach to digital publishing. Earlier I mentioned the generous nature of Australian writers; well, there’s the same kind of generosity at work within this group, and they have been (and continue to be) enormously helpful with their time and skills. There is also a kind of dynamic within the Booki.sh camp that has a corollary in the way Phil and I relate to each other with the RAF, and that is in being willing to experiment, but also trying to make such experiments economically viable. That’s what happens when you bring a writer and an economist together, I suppose.
Two other aspects of Booki.sh were (and are) attractive to us. First, it is an Australian development. And second, it does not aim to compete with, but rather to consolidate, some of Australia’s leading independent bookshops. In Brisbane, I lived around the corner from Avid Reader, in West End. Now I am living in Hobart, Fullers Bookshop is only several blocks away. Both are using the Booki.sh platform, and so are among a few exclusive distributors of the RAF.
This aspect of Booki.sh—its relationship with Australian bookshops—is essential for us, because, as I said previously, this is not about digital versus print. We happen to be digital-only, but our authors and our readers occupy both media. The aim of RAF is to promote good Australian fiction. Our aim is for our readers to go away and seek out the books our authors have published elsewhere, regardless of if they are print or digital.
For traditional bookstores, RAF is potentially both a product to sell, in its own right, and a marketing tool toward on-sales. From our very first issue, the main feedback from readers has been that they bought the issue to read one of the authors that they already knew and admired, but they have gone away seeking out books by the paired author. In that case, our job is done. It’s now up to the bookshops to follow through and consolidate these choices in their patrons.
Speakeasy: Previous issues of the RAF have offered a wonderfully eclectic array of writers from across a variety of genres. Was this representation of such diverse writers a conscious choice? Is it important to the RAF to represent Australian writing across broad genre lines?
ML: We made a conscious decision—reflected in our choice of title—that this is a journal of Australian fiction, broadly defined.
There is an unhelpful distinction between ‘literary fiction’ and ‘genre fiction’, which ignores the fact that ‘literary fiction’ is itself a genre. And, it is one which, more than these other so-called ‘genre fictions’ (speculative fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, crime or chick-lit, and so on), operates by subordinating itself to certain non-fiction discourses, such as historiography or politics.
Literary fiction provides the figures, the real world provides the ground. With ‘genre-fiction’, however, the writer has to provide both the ground and the figures; it often creates new worlds, which is probably why there is a popular perception that there is so much bad genre-fiction available: it is because it is so hard to do well. And, in many respects, much harder than so-called ‘literary fiction’.
But once we accept that literary fiction is simply one genre of fiction writing amongst others, we can start to appreciate more broadly the wealth of talent in Australia. And, yes, I think it is important that we represent good Australian fiction, and not just proponents of one particular mode of fiction that some may consider to be good.
Besides, the external markings that indicate that a piece of fiction falls within this or that ‘genre’ should always only be the starting point for reading; it is the familiar ground which a good writer will then lead their readers away from in the course of the story. A good work of fiction, regardless of what markings it uses to shape the story being told, always pushes against other, internal depths that are common to all fiction.
In Volume 2: Issue 3, James Bradley and Rebecca Giggs both tell stories that have to do with human frailty and experiences of loss. James’s story happens to use markings indicative of science fiction to tell his story, while Rebecca’s story uses markings of a more realist mode.
My favourite issue in this regard is Volume 1: Issue 3, David and Zoë Foster, father and daughter. David Foster writes works of fiction so literary that many self-styled literary types can’t even penetrate it, and Zoë Foster unashamedly writes ‘chick-lit’. I happen to think that both writers possess exceptional talent, and if only one David Foster fan goes off and reads Zoë’s latest novel, The Younger Man, or one Zoë Foster fan goes off and reads David’s latest novel, Sons of the Rumour, then our job is done.
Speakeasy: What is in store for the future of the RAF? Are there any exciting upcoming developments or opportunities you can tell us about?
ML: In the last month or so we have already had a few developments. Until recently the RAF was only sold through the RAF website. But we are now available through the other Booki.sh e-bookstores: Avid Reader (Qld), Gleebooks (NSW), Imprints (SA), The Turning Page (NSW), Readings (VIC), Fullers (Tas), and Mary Ryans (QLD and NSW). As I said previously, this is one of the reasons we went with Booki.sh in the first place. So the long-term plan is starting to come together.
We are also one of the first e-publishers to go DRM-Free (even through the e-bookstores stated above), so our e-pubs are downloadable, and readers can convert the file to any format they need, depending on what e-reader they use. So, basically, we are now available to everyone, everywhere. So you have no excuse.
There are a couple of upcoming developments.
Very soon we will be hosting our own blog. The blogger will be Ryan O’Neill, the author of the staggering collection of short fiction, The Weight of a Human Heart (2012). Ryan’s blog will be called The Short of It and it will ‘examine the development and practise of short fiction in Australia, as well as looking at some international short fiction. There will be reviews of short story collections past and present, interviews with short story writers discussing their work, and regular updates on short story related events and publication opportunities in Australia and beyond.’
In December this year, after volume four is completed, we are putting out a special issue, which we hope to be able to make available for free. This issue is being done in collaboration with Island Magazine, and it comes out of an event that was held during the 2012 Emerging Writers Festival. There was an event called the Rabbit Hole, which had writers corralled in rooms around Australia, trying to write 30,000 words each, across a single weekend. Cruel, really. Like literary battery hens.
Anyhow, we have solicited submissions from participants in this event, which we are reading at the moment, and we hope to bring some of them to a wider audience. It seemed apt for an event that came out of the Emerging Writers Festival to bring on board an emerging editor to look after this special issue. And so we have Lesley Halm, a talented young sparklehorse from Island Mag, to take the reins of this issue.
But the main development, which we are very excited about, for 2013, is that each volume of the RAF—with six issues per volume—will have its own curator. Basically, instead of me going out and trying to panhandle established authors, we have four curators who will be responsible for putting together each volume. We have given our curators enough latitude to play with the RAF model as they see fit, so they can ask established writers to choose emerging writers, or else the curators themselves can come up with interesting pairings of writers within each issue. We at the RAF will still be doing the behind-the-scenes work of editing and proofreading, and our curators will be bringing in the authors, and writing editorials for each issue.
The four curators are, in order of appearance, Kate Eltham, Geordie Williamson, Rachel Edwards, and Anita Heiss.
Kate Eltham was, until recently, the CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre, and she is now the Director of the Brisbane Writers Festival. Whenever Phil and I had a meeting with Kate in Brisbane, or whenever we were in a meeting with her and others, we always walked out agreeing that she was the brightest person in the room. What she doesn’t know about publishing in Australia is not worth knowing. (I often dream of having Kate Eltham and Henry Rosenbloom from Scribe Publications in conversation with each other about Australian publishing, and I just sit back and learn.)
Geordie Williamson is The Australian’s chief literary critic. I think he has elevated both the standard and the tone of literary criticism in Australia today, and if you have not read his acceptance speech for the 2011 Pascall Prize, particularly what he has to say about ‘open-handed criticism’, then I urge you to do so. (We actually had the 2012 recipient of the Pascall Prize, James Bradley, in a previous issue of the RAF, with an excellent short story, which is pretty cool).
Rachel Edwards is an amazing reader, and she makes what she is reading infectious to all those around her. And that’s what we need in a curator. She is the fiction editor at Island Mag, the events co-ordinator at Fullers Bookshop, and a radio book show interviewer with a great on-air voice. I am also trying to convince Rachel to be the RAF interviewer, so we can start to do podcast conversations with our writers about the short stories they have contributed to us.
Anita Heiss is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, and a social commentator on Indigenous literature and Australian culture in general. I’ve already spoken at length about the generosity of Australian writers. I believe that Anita Heiss is actually the embodiment of that generosity, and everyone else simply feeds off this as it ripples through the Australian literary community. She is also, or it seems, the busiest woman in Australia, and I suspect that there are actually three or four Anitas Heiss’s at any one time talking on the radio, speaking to kids in schools, doing interviews, being on panels at festivals, writing, talking, thinking, and generally cutting a glamorous swathe through the world. I am just glad that one of these Anita Heiss’s has agreed to curate a volume of the RAF.
So I think you would agree that pooling this talent, activating the networks these curators have already developed over the years, while bringing their own critical approach and perspective to bear upon the role of curator, will bring an exciting level of dynamism to the future issues of the RAF.
I hope to be able to continue this model in future years, with different curators being brought in each time…
Speakeasy: Is there anything else you’d like to mention to our readers?
ML: Well, you know me. I don’t have much to say really…
But if pressed, I would mention, with regards to the RAF, that if people think it is a worthwhile experiment, worth continuing, then subscribe. Then get all your friends to subscribe. (Actually, while you’re at it subscribe to some of the other great and varied lit mags that we have in Australia. I do. And if you already subscribe to some, go out and subscribe to more. I did.)
We are unfunded, or, rather, self-funded. Any cash I make writing book reviews goes into the RAF, as well as most of the prize money I received from the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize (the rest of that went to the taxman). I don’t even want to know what Phil is doing to raise the extra cash to feed RAF, but he has started to take care of his appearance, which is good, I suppose. Also, it should be noted that 50% of the price point on single issues and on subscriptions goes directly to the writers in the form of royalty payments. So they only get paid depending on the number of sales. So if you want to support Australian writers, support us.
Then go out and buy other books, from your local independent bookstore, by writers whose stories you read in the RAF. I think you will discover some good ones.
Speakeasy would like to thank Matthew Lamb for his truly epic and impassioned responses.
Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.