Arts / ‘Noted’ explores what it is to be a writer

By Samara Purnell and Helen Musa.

INFORMALITY was the keynote of the “Noted” festival, which closed on Sunday after a ripper four days from May 3 to 7.

Stalls at the Publishing Fair

Canberra’s festival, directed by the busy Lucy Nelson, is dedicated to emerging and experimental writing from diverse backgrounds, and was host to mostly (though not exclusively) young crowds packing into the Gorman Arts Centre. It was striking how many people wanted to stop for a chat about what was going on – in all it was a glorious day for a leisurely exploration of what it is to be a writer.

There was plenty to keep people occupied, with sessions both inside and outside bearing titles like “Tales of Wonder”, “Tongues at the Table”, “The ‘Fearless’ Writing Project”, “Story Corner”, “Limiting Entropy” and the centrepiece of the whole festival, the Publishing Fair.

Duncan Felton, the coordinator of the Fair, stopped by to tell “CityNews” that there were around 50 stalls on the day, about half of them selling zines and the rest selling independently published books, journals, CDs, and other printed material. Felton said the aim was to “draw people in” to reading.

Scissors Paper Pen – writing on the wall

While the strains of a French chanteuse could be heard in the E block courtyard and some a cappella singing practice in the front foyer of C-block, the other courtyard saw poets in full flight. At the back of C block a writing project could be seen spearheaded by the Scissors Paper Pen collective, where kick-off paragraphs were posted on the wall with the invitation for members of the public to extend the story.

Meanwhile, preparations were afoot for the final showing of “Pulpture”, a collaboration between Blemish Books, Lesley Boland and Nicci Haynes designed to find creative ways to re-purpose unsold books, or turning books into art.

One stallholder said it was all about inclusiveness, “not just advising people what to read, but how to read”. “CityNews” overheard a zine seller enthusing, “I can’t believe it we’ve sold all but one”, while a less literary passer-by exclaimed, “I’ve come for the coffee”.

The earlier part of the festival featured several very substantial symposia and talks. “CityNews” arts writer Samara Purnell had dropped in on one in the main hall at Gorman Arts Centre, the launch of The Canberra Women Writers Network on May 4.

Panel at the launch of The Canberra Women Writers Network

The launch of The Canberra Women Writers Network consisted of a panel of female writers, Rhyall Biest, Bec Fleming, Rose Chen and Stella Frances. The evening began with a short film made by the panel, aimed primarily at highlighting the under representation of women across many art forms, in particular writing, publishing and music production.

A vox pop of (admittedly only three) young people revealed that naming female writers, when put on the spot, was a challenge, with JK Rowling being the only name called to mind.

Fleming and Chen, who writes romance novels, noted the importance of friendship and support they had received from the women in the network.

Frances, who writes military romance novels, told those present that she had learnt collaboration at Gorman House many years ago in the very same room. She told those present she had the idea of writing about an amputee, which was suggested to her through networking and said she had never considered it but found it inspiring and began writing the novel. Positive feedback from her short story gave her an “I can do this” feeling and her work was published.

The speakers expressed the hope that the network, which aims to raise the profile of female authors and creative artists, might go some way toward easing the “Imposter” syndrome effect that some women may feel as unpublished writers, as the CWWN is for writers of all genres, published or not.

Attendees were asked to participate in a short online survey on the types of events and services they would like to see the CWWN provide, with some puzzlement surfacing over the voting icons – what, for instance, did the “cat” icon mean??

And the results? Positive voting was for podcasts with local authors, writing contests, genre-swaps (teaching one art form to someone from another and vice versa) and free workshops for women over 60 to tell their stories.

But after being told that when an A-league basketball team was included in a professional ballet production of “The Nutcracker”, it was a huge success, the poll didn’t show much enthusiasm about recreating an event like that.

In keeping with the focus of “Noted” the emphasis was on writing, pure and simple.

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