Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014 – The almost-romance panels

Sydney Writers’ Festival 2014 – The almost-romance panels

A round-up of 2014 Sydney Writers’ Festival panels that could have featured romance authors…only they don’t.

2014 Sydney Writers Festival
I’m thinking your romance programming (or lack thereof) sucks.

If you’ve been following our Twitter feed over the last few days, you’ll know that romance readers have been let down—yet again—by the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which features a program that completely ignores romance authors. If you haven’t read Gabby’s open letter to the SWF, it’s a great place to start. The amount of support we have received on Twitter, Facebook and here on the blog tells me that the support for romance is strong.

We’ve been brainstorming ways to increase the level of awareness for romance at SWF. There would be no compelling reason for SWF to incorporate romance panels if the organisers feel that the audience would not support them. So I think one of the easiest and most effective things we can do as romance readers is to attend the festival and be visible. And the easiest way I can think of to be visible at the festival is to attend panels and ask questions that speak to the romance genre. We don’t have to be obnoxious about it—we just have to demonstrate that we’re there, we’re listening, and that romance fiction is relevant.

I’ve put together a selection of festival events that I think would intersect very easily with romance. If you’re a romance reader thinking of attending the SWF, these panels and workshops might be of interest. Some years, we take what we can get, and 2014 seems to be one of those years.

Judging women

Do we judge books by women differently? Do we even ask different things of the writers themselves? Join Man Booker Prize winner Eleanor Catton, writer and 2014 Stella Prize judge Tony Birch and the newly awarded 2014 Stella Prize winner as they discuss how we value women’s contributions to literature. This session will be moderated by Stella Prize chair Aviva Tuffield.

So no, the irony is not lost on me. But if there’s one panel where I think the subject of romance fiction and its lack of representation in literary events is most relevant, it would be this one. The way in which questions of quality and criteria and value are framed often exclude romance writers and denigrate the reading preferences of romance readers. This is a ticketed event, so it’s likely that they won’t get to all the audience questions, but I’d love to see this live tweeted at the very least.

Sex and literature

Talking about sex can get even the coolest people hot under the collar. John Baxter, Kate Belle and John Purcell reveal their secrets about sex in the written form to Angela Meyer. John Baxter has written and translated a number of works of erotic fiction and has even compiled an encyclopedia of sexual developments during the 20th and 21st centuries. Kate Belle is a woman of many passions and the author of the erotically charged novel, The Yearning. John Purcell is the author of the The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy of erotic novels, which he wrote under the pseudonym of Natasha Walker.

The shining light in this panel is that I know Kate Belle from Twitter and John Purcell in real life and they are definitely supportive of romance. Out of all the panels at the festival, this is probably be the closest we’ll get to romance this year.

The Madonna-whore and other fictions

Gold-digger, dumb blonde, mother, inspiration… There are so many labels given to women throughout their lives. How does the way women are treated in society affect us all? Both women and men are invited to hear Tara Moss, Nakkiah Lui, Emma Donoghue and Kate Ceberano as they examine the common fictions about women. Expect a challenging and entertaining discussion with compere Tracy Spicer as they take on old fictions, one woman at a time.

Tara Moss is a wonderful supporter of genre fiction, if her tweets are anything to go by. It sounds like this panel will focus more on non-fiction, but certainly the heroine archetypes and tropes we see in romance reflect many of the characteristics and values typically ascribed to women. I’d go to this out of pure interest and because Tara is always an engaging and thoughtful speaker.

Anita Heiss: So you want to write a chicklit novel

Join Anita Heiss, creator of the genre of ‘chic lit’ and author of bestselling novels Not Meeting Mr Right, Avoiding Mr Right, Manhattan Dreaming and Paris Dreaming to find out how to write a novel that speaks to your readers through believable characters in authentic settings. Learn about developing story lines, plotting your character arcs, the importance of research, the value of dialogue and finding your own voice. By the end of the day, you should have written your synopsis. Bring your sense of humour!

This is a writing workshop, so it won’t apply to most readers, but thank god for Anita Heiss, who has unapologetically written Aussie chicklit even when chicklit became unfashionable.

John Purcell: Keeping sex real

Writing about sex, describing sex, attempting to convey to the reader the excitement of a sexual encounter has always been challenging for writers. Most tend to avoid writing about sex in their work. Problem is—sex is too important a part of our lives and the lives of our characters to ignore. Natasha Walker AKA John Purcell, author of the best-selling erotic trilogy, The Secret Lives of Emma, discusses when and how to include sex in your writing.

Many of you might know that I’m the editor of Booktopia’s Romance Buzz, so I have a working relationship with John. Besides that, I also know he’s a pretty cool guy who supports romance fiction. So what I’m about to say is not meant to be personal at all.

SWF, what the actual fuck? In a genre filled with women writers, you find one of the few male writers—writing under a female pseudonym—to run a workshop on writing sex scenes. It’s not that I don’t think John can’t write sex scenes or teach others how to do so, but considering the lack of romance in this year’s program, it seems a little…insensitive.

Fabulous women’s fiction

Hear some of the best women’s fiction in Australia today. Populated with strong characters, the stories by Anita Heiss, Judy Nunn and Susan Duncan capture our imagination and keep us wanting more. They sit down to talk with Fiona Harari about their latest novels and the secrets of their writing success.

If you attend this panel, then please, I beg of you, do not ask the panelists how they juggle writing and raising a family. (Maybe you can ask John that at the Sex and literature panel instead. Heh.) One of my peeves at last year’s SWF were the boring audience questions at the romance panel. Guys, let’s not be boring!

Mornings with Linda Mottram

Be part of the live audience as Linda Mottram presents her 702 ABC Sydney Mornings program. Hear from some of the Festival’s leading and emerging authors as they explore a range of thought-provoking ideas and issues.

The reason I’m mentioning this event is that once a month on Linda Mottram’s The Blurb on 702 ABC Sydney, she chats with romance reader and advocate Vassiliki Veros (aka my librarian). Sometimes they talk about romance books and sometimes they talk about other things, but Linda is definitely receptive to romance chat. If you’re on Twitter, I’d suggest checking out Linda’s tweets and the tweets from the 702 ABC Sydney account just before they go on air, because sometimes they crowdsource opinions, and tweets from romance readers have been mentioned a few times in the past.

Evenings with Dominic Knight

Grab a drink and a bite to eat while you join 702 ABC Sydney Evenings host Dominic Knight for a special version of NORMAN the Quiz, live music, plus engaging discussions with visiting authors.

I expect this show to be a little more frenetic, but Dominic Knight’s books all contain romantic elements, which tells me that he’s not averse to love stories that don’t end in death. Again, he will sometimes crowdsource opinions on Twitter, so if that happens, it could be a way to introduce romance fiction into the conversation.

Meet the SMH best young Australian novelists

Each year, The Sydney Morning Herald names the authors it considers to be the best young novelists in the country. Arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald, Linda Morris leads a discussion with the 2014 winners about their novels. The authors will read short selections from their work.

Would it be too much to ask that Anna Cowan be named in this list? Because she deserves it. I think this award still tends towards literary fiction, but past winners have come from a broad range of genres. (Though none strictly within romance fiction that I know of.)

Festival club

Stay up late with SWF. Featuring bedtime stories from Story Factory, The Chaser’s Empty Vessel with Julian Morrow and Chris Taylor, and Eddie Sharp’s infamous Erotic Fan Fiction.

I’m including this event because it includes erotic fan fiction. Be warned, though: this looks more like celebrity writers performing for shit and giggles than a thoughtful exploration of actual fanfic communities.

Blockbusters: What’s the secret?

We’d all love to be able to write a great blockbuster – a book that sells millions of copies, captures imaginations around the world and is made into a film. But how do you embark on trying? Are there formulas you have to follow, and what can we learn from writers who do it well? Hear from novelists and scriptwriters Scott Baker (The Rule of Knowledge) and Steve Worland (Combustion), and writers Chris Allen (Hunter) and Greg Barron (Savage Tide), all of whom have created world-famous blockbusters.

I’d like to rename this panel to: ‘Blockbusters: Where are the women?’

Forest for the Trees: Writers & Publishing in 2014

A one-day seminar looking at the current state of publishing for Australian writers. It brings together writers, publishers, editors, and booksellers to discuss what is happening in 2014.

Crime writer Michael Robotham and debut novelist Eimear McBride talk about the challenges of maintaining a career. Publishers will discuss the creative avenues they use to find and promote authors.

The conversation will cover mainstream, digital and independent publishing ending with a panel of industry experts to shine some light on the year ahead.

The great news is that Mark Harding from Momentum Books is on this panel, as is Natalie Costa Bir, whom I know from Twitter and who is definitely genre-friendly. The bad news is that there doesn’t seem to be a representative from Penguin or Harlequin.

Have I missed any panels you think should be on this list? Which ones are you thinking of attending?

What do you think?

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