Writers who read

Monday, June 23, 2014
By: 
Interview with Rose Michael

Part of the cover of The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

Rose Michael will be facilitating Writers Victoria’s inaugural book club for established writers. She spoke to us about the need for peer learning and discussion, and how The Writers' Book Club will provide a place for that one evening a month over five months..

Once a writer has had their book published, does that mean they’ve made it? Or do they still need some sort of help?

Well, that’s the whole point really, that as writers we rarely ‘make it’ to a place where we’re no longer reading, rewriting, editing, learning etc! I was just talking to David Carlin last week (author of the critically acclaimed ‘Our Father Who Wasn’t There’, as well as an as-yet-unpublished wonderful second novel) about working with student writers who think getting their first book published is the endgame and that their writerly career will be all smooth sailing from there. We wish!! The current market is so hard on mid-list titles, and mid-career authors who’ve had a book or two out but not cracked the bestseller lists, that it can actually seem harder these days to secure a contract for the next manuscript, rather than easier, as most of us start out expecting.

Read Russell Rowland’s experience of this “amazing adventure we call writing”.

And it’s essential, I think, that we all support each other through what really is a lifetime learning process: how do you stay inspired? What are the practical or technical issues you need to navigate? How might broader changes within the industry impact on your creative project?

And it’s not just a question of getting help; it’s about giving it, too. The idea of a group for more established writers – with a book or some published stories or poems under their belt – is that we are all in a similar-ish situation, of reading as writers, critiquing as colleagues, studying as practitioners.

Ben Walter writes about developing informal mentoring and a healthy literary community in Island magazine.

The Writers' Book Club will be a place for discussion about contemporary Australian editing and publishing. What are some of the issues you envisage the group debating?

I’ve run book groups before for general readers (which have usually had a few writers or editors in them), I’ve taught literature for university students (and, again, have often had writers and editors in class), but I’ve always wanted to set up a group where everyone was engaged in the craft. So the books under discussion would always inevitably be looked in relation to our own experiences, knowledge, and creative projects. Where we don’t have to talk about our writing explicitly – as with a writers group – because it would always be there implicitly.

I expect we will argue about merit, but also debate ‘paratextual’ elements such as cover, title, format … even why the author is with a certain publisher, how their book fits within an imprint, and any aspects of the publicity or marketing campaign that might have helped or hindered its success. About prizes, and development grants, mentors and editors. It should be a chance for people within the writing industry to talk about what happens to our work once it leaves our desk, and perhaps also for me as a publisher to share some insight into aspects of that process that can be pretty opaque.

Charlotte Wood gave an inspirational keynote address at the residential editorial program at Varuna about different books (even by the same author) needing different editors or editing.

Tell us why you picked Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book for the first meeting.

I’m not sure I can condense the conversation I’m looking forward to having about The Swan Book into a couple of lines – you’ll have to come along to hear and contribute to that one! Let’s just say it’s different, and an interesting (unusual) example of contemporary Australian publishing. I’m planning to propose a book for each meeting but will also be open to suggestions from the group; in each case I’ll be in touch with the publisher beforehand to get a bit of behind-the-scenes info on the project, and I expect we’ll have a few authors along to some sessions.

About Rose Michael

Rose Michael is commissioning editor at Hardie Grant Books. She co-founded Arcade Publications in 2007 to publish unconventional – in form and format – histories. She established the Postgraduate Publishing and Communications internships program at the University of Melbourne, has been editor of the ‘Weekly Book Newsletter’, and her first novel (‘The Asking Game’, Transit Lounge) was a Vogel runner-up. Her journalism and short stories have been frequently published, the latter often awarded.