Archive | if:book Essays

The N00bz Canberra Launch

theN00bzeditiasiteWith Editia Press and Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, we present the official Canberra book launch of The N00bz: New Adventures in Literature

Saturday 27 September, 6.00pm
Bogong Theatre at Gorman Arts Centre

To launch The N00bz, a panel of industry professionals will discuss the fresh perspectives generated by literary experiments and their impact on both the writer and the reader.

Alex Adsett – CHAIR

Alex Adsett is a consultant offering publishing contract advice to authors, publishers and booksellers. Alex has more recently extended her services into the more traditional role of literary agent. She has fifteen years experience working in the publishing and bookselling industry, including stints at Simon & Schuster, Penguin and John Wiley & Sons.

Duncan Felton – Panellist
Duncan Felton is an editor and writer who also works in a library. He’s founding editor at Grapple Publishing (grapplepublishing.com) and one of the co-coordinators of Canberra literary collective Scissors Paper Pen (scissorspaperpen.wordpress.com). His words have appeared in FIRST, BMA, Burley, Voiceworks and Verity La, among others.

Charlotte Harper – Panellist
Charlotte Harper (@editia) is founder and publisher of Editia, a Canberra-based digital first press focused on short non-fiction and longform journalism. Charlotte is a former Fairfax journalist, a Walkley Award-winning web producer and ex-literary editor of The South China Morning Post.

Simon Groth – Panellist
Simon Groth (@simongroth, simongroth.com) is a writer and editor of fiction and non-fiction. His books include Concentrate and Off The Record: 25 Years of Music Street Press. His first two novels were shortlisted in the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards and his short fiction has been published in Australia and the United States. As manager of if:book Australia, Simon writes and speaks regularly on the future of the book and took the role of lead writer for the 24-Hour Book project.

More information is available from the Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres.

Being Digital Writer in Residence

the noobz

Bonus n00b, Jennifer Mills adds a final adventure just in time for tonight’s Sydney launch of The N00bz: New Adventures in Literature, at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. The brand new second edition of the book containing both Jennifer’s chapter and our crowd-sourced twitter-submitted blog post chapter is now available from Editia.

When Sarah Tooth from the South Australian Writers’ Centre approached me about being a “digital writer in residence”, I wasn’t sure what she was talking about. Over coffee, she explained her plan to have one writer from each of the six writers’ centres (those loosely connected by Writing Australia, for funding reasons) become a writer in residence online. The role was going to be three pronged: educational, experimental and community-building. I’d share tips on my writing process, try new things and build connections with regional writers in SA and beyond. There’d be a blog and maybe some social media presence and perhaps we could try to do something live. Although I had no idea what any of this was going to look like, I said yes. Correction: I said yes because I had no idea what any of this was going to look like.

Sarah caught me at a good time, because I’d just finished a novel. Writing books wrings out the imagination, and between them I need to do something that isn’t so draining but still releases excess creative energy. After my first book I built a dining table and a biscuit tin banjo. My second sent me on a complicated cross-platform residency. I am often seized with an urgent need to uproot myself, as if everything I’ve previously done and known has become suddenly irrelevant. It’s not the most convenient part of my character.

I’ve learned to mitigate the upheaval by incorporating a degree of experimentation in the work itself. I love short stories for the opportunity they provide to try new forms, structures and voices. In some ways, social media has many of those same attractions.

Our first move was to start a new twitter handle, @digitalwir. Although I’d been blogging since 2004, my social media uptake was relatively slow. I’ve never been on Facebook; I joined Twitter in late 2010 after a stint in Beijing convinced me of the political usefulness of microblogging platforms for sabotaging spin and “message”. I was quickly addicted to the neat, collaborative literary form and the community of writers that came with it – the people I’ve come to think of as water-cooler comrades.

Although I’ve started other accounts in the past (some have snagged and gone under in the rushing tweetstream; others, like @paythewriters, have found longevity in collectivisation), beginning again as @digitalwir felt like finding a whole new voice. The project demanded I pay fresh attention to the process of living online, and I wanted to tread carefully and find my way. Not to repeat what I do at @millsjenjen, but to really see it from the outset as a new perspective.

When I start a new story I usually don’t know how it’s going to end, or even what it’s about. I have vague ideas, images, shadows of feelings and characters. It always feels like walking into the dark. On the other hand, my non-fiction writing tends to be planned over time, collecting bits and pieces of data which are chewed over, given a shape through long attention. Twitter requires the shortest attention span of all the literary forms I use, and for that reason I find it already has an experimental quality. Twitter writers tend to be pro-trying new things. I thought it would be the best place to focus my energy in a daily sense. For everything else, we had a blog: writersinresidence.wordpress.com.

As the first of the six residents, I was charged with figuring out what shape the project would take for myself. In terms of content, I ended up releasing four formal fiction experiments, and accidentally finding a fifth, non-fiction form. Briefly, I’ll describe the four formal fiction pieces that I made, and why I chose those forms. Continue Reading →

The N00bz Book Launch in Sydney

the noobzOur own Simon Groth will lead a panel discussion with fellow n00bz Benjamin Law, Greg Field, and Keith Stevenson on literary experiments at the official launch of The N00bz: New Adventures in Literature. First published to this very web site, The N00bz is a collection of writing about writing in which authors experiment with their craft and document their quest to continually improve amidst rapid industrial change. The launch celebrates the second digital and first print editions of the book, including a new n00b adventure from Jennifer Mills and contributions from the talented crew of intrepid tweeters and bloggers who answered our call for a crowd-sourced chapter.

Location Better Read Than Dead 265 King Street, Newtown NSW
Time Tuesday August 12 6:30 pm
RSVP 02 9557 8700 or betterreadevents.com

Can’t make it to Sydney for the launch? Head over to the Editia site where you can order print and digital copies.


An if:book Australia project edited by Simon Groth and published by Editia

Romy Ash |Ÿ Caroline Baum |Ÿ Carmel Bird |Ÿ James Bradley Ÿ| Jodi Cleghorn Ÿ| Emily Craven Ÿ| Duncan Felton Ÿ| Greg Field Ÿ| Raelke Grimmer Ÿ Simon Groth Ÿ| Charlotte Harper Ÿ| Sophie Masson Ÿ| Benjamin Law Ÿ| Elizabeth Lhuede Ÿ| Jennifer Mills Ÿ| Zoe Sadokierski Ÿ| Ronnie Scott Ÿ| Lefa Singleton Norton Ÿ| Jeff Sparrow Ÿ| Keith Stevenson Ÿ| Emily Stewart Ÿ| Sean Williams Ÿ| Freya Wright Brough


Becoming N00b

the noobzThe collected essays from if:book’s project The N00bz is now available and ready as a single downloadable volume for your reading pleasure. But why stop at reading?

Would you like to be one of The N00bz?

To coincide with its publication, if:book and publisher Editia are offering emerging writers the chance to be published alongside Romy Ash, Carmel Bird, James Bradley, Sean Williams, and Benjamin Law.

Submit a tweet or blog post about your own literary experiment and let us know about it via Twitter using the hashtag #TheN00bz (don’t forget the zeroes).

If you submit by midnight on 7 July, your work may be selected for inclusion in the print edition (and second digital edition) of The N00bz to be launched in August.

Editia has more information and some handy suggestions for experiments you can try at home. 

You can also read our official announcement of the competition over at Books + Publishing.  

About the book

Change your tools for storytelling, change your routine, learn a new form, engage with parts of the wider industry you have never had to previously. See what happens and report back. This was the challenge taken up by contributors to The N00bz: New adventures in literature, a joint project between if:book Australia and digital first publisher Editia.

The book is a collection of writing about writing that documents pure curiosity and the quest to continually improve amidst rapid and constant industrial change. The results are by turns insightful and amusing if, just occasionally, a bit harrowing.

Sean Williams deprived himself of sleep and observed its effect on his creativity. Sophie Masson established her own independent press. Emily Stewart gave away her library. Greg Field closed his bookshop and joined Wattpad. Romy Ash tackled Twitter storytelling. James Bradley tried his hand at creating a graphic novel. Carmel Bird digitized a title from her backlist. Benjamin Law braved the squiggly world of shorthand. And Jeff Sparrow wrote something that’s definitely not a book.

Setting up your own press, leaving your previous career behind, and giving away your books are not experiences that can be undone as easily as Command-z. But the intention of The N00bz was to encourage writers to step outside their typical routines and find new perspectives … perspectives that stay with you long after you finish reading these essays, even if you don’t end up encoding your own ebooks.

So get your n00b on and in the meantime pick up a virtual copy of The N00bz from the following digital emporiums:


The Death of Negative Man

the noobzI’ve given up reading superhero comics three times. The first time was when I finished primary school in 1979. Until then I’d been an enthusiastic consumer of the black and white reprints of DC and Marvel comics produced by Australia’s Planet and Newton Comics, but as I prepared for high school I decided it was time to give my-then favourites Green Arrow and the original X-Men away in favour of interests more in synch with my newfound maturity.

Of course it didn’t stick. A little over a year later, in 1981, I started reading them again. My parents’ marriage had just ended, I was thirteen, overweight, desperately lonely and flunking out at school, so I’m sure it was at least partly about comfort, about returning to something I understood, and which repaid the sort of emotional energy I invested in them by providing me with a sprawling, endlessly evolving and richly imaginative world to explore.

I tried again in my final year of high school. This time it was little more than an interregnum, a blip of a few months, meaning that by the time I started university I was back on the drip.

Somewhere during the decade and a half that followed I pretty much stopped reading mainstream superhero comics, transitioning to the sorts of titles DC was producing through its Vertigo imprint, although if the truth be told my happiest moments often involved moments like the appearance of the original Sandman, Wesley Dodds, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or revisionist riffs on the superhero like Grant Morrison’s Animal Man and Doom Patrol.

But by the time I was in my early 30s I’d had enough. Most of the titles I read had petered out, and given it was the dark days of the mid-1990s, there wasn’t much new that appealed to me, so when the final issue of Grant Morrison’s Invisibles appeared I decided to draw a line under my life as a comic nerd.

Yet as Renton famously observes in Trainspotting, there are last hits and there are last hits. And, as the years passed, I discovered I couldn’t stay away. At first it was just the occasional deniable dalliance, but slowly my habit started to get more serious again, a process that has only accelerated in the past few years by the instant fix of digital comics.

Alan Moore often seems to take a little more pleasure in annoying mainstream comics audiences than is really seemly, but I suspect his recent comments about superhero comics being a form aimed at boys of 9-13 which have somehow become the preserve of 30, 40 and 50-something men are pretty much on the money. Yet my love of comics – and superhero comics in particular – isn’t just about wish-fulfilment or the need to keep returning to the things that delighted me as a child or the slightly nerdish delight associated with an awareness of sprawling continuities that stretch back decades (in her excellent study of superhero comics, Superheroes, the critic Roz Kaveney observes correctly that the Marvel and DC universes represent the largest narrative constructions ever created). Continue Reading →

Skulking in Dark Alleys

the noobzIt was pitch black in Verity Lane, and the mid-winter drizzle added to the eeriness. I generally avoid these dark back streets, having narrowly escaped being mugged in one nearby years earlier, but I had books to distribute, and at the other end of this service courtyard stood Smiths Alternative, Canberra’s most bohemian bookshop.

At the time, Smiths was run by Jorian Gardner, the trilby-wearing director of Canberra’s Fringe Festival, and Domenic Mico, a former director of one of the city’s largest arts centres. Their clientele visited Smiths to hear poetry readings, drink coffee and wine and attend gigs. Sometimes, they even bought books and zines.

As is the nature of these things when you’re juggling a six-month-old baby, a three-year-old, a Masters degree, two teaching gigs, a magazine publishing job and your ebook start-up, time was short. I hadn’t managed to forewarn the booksellers of my impending arrival, so I was relieved to spot them as I slipped out of the alley and within sight of Smiths.

‘Hi Jorian,’ I said as he pushed a rack of indie fashion items through the side door. ‘I think you know about my new publishing venture? Would Smiths be interested in taking a couple of copies of [Anna Maguire’s] Crowdfund it!?’

The former radio shock jock filled his partner in. ‘She’s a REAL publisher, Domenic. Publishing books professionally, here. At Gorman House. Of course we’ll take some, Charlotte. We’ll buy them outright. Is a 30 percent discount OK? Email me an invoice.’

Just like that, I had my first retail partnership in my home town. Continue Reading →

Dazzled by the Undoable

the noobzHello. My name is Ronnie and this is the story of how I failed to draw a comic. Throughout this process, I tried to illustrate various colours, shapes, and lines. What I ended up illustrating is a trio of clichés: those who can’t do teach; it’s harder to make than to criticise; and scholars tend to be somewhat divorced from their research topics. Please, make yourself comfortable and watch a grown man drown before your eyes.

I sometimes get to work as a comics critic, which I love: it’s Chris Ware who said that comics is the only art form where you have to explain the medium’s history before addressing a single one, so I often get to editorialise and soapbox and opine before digging into the comic at hand—usually a big no. Meanwhile, my doctoral thesis, which I spent four years of my life writing, was basically an attempt to redefine comics as an art of space, rather than an art of time. It was the kind of supernerdy, fine-grained study that only its author could love, but one detail is germane here: I don’t believe my own argument; it’s an opening gambit, a bargaining position, a thesissy point of departure, one that allowed me to get into the guts of why comics is uniquely itself. Comics’ engagement with space and time, how it messes them both up, is different to the dimensional engagement of any other narrative form. Continue Reading →

Dear Reader

the noobzAt this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival, I gave away my most-loved books along with individual handwritten letters addressed to the reader of each. In a quiet corner of Melbourne’s Abbotsford Convent, I displayed the books on a desk and over the course of two days sat down with thirty participants to chat about books and reading, before gifting them a book and a letter to keep. I called it the Dear Reader Project.

I am a passionate reader. I’ve completed an Honours degree in literature, managed a bookshop, and trained as an editor. That is, I’ve had three terrific, tax-deductible reasons to indulge my book-buying habit. But I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with the weight of books that surrounds me. I’ve started to wonder about the specific function of books as cultural objects. What is their psychic measure? What do they act as receptacles for? I’ve closely followed and participated in conversations around the death of the book; a conversation that manages to bore and fascinate in equal parts.

I became interested in how we might begin to enact our conversation about books in new ways. In today’s arts climate, numbers mean a lot. Festival organisers silently count their attendees, hoping for increases that will bolster their funding applications. Online, page views and reach stats serve as a similar metric. It’s a logic that Twitter formally encodes: the screen is fed and made active by the exponential growth of ideas.

But despite Twitter and despite festivals, I am lonely as a reader. With Dear Reader I saw an opportunity to investigate literary experiences and attitudes to reading beyond the panel, magazine or interface. One of the most interesting challenges festivals face is the question of how to activate the energy audience members bring with them to an event. What Dear Reader offered was meaningful conversation between passionate readers.

Over the weekend I met and spoke to thirty people. Those numbers at a panel event would be modest, but I had hopes that my installation would offer a depth of engagement and exchange that counted for much more. When I pitched Dear Reader to the festival, I was putting forward a project that was small, intimate, private and entirely offline. As such, it can’t help but be read in juxtaposition to the rhetoric of growth outlined above, and as a counterweight to the question of technology. In this essay, I’m writing towards these two things. Continue Reading →

The Reading Challenge

the noobzA year ago, in Overland online literary journal, Jane Gleeson-White wrote that 2012 was the Year of Australian Women Writers. She attributed this in part to a reading and reviewing challenge I’d established, along with the newly-created Stella Prize. A year before that, I’d never heard of Gleeson-White, or many other Australian women writers. Nor was I alone. When I’d visited my local library and asked for recommendations of books by Australian women, neither of the two library workers I approached could name one living, female Australian author. I was told to ‘look for the kangaroo on the spine’.

What the…?

In October 2011, a writer friend on Facebook urged me to check out a ‘stoush’ in the comments section of Tara Moss’s blog. In a wrap-up of a Melbourne Sisters in Crime conference, Moss had quoted the US-based VIDA count: statistics detailing the poor number of reviews of books by women appearing in prominent literary journals. The post attracted the attention of literary reviewer for The Age, Cameron Woodhead, who accused Moss of ‘privileged whining’.

Sure, gender bias in literary reviewing can seem like a First World Problem. But what does it mean when three women in a library have trouble naming any Australian women authors – their contemporaries? It got me thinking. Could the lack of attention given to women writers be symptomatic of a deeper malaise, an inequality which, in Australia, sees women still as primary victims of violence, earning significantly less than men, and underrepresented on corporate boards and, most recently, in ministerial cabinets? Is it an issue of social justice? Or are books by Australian women simply not good enough to deserve reviewers’ attention?

I had good reason to be suspicious of notions of literary meritocracy. Continue Reading →

Cn u rd ths?

the noobzPlenty of people would describe what I do as journalism, but I’m going to come clean: I ain’t no journalist. This isn’t coming from some deep, dark reservoir of low self-esteem; it’s just I have never completed a journalism degree, never worked in a newsroom and am usually out to sea when one of my editors queries me on legal aspects of my story. ‘Asking me probably isn’t the best idea,’ I’ll tell them, slowly going grey. ‘And, uh, you guys have lawyers, right?’ Some of the stories I write for magazines—like Good Weekend and The Monthly—are definitely a kind of journalism (I come up with an idea, get on the road, interview people, do background research and spin it into a story) but I feel like a fraud when people describe me as a journalist, which happens often enough.

At university, I studied creative writing. (I know: I’m instinctively wary of any professional qualification with the word ‘creative’ in the title too.) When I started the degree in 2000, the course was almost brand new. My cohort of fewer than 30 students was the third batch to enrol. Being a three year course, this meant not a single person had graduated from the degree yet. We were all a grand experiment, with no idea of what career prospects lay ahead of us, if any. For a long time, we referred to our major as Creative Shiting—a joke I reckon has aged pretty well—and while our course coordinators spun out plenty of original content, we also piggy-backed heavily onto media studies and journalism subjects. As part of our course, we were required to complete three mandatory journalism units: news writing; sub-editing and layout; and feature writing. As a writer with aspirations to work for Rolling Stone, I totally dug the classes. (My fiction-writing buddies loathed them.)

I learned plenty in those journalism units: the inverted pyramid structure; how to properly spell ‘villain’; the difference between a lede and an intro; the importance of reading the daily news; how to use programs like Quark and InDesign; how to pitch a feature; the importance of leading and kerning on the page; and how to deal with fuckwit former newspaper section editors who’d found themselves tutoring newswriting to teenagers at university, and therefore had a major chip on their shoulder. However, we also missed out on a lot of key skills that were considered prerequisites for journalists a generation or two ago. And one of them was shorthand. Continue Reading →