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Emerging Writers’ Festival is looking for new writers! We spoke to artistic director and co-CEO Ruby-Rose Pivet-Marsh about the festival’s DIY origins, what makes for a good application and why punters will need to bring sunscreen in 2024.

Emerging Writers’ Festival (EWF) turns twenty-one this year. Could you tell us a little about its history?

EWF was born from Express Media, an organisation for young writers. The festival started as a zine fair and then evolved. Now it’s just a lot bigger. This year, it will go for ten days.

It has always been a festival for—and by—writers. That’s the legacy of the festival, it nurtures writers at that crucial early point in their careers. And many people have used it as a stepping stone and gone on to be successful. EWF has always been less about ‘selling books’ than it has been about helping writers.

What does ‘emerging’ mean to the festival?

There is sometimes a perception that emerging only means ‘young’. Perhaps this by a virtue of the festival’s connection to Express Media, or other prizes that have attached an age limit to this description. We really value the concept of emerging at any age.

Emerging also used to be seen in more rigid terms, the first five years of practice. That’s a big thing in grant applications and funding. I haven’t really seen this as much since the pandemic began. We’ve lost three years, and I think that would be unfair to place that time limit. EWF never has. We see the career stage as a self-identified thing.

We really value the concept of emerging at any age.

EWF is currently open for applications. Why should emerging writers apply?

As cringe as it sounds—it’s a unique opportunity. There aren’t that many festivals where you can pitch your ideas.

It’s also an important space for building community and finding like-minded people. Emerging writers can feel siloed in their practice, or not aware that they even have a practice. We also try to keep opportunities for socialising. It’s about becoming involved, seeing who’s out there and making new connections. Literary events can be intimidating, but I think this festival is a welcoming space.

The call-out is also available to writers all around the country. In addition to our digital program, which opens up accessibility, we also fly writers over for the festival.

What would you love to see in the submissions?

I’m really interested in seeing interesting uses of spaces. We’ve done events at Scienceworks and the Conservatory at Fitzroy Gardens—really beautiful events in unique spaces.

We really like cross-discipline events too. Things that include music, poetry—all different art forms. We see ourselves as a storytelling festival as opposed to strictly about writing books.

A really fun part of our programming is also our digital programming. My first paid job at EWF was as a digital producer, and I became artistic director in 2020, so I’m always keen for interesting online stuff. Anything that is kind of playful or, for want of a better expression, designed to involve people. And this doesn’t mean audience participation (which can be scary!), but opportunities for interaction or inspiring creativity somehow.

What makes for a good application?

It helps to look at the program. To check if you’re pitching something that we’ve not done before or doing something with a fresh take. This can be the deciding factor, and we can tell!

We also have a post about the more technical elements of what makes an application stand out. It’s worth checking out.

It’s a unique opportunity. There aren’t that many festivals where you can pitch your ideas.

Any big no-nos?

I do not want to see any one-person shows. We get a lot of pitches for that, no matter how many times or how many ways we say we don’t program this way. Solo shows are the antithesis of what we’re about. You can tell when people are just putting applications in everywhere.

We also get offered a lot of reproductions of events that have already been done, so we don’t want to see that.

Should writers be thinking about collaborative events?

Yes! We have a section in the call-out application that asks who people would like to work with. It lets us know where you think you sit in the literary landscape, the communities you may already be involved with and the potential for collaboration.

When people say ‘put me anywhere’, it’s not very helpful. We get a lot of applications relying on us to know who the applicants are, and it’s not really the nature of the festival—it’s a festival for new writers! It’s better to give us an idea of what themes, forms and ideas you’re working with.

We try to balance the call-out with what we’ve identified over the festival cycle to be missing or other opportunities to do something interesting. Through the application process, we start to see ideas emerge, and we can match writers for events from there. we like working with artists to bring their pitches to life.

What advice do you have for presenters, especially those who may be new to public speaking?

It’s good to remember that almost everyone is also a bit nervous. Try and have some fun! It’s so cheesy, but it’s true. I’m a shy person, but I find the festival really fun. Attend the other events—most of them are free and/or near each other—and it helps get you into the spirit of things. You also learn so much from seeing other writers.

It’s good to remember that almost everyone is also a bit nervous.

Also, we help our artists, and we’re often told this is more comprehensive than usual. We’re very aware that it’s often people’s first event. All artists receive a brief sheet that outlines the event timeline in detail, what’s required, who is involved, your point of contact in the lead-up and also who is physically present on the day. So you’re never alone, and there’s always help if you need it.

Festival goers at EWF. One woman is in the audience wearing a mask.

Image: Emerging Writers’ Festival.

How do you make the festival more accessible?

Accessibility is so important to us. Applicants are prompted to share their accessibility requirements, and it’s something we want to support as much as we can. So many venues aren’t accessible for wheelchairs or don’t have adequate seating, so it’s something we work hard to ensure. We will also continue to encourage people to wear masks. We have a policy that if artists are unwell they will still get paid, or we can switch to digital. Often, writing and associated work is freelance, so we understand the financial pressures to turn up even if you’re unwell.

We still want to continue with a strong digital presence and more hybrid events so emerging writers anywhere can benefit from the festival. As a disabled person, I’ve noticed how quickly the world went back to things as usual. I don’t want this digital accessibility to disappear.

We work with some fantastic organisations on accessibility, including Auslan Stage Left. We offer attendees the opportunity to request interpreters on our events listings (rather than us just deciding which events will include interpreters). All our digital events have captioning.

From a financial perspective, we also like it to be affordable. Last year, 75 per cent of the festival was free and we try to keep things reasonably priced.

Accessibility is so important to us.

What can we look forward to in 2024?

We have new dates for the festival this year—it will be held 5–15 September. I’m hoping this will give people a break from the hectic literary schedule in autumn and winter, and people will come to EWF in spring with a sense of excitement.

For me, 2024 is about play. I won’t pretend that the pandemic is over, so I’m hopeful that we will have more outdoor events with the nicer weather. I also want more DIY—going back to the roots of the festival—as well as other kinds of storytelling like tabletop games and interactive events. You play Dungeons & Dragons, you’re a writer! You create video games—that’s writing too! That kind of stuff.

Also, keep an eye on the National Writers’ Conference—it really gives you the opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry. There are also pitching sessions, which can be rarer to come by.

How else can people get involved? 

Watch this space. We’ll be making some exciting announcements soon! The best way to find out more is to subscribe to our newsletter and social media.

What should punters bring with them to the festival?

Bring a mask! Sunscreen! A pen! (Laughs.) Bring a willingness to have a good time and to learn.