Wednesday, November 7, 2012

An interview with John Tranter

We interview John Tranter about editing The Best Australian Poems 2012.

What was the selection process like for The Best Australians Poems 2012?

Pretty much like last year: I sorted through the thousand or so entries that Black Inc. sent to me, and chose what I felt were the best: that is, the most interesting, or well written, or dramatic, or thought-provoking poems that I felt a general audience would like. I had to trust my own taste to steer away from poems with a minority appeal. I would hope that as the series develops, the admissions rules will be relaxed: at present, admissions are limited to poems published exactly in the last year. I'd like to see that extended to simply 'recent poems', anything up to a few years old. That way next year's editor - a new and different editor - could publish a poem or two that I may have overlooked from 2011-2012. And I feel sure that there will be more women editors in future years.  It has been pretty much a male thing so far. But that will change. It's a great project, and I feel optimistic about it. The fact that it's open to absolutely everybody, and that the editors regularly change, makes it widely democratic, and perhaps that's why it is so popular.

An interview with Sonya Hartnett

We discuss The Best Australian Stories 2012 with new editor Sonya Hartnett.

What do you look for in a story?

I looked for a short story with teeth. There were a lot of beautiful pieces of writing submitted for the collection, and many of them had fine gentle plots, but I favoured stories that had a sharp and powerful punch, a real bite to them. There were a few exceptions, however: some pieces I included because they were particularly clever or wry or in some other way caught my fancy.

What are some of your favourite or noteworthy pieces in the collection?

It seems unfair to single anyone out - I'm fond of them all. David Astle's 'Oxtales' is strikingly original. Emma Schwarz's 'Sidney' made me cringe, as the author intended. Sean Rabin's 'I Can Hear the Ice Singing' is compellingly weird. But all of them are great - they had to be. Over 800 stories were submitted - only the best made the cut.

Introduction to The Best Australian Essays 2012

Read Ramona Koval's introduction to The Best Australian Essays 2012.

When looking for wisdom, it’s a good idea to range widely.

Writing in the years after the Great Crash of ’29, James Thurber noted that company heads had started to speak double-talk in low, muffled tones ‘because nobody knew what was going to happen and nobody understood what had.’

In contrast, the voices in these essays are strong. The language is direct and there is confidence in its expression. It made me wonder about what had happened in the year to elicit such certainty.

In politics, big moves detonated big responses. While the ‘coup’ against Kevin Rudd still smarts in some quarters of the Labor Party, there were arguments and counter-arguments about why it happened and whether it was inevitable. Two essays approach the nub of the matter from different sides of the fence. There was much analysis of big personalities. David Marr’s essay on the gladiatorial Tony Abbott may well make waves beyond 2012, as did his previous dissection of Rudd, which turned, for a while at least, into a political autopsy.

Catherine Deveny's Five Tips For Writers

First time novelist Catherine Deveny shares her best tips for writing.

1. Don’t let the thought that what you write, think you are going to write or are writing is crap stop you from writing. If we all did that no one would write anything. Or another way of putting it: crap isn’t crap, it’s just another name for fertiliser. As Dr. Seuss says, ‘Everything stinks until it’s finished.’

2. Set yourself low expectations like writing for 30 minutes a day. Most people immediately feel they have failed because they set themselves ridiculously high and unachievable goals. My book The Happiness Show was written in 30-minute increments. And apropos lowering expectations, don’t get all lofty, just write the book you want to read. A good story is a good story. Dont worry if you think someone has ‘done it before’. EVERYTHING has been done before.

3. Do the writing before you fold the washing. Do the writing before the ironing. Do the writing before getting dressed, having a shower or eating breakfast. Do the writing first. Because there is always something you can be doing instead of writing. Do the ironing, washing, eating breakfast, etc, as a reward for completing the writing (see my column on writing here).

4. Perfect is the enemy of good. Be a completionist not a perfectionist. It’s normal to have 17 negative thoughts for every positive thought. ‘Art is never finished, only abandoned.’ Leonardo da Vinci

5. As you’re writing, you can only see as far ahead as the headlights and that’s how it should be. Don’t panic, just keep driving. And know you’ll only be able to see the whole journey when you’re finished. ‘It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ E.L. Doctorow

Catherine Deveny's debut novel The Happiness Show is available now as a print and ebook.