GenreCon: Writers helping writers

Last weekend I had my first experience of GenreCon, a biennial, three-day conference for writers and writing professionals, held in Brisbane. GenreCon is an initiative of the Queensland Writers Centre and The Australian Writers Marketplace, but the brains and heart behind it belong to sci-fi and fantasy writer Peter Ball.

Peter used his opening remarks at GenreCon to emphasise the underlying philosophy behind the conference, namely, ‘Good things happen when writers talk to each other.’ In his post-GenreCon blog post, he shared what he called ‘the other half of that philosophy’, i.e. ‘Better things happen when writers help one another.’

From what I experienced, GenreCon totally lives up to that philosophy. Though ostensibly there a guest, one of two crime writers in residence, together with my friend Sulari Gentill, I went home feeling like I had two days of intensive and inspiring professional development.

#GCoz actually trended on Twitter, as the tips and insights flew thick and fast. Rivqa Rafael provides an excellent summary on Storify, while Peter Ball’s post-GenreCon thoughts are also worth a read.

I wanted to highlight two aspects of the weekend. First, I was blown away by the collegiality of the conference among both presenters and guests. In person and on social media, people were affirming and encouraging. Feedback on sessions was virtually instantaneous; and as a panellist, it was hugely helpful to know what resonated with the audience.

I was impressed and inspired by fellow headlining guests. Award-winning author and professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal was gracious, generous and practical with her advice, not to mention hilarious; and I’ve dined out on having met someone who once played Oscar the Grouch’s right-hand on Sesame Street. CS Pacat‘s sartorial elegance was matched by the eloquence of her speech and her razor-sharp intellect. Marianne de Pierres whet my appetite for fem-punk, including her own WIP about time-travelling feminists aiming to change history in women’s favour. The immensely entertaining Kylie Scott mixed philosophy and romance, while Kaaron Warren provided riveting and generous insights into her creative process. Sulari Gentill was her usual erudite and entertaining self; I seem to take away new insights each time we meet.

And it hadn’t actually occurred to me until I saw this that we were an all-female ‘panel of awesome’!

The other thing I wanted to mention was the practicality of writers supporting writers.  Peter Ball notes in his post-GenreCon wrap up:

Talent and hard work will get you a long way in writing, but there is often a staggering correlation between writers who are successful and writers who possess that innate understanding that helping those around them, possessing a generosity of spirit when it comes to their experience and knowledge, is an essential part of the writers toolbox. They’re the people who inspire a spirit of generosity in others, so that they’re [sic.] name comes to mind when someone like me says so, I’m looking for a person who can do X…

And Peter has written eloquently on the how-to of networking or, as he calls it, ‘helping out your peeps’.

I want to add the importance of recommending the work of other writers when asked — on a panel, in an interview, even in conversation. There was a moment at GenreCon when panellists were asked to recommend authors who wrote layered characters. Another question asked for examples of heartbreaking stories. In both cases, the panellists drew a blank. I’m not blaming them: it’s easy to get caught on the spot, especially when caffeine reserves are low! But I was reminded of the importance of putting thought into this in advance, coming prepared to events with a mental list of other writers to recommend.

I suggested on the final panel that such a list focus on Australian writers and writers who are under-represented, though that’s obviously a matter of personal choice. But I do feel passionately about seizing opportunities when they arise to draw attention to writers whose work, for reasons that have nothing to do with merit, may fall beneath the radar.

End of rant.

Sincere thanks to Peter Ball and his splendid team for making GenreCon such a wonderful experience. I will be conspiring to make it a regular feature on my festival calendar.

GenreCon sketch

Sketch of panel by David Witteveen

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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11 Responses to GenreCon: Writers helping writers

  1. Oh, that sounds like a fantastic conference, Angela! I’ve often said that this writing thing is not a competition. We all get better when we help each other and when we learn from one another. The opportunity to actually do that for a few days must have been quite rejuvenating. I also couldn’t agree more with you that it’s not enough to simply think that one or another writer has talent/expertise, etc.. Saying something publicly about it is also important.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Margot, rejuvenating is the right word. I found it refreshing to be among so many writers willing and able to help one another. When a writer only seems interested in themselves, it is very easy to lose interest in them. By contrast, I think Peter is right when he says those who are generous inspire generosity in others.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. WordMothers says:

    Awesome recap! I loved following along on Twitter. I find it tough to live-tweet and was really blown away by how well people did keeping up. And the overall positive vibe really shone through so great to hear echoes of the same in your post here. And of course I 100% agree with the concept of lifting up other writers. I see time and again on my blog how willing and genuinely excited my interviewees are to praise the work of others and to put them forward, and I also see a huge correlation between success and generosity of spirit, as mentioned above. Plus, it just makes the whole industry nicer to work in for everyone, doesn’t it?! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right, Nicole, about generosity of spirit making the writing industry better for all of us. And your blog is a fantastic example of writers supporting writers. I’m going to add the URL here so readers can follow: http://wordmothers.com/

      Liked by 1 person

      • WordMothers says:

        That’s very sweet of you, thanks. I think I’ve been blessed to come from a background in poetry as poetry readings are almost exclusively attended by poets and poetry books are almost exclusively bought by poets, so it’s all about writers supporting each other to keep the industry going! That whole idea of shouting out others is really important to me — how else do you makes sure the work you believe in gets read?

        Liked by 1 person

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  6. dominique says:

    What a super conference it sounds like Angela..thanks for sharing on your blog! Think we in SA should try and emulate what happens ‘down under’ as feel that the writing community here is very small and rather closed when trying to support other ’emerging writers’

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by Dominique/Niki. The GenreCon format is unique among writers festivals in my experience, as it’s aimed predominantly at writers, rather than readers. There was discussion of ideas, but also a strong emphasis on technique and practice. I hope you can be inspired to do something similar in South Africa. And do contact GenreCon guru Peter Ball if you do.

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