I’m about to have a short crime story, “The Wifemaker”, published in Tasmania’s well-regarded Island Magazine (issue 132).
I’m surprised and pleased to have been asked to submit the story. Of course I don’t think the story is good enough, shouldn’t have been written at the last second (ahem)… and all that fragile-ego writer stuff. But more importantly, it’s got me thinking about the expectations and requirements placed on writers.
Two thought-provoking points:
- Am I now a literary writer (Island Magazine is considered a literary magazine; I have never considered myself a ‘literary’ writer)?
- Have I now published my first work of fiction (despite writing fiction for magazines, newspapers and books for about 15 years now)?
A couple of years ago, I considered applying for an Aus Council grant to complete a piece of writing. Having worked for more than a decade as an editor, writer, ghostwriter and journalist (being published consistently in my chosen genres), I thought I’d slot in somewhere between the ‘emerging’ and ‘developing’ writer categories (the final one being ‘established’). Apparently not.
The (very nice) grants advisor regrettably told me that none of what I’d done counted. I needed to have written and published serious literary fiction, essays, short stories or poems to even get within licking distance of the emerging category.
As a proudly ‘commercial writer’, it made me question all that I’d done to that point. Did all my training and talent not count?
In my mind, then and even more so now, there is no more rewarding and rigorous training for writers than having to churn out high-quality work to a tight deadline and within a rigid word count – often having to bestow bland, regurgitated material with a new hook that’ll entice readers. It’s such an incredible skill.
Ernest Hemingway was one of the pioneers of taking this commercial training, this style of writing, and applying it to ‘literature’. But the AusCo would not have granted him money to complete his first novel, as he would not have satisfied their criteria.
(And, as an aside, crime writing is a genre that’s notoriously disrespected by the establishment, despite some crime writers clearly being worthy of literary accolades and awards.)
I’ve finished my novel regardless, having always been very uncomfortable with the idea of writers getting free money to write. And I probably could apply for an AusCo grant now. But I won’t be. I don’t like the way they think – it’s predictably outdated and elitist.
There is a group of Tasmanians who are currently in the process of forming a Creative Industries Council for the state, to act as a peak body for its under-represented creatives. I hope that their framework includes space and place for the advocacy of the island’s commercial writers as real writers – those who have the potential to be, or already are, literary writers. There’s a gaping hole here, where the people who fall between being categorised as a straight journo or straight literary writer, fall. Perhaps the establishment simply doesn’t like what can’t be categorised?
So, going back to my two thought-provoking points – am I now a literary writer, who has published their first work of literary fiction? I don’t have the answer to either question.