Sunday, October 28, 2012

Celebration of Books 2

Today was a quieter day; although we were back at Cooke Park at 7am to replace the streamers that had come down in the wind or were a bit sad after the gentle rain we had overnight.

Then it was off to the Primary School to listen to the Panel Discussion "Do writers really care about their readers and audiences?"

There were four fabulous panellists: Sue Smith a multi-award winning screenwriter; Matthew Condon a nationally acclaimed author; Mary-Rose MacColl a Brisbane-based author and Steven Lang an award winning Maleny author.

There was a good turn-up (about 75 people) on a bleak Sunday morning, and after a delicious morning tea and good coffee, we sat down to listen and ponder. What follows is a bit of a summary of the discussion and the thinking; by no means comprehensive.

Each of the authors spoke to the topic and the whole discussion took us on a path where the answer to the question in the end, to me at least, was "Well, Yes and No".  And that seemed perfectly apt.

As a film and television screenwriter, Sue spoke about always having to have the audience at the forefront of your mind - if people don't watch what you have written, then lots of folk lose money, so you want to write stuff that audiences like. Yet there are gatekeepers (the financiers, commissioners, editors etc) between you and your real audience and this group constitutes a second audience. You have to write to convince them, that your audience would want to watch what comes from your script.

In the end tho, Sue was very clear that you have to write honestly and truthfully; people need to be moved and or confronted by things that have moved or confronted you.  You need that passion to write good scripts.

Matt spoke of how easy it is to lose sight of an audience when you are a writer, locked away, isolated undertaking such a solitary pursuit.  But he also spoke about how his most recent book has had the audience at the centre of it from the very beginning, as it is an important story about Queensland and one that he believes (and I agree) that people should hear and have the chance to read.  He feels obligated to write this book for the people of this state.

Steven indicated that he doesn't give a damn about the audience, yet like every writer he wants one. That sounds harsh, but what he was touching on was how impossible it is to determine who or what an audience is. An audience is an amorphous thing; made up of so many distinct individuals that you can't really classify or work out who 'they' are and exactly what 'they' want. He said that the act of reading is almost as creative as the act of writing - how every reader will read a slightly different book and I think this is true.

Mary Rose suggested she was the light hearted comedy part of the show, but said so many interesting things, and yes some of them were funny. In the end she too like each of the others, said writers all want to share the story that hits you here (the heart) and that if they do that well, then the audience will benefit.

After a good discussion and some brilliant insights by audience members (don't you love it when somebody crystallises thoughts into the perfect expression that just nails what you were thinking or feeling?) I came to a few conclusions:

  • that if authors write with authenticity and honesty, truth or passion about their subject; that is a great thing to offer an audience;
  • thinking about audiences as consumers and writing for populism is not what these folk are about;
  • audiences end up co-creating with the author - we each experience a different book; and
  • some writers (journalists and screenwriters) have a more direct connection with the notion of audience, but all writers and their audiences do best when writers write about things that matter to them; and readers read with an open, explorative and inquisitive mind.

To paraphrase one audience member (Kevin) "your job is to write something you connect with, with authenticity and sincerity of intent. My job is to read it and see how it awakens the humanity in me".

It has been a great weekend for soaking in books and all that they mean - celebrating books, readers and writers and I think it would be wonderful to do it all again next year.

©2012 Fiona Dempster - Ken Munsie, Feathers in a Lost Garden (detail)


  1. Very very interesting. I think plastic artists face this question too. Do they create for their viewers or from their heart? When the reader/viewer is not regarded as a consumer, the book or work of art are not products, they are creations. I rather agree with Steven though not with his phrasing :)

    1. Thanks for pondering along with me Ersi - I like the way you differentiate between products and creations. That makes so much sense! I think writers and artists do share the same concerns with this issue. Go well.

  2. A wonderful post Fiona. Made me feel as though I didn't miss out all together though it would have been fun to have been there. Reading your breakdown and summaries of the topic I can't help but feel all those points relate to the visual artist as well as to the writer. Create with integrity, authenticity and honesty ..... each viewer will have their own way of regarding your work, and some of our works connect more readily and easily to the viewer. Good to know the dilemmas, and the truths, are very similar for writers and visual artists.

    1. Hi Susan, I'm glad you had a sense of being there. We will both have to organise ourselves better next year won't we? I think I enjoyed the discussion so much because it really did resonate for artists as well - similar dilemmas, similar needs to be authentic. I think that is a great word to describe our best work. Go well.

  3. So interesting, Fiona. You too, are a written artist as well as a visual artist and I love to read your words. Thank you for bringing this celebration of books to your readers.

    1. Thanks Carol - you are very kind! Celebrating books is a great thing to do and I enjoyed the various aspects of doing so.


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.