21 November 2014: The Everything Change
The brouhaha over last weekend’s G20 conference in Brisbane, and especially the Australian government’s dumb-cluck attempts to keep climate change off the agenda, somewhat obscured an event in Sydney over the same period that was of equal if not greater significance. The World Parks Congress, the once-in-a-decade global forum on protected areas organised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), opened last week with the splendid sight of five Polynesian waka, double canoes, sailing into Sydney harbour. It closed on Wednesday with the issuing of a communiqué titled ‘The Promise of Sydney ’:
The Promise sets out an ambitious agenda to safeguard the planet’s natural assets, ranging from halting rainforest loss in the Asia-Pacific and tripling ocean protection off Africa’s coasts to a business commitment to plant 1.3 billion trees along the historic Silk Road.
The event was hosted by the New South Wales and Federal governments. Australia’s commitments to the Promise, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said, ‘range from banning capital dredge disposal in the Great Barrier Reef and a historic agreement with China to ban mining in Antarctica, to new initiatives to halt species loss in our national parks.’
November isn’t just the month in which strange tufts of hair erupt on men’s faces; it is also National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Freelance writer Chris Baty started the project in July 1999 in the San Francisco Bay Area; there were just 21 participants. This year, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide signed up on November 1, intending to write a 50 000 word (or more) novel by midnight on November 30. The activity takes place online and there are various forms of help available: badges and trophies are awarded as progress is made, the site counts your words for you, and there is even a button you can press called inspiration. Here you will find prep resources, pep talks from well known authors and special offers from sponsors. These include discounts on a bewildering variety of software, books, and self-publishing services. Budding novelists are also encouraged to construct an online profile for themselves. There are rewards for that too. The site, perhaps unsurprisingly, is powered by Amazon Online Services and serves to highlight one of the issues that made the recently settled dispute (see last week’s newsletter ) between publisher Hachette and Amazon so protracted and problematic: self-publishing.
A recent in-depth article in Vanity Fair on the Hachette-Amazon dispute quotes from a petition published on the Change.org site by a group of pro-Amazon authors led by sci-fi writer Hugh Howey and mystery-thriller writer J. A. Konrath. It was headed ‘Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages’ and addressed to ‘Dear Readers’:
New York publishers once controlled the book industry. They decided which stories you were allowed to read. They decided which authors were allowed to publish. They charged high prices while withholding less expensive formats. They paid authors as little as possible.
The petition, which gathered over 8000 signatures, gave a voice to authors who have been self-publishing on Amazon. Statistics are not readily available; but, according to VF,
the size of the self-publishing program alone within Amazon is already so large that, because the company does not reveal any sales figures about self-publishing, some believe that statistics about book publishing in general can no longer be trusted. Some huge and growing part of the market is simply unaccounted for.
The self-publishers are mostly writing genre books: thrillers, mysteries, horror stories and romances. Clearly, the products that result from NaNoWriMo (sounds either like a nursery rhyme or a playground taunt, doesn’t it?) have the potential to provide more grist for the mills of Amazon. Meanwhile artist Cory Arcangel has an alternative take upon the ubiquity of novel writing in a recently completed, and controversial, conceptual work.
Yesterday in Sydney, the annual Corroboree Festival began, under the artistic directorship of leading Indigenous curator Hettie Perkins. The Festival, which lasts until 30 November, began with the Garung Parade, a procession of thousands of schoolchildren from Hyde Park down Macqaurie Street to the Royal Botanic Gardens; each child made a mascot to carry with them on the parade. Events are being held all over town, at venues including the Maritime Museum, the Australian Museum, the Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
The First Nation Australia Writers Workshops will take place as part of the festival at the State Library of NSW, Glasshouse, Macquarie Building on Wednesday and Thursday of next week. They are led by writer Cathy Craigie, with the participation of Kodie Bedford, Nardi Simpson (of the Stiff Gins), Minaji Mumbulla (a fifteen-year-old who has already published three novels online) and Robyn Ridgeway.
Participants will explore Sydney city landscape through memory and imagination and draw inspiration from colonial objects in the State Library’s collection such as Cora Gooseberry’s breastplate and rum mug. The stories crafted during the workshop will be digitised and added to the State Library’s collections.
Meanwhile, tomorrow, over at the AGNSW, you can join artists from Ngarratjuta Many Hands Art Centre in Alice Springs to learn about watercolour painting techniques and materials — then try your hand at creating a landscape painting of your own.
Margaret Atwood, on a world tour to promote her new collection of fantastical stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, when asked if she wrote climate fiction, responded thus:
I don’t even call it climate change, I call it ‘the everything change’. It’s a change of everything.
Atwood was recently announced as the first contributor to Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s 100 year artwork, Future Library — Framtidsbiblioteket in Norwegian — for the city of Oslo. A thousand trees have been planted in a forest just outside the city, and they will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years time. Between now and then, one writer a year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unpublished, until 2114. Atwood allowed that she was
very honoured, and also happy to be part of this endeavour. This project, at least, believes the human race will still be around in a hundred years! Future Library is bound to attract a lot of attention over the decades, as people follow the progress of the trees, note what takes up residence in and around them, and try to guess what the writers have put into their sealed boxes.
Her manuscript will be handed over at a special ceremony in Oslo in 2015.
In other international news, it was announced last month in New York that Bob Dylan is to be the inaugural Creative Laureate and Founding Patron at the University of Auckland’s Creative Thinking Research Fund. Bob, who agreed to lend his name to the position, was unavailable for comment because he was on tour at the time.
This week SRB features Jeff Sparrow’s appraisal of two recent books on Australia’s security agency, ASIO: David Horner’s official history The Spy Catchers and Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files, a collection of essays edited by Meredith Burgmann. In ‘Conceptual slippage’ , Sparrow suggests that the history of the agency raises serious questions about the arguments that are put forward to justify its covert activities. Throughout the Cold War, ASIO blurred the line between counter-espionage and counter-subversion, leading to extensive and unnecessary surveillance of many innocent citizens. Sparrow argues that ASIO misunderstood the nature and the intentions of the organisation that was the focus of much of its efforts, the Communist Party of Australia. ‘If ASIO back then could so grievously misrepresent the movement it spent so much time and energy studying,’ he asks, ‘what does that tell us about national security today?’
Our second essay is SRB editor James Ley’s consideration of Wayne Macauley’s latest novel, Demons. Picking up on the title’s reference to Dostoevsky, ‘Enter the swine’ argues that Macauley’s fiction offers a sharp critique of contemporary Australian society. Where Dostoevsky was delving into the soul of pre-revolution Russia, Macauley satirises a society that has lapsed into ennui and aimlessness in the wake of the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. The protagonists in Demons, Ley points out, are exactly the right age to be read as the literary offspring of David Williamson’s drunken Whitlamites in Don’s Party, and there is a generational indictment in Macauley’s depiction of their squandering of the legacy of that era. ‘Macauley’s depiction of his characters is not entirely unsympathetic,’ he writes, ‘but he eyes their pretensions in much the same way that a butcher eyes a plump chicken.’
Our featured artist this week is Tom Carment, one of ten artists invited to contribute to Drawing Out: the Dobell Australian Drawing Biennale which opens today at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. The Biennale replaces the Dobell Prize for Drawing, which ran from 1993 to 2012. The gallery, wrote John McDonald in last Saturday’s SMH , ‘is foregoing the revenue from entry fees and asserting its right to quality control’. Curator Anne Ryan ‘has kept a tight focus, taking landscape as her theme’. Among the ten artists chosen, it is good to see Ivy Pareroultja, one of the third generation of Hermannsburg watercolourists, represented.
Carment is showing a suite of 128 watercolours and drawings called From Cape Leeuwin to Kings Cross; this is a partial reference to his book Seven Walks — Cape Leeuwin to Bundeena, to which he contributed essays and watercolours, and Michael Wee photographs, out this month from Roc-Hin publishing. Carment’s trifecta is completed with his one man show, Paintings & Drawings 2011-14, opening at King Street Gallery on William, 177 William Street, Darlinghurst, on November 25. Tom writes as well as he paints; check out this profile, focused on his postcard collection.