The Write Time

17 May 2012 | 6:30 pm | Simon Eales

When I first came I was quite naïve. I had never done that role before, so what I really wanted to do was not fuck it up!

Each year, the Emerging Writers' Festival (EWF) aims to throw up-and-coming, under-represented wordsmiths into a big, happy pool of their own diction to talk the talk about their craft. Lisa Dempster, in her third and final year as EWF's director, tries to explain the festival's surging popularity. “All the programs that we do are aimed to inform, inspire, or connect,” she says, emphasising that the EWF is first and foremost aimed at writers.

“It's a place where people can go and meet people like them, who are maybe not getting huge commercial success, or the work that they're doing is not mainstream enough to appeal to mainstream interests.

“When I first came I was quite naïve. I had never done that role before, so what I really wanted to do was not fuck it up! We introduced a lot of digital programming, Twitterfest, a lot of different things online and through that have really been able to expand our reach. Over the past two years the festival has doubled in audience size… our Twitter followers have increased, like, 600%.”

New media success is great, she says (@lisadempster gets an eye-twinkle talking about Twitter) but it's not everything. “Writers get told all the time that if they don't have a web presence, or they're not online, they're never going to get published, which is bullshit, it's bogus… If they're a good writer they'll rise to the top, regardless of whether they're on twitter every five minutes.”

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Reflecting on some magic moments from her tenure, Dempster recalls the Zine Bus in 2010. “It was a logistical nightmare when we started… We were like, 'Aw, this is gonna bomb, this is gonna be the worst program we've ever run at the festival'. But it was amazing.” And then there was last year's Spelling Bee. “Because it was a writers' festival Spelling Bee, everyone was really competitive… everyone was like [flicks hair back and elbows other imaginary contestants out of the way], super focussed; super into it; time to shine.”

From this year's packed program, Dempster confesses to having “a soft spot” for Fright Night, an event to be held “in an abandoned ballroom in the State Library called Queen's Hall that is actually haunted… We have some amazing writers to tell scary ghost stories and terrifying tales.”

She is also excited to be awarding some dosh this year, with The Monash University Prize. “Awards like that, particularly targeting emerging, unpublished, young student people are really important,” she says. “When you're not published widely, you have a lot of, 'What am I doing? Will it all be worth it?' Anything that you win just provides that moment of 'Yes! I exist! Someone thinks I am good enough!'”

Following the festival, Dempster heads off to work on the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival in Bali. “Whenever I am having a really tense festival day, I go 'Baaallliiiiiiiii' just quietly to myself.” Life after that, she admits, is an open book – perhaps one of her own traveller's tales. “Ideally I would like to take some time off, take my bike and a tent and go travelling. And not answer emails. Yep, can't wait for that.”