May 13, 2019

Horse 2542 - The Sydney Writers' Festival Is Doing Perfectly Fine Without Me

As this is a super busy time of year for accountants with the deadline for the 2018 tax return being due on May 15, lots of people come out of the woodwork to do their tax returns; all in a great flapdoodle.
I hope that I don't give too much away when I say that one of our clients that we do a tax return for, is a published professional author. That means that in addition to having their tax return due, they are also preoccupied with the Sydney Writers Festival which ran from the 29th of April to the 5th of May. She knew that I read quite a bit and asked me if went to the festival; to which I asked if I would be have been welcome. After a look of horror and an immediate realisation, the rather curt and brutally honest reply which followed was 'No.' My answer to the question was naturally likewise.
I have never been to a writers festival and I don't really have any intention of ever going to one. That might sound rather odd considering that I read and write so much but the truth is that there really isn't that much there for me; which is perfectly fine with me. The sad fact is that the whole industry isn't really for me either.

If you do a quick Google search for pictures of writers festivals, it becomes very apparent very quickly that the majority of people in attendance are women. Apart from the husbands of older women, I would wager that the number of men at writers festivals is generally less than ten percent. The reason for this is that apart from crime thrillers and spy thrillers, virtually the entire of modern fiction isn't for men and to be honest, they don't want you there.
Ever since the inception of the novel, it has been often a place where voices other than straight white men actually manage to find a place to speak. I know that this is going to sound daft but apart from sci-fi and fantasy, and stories which have to do with death and/or crime (war novels also fall into that), the art of straight up telling stories, at least in the domain of print, has mostly been a female domain; at least when it comes to readership. That's perfectly fine.
The advent of writers festivals and conventions, which appears to be a more recent phenomenon, has happened after the advent of other festivals and conventions. You are more likely to see men at Sci-fi and fantasy conventions than you are at writers festivals. That's fine as well.

If you wander through a bookstore, it becomes pretty obvious that there is a childrens' section, some sort of nod to non-fiction, and the fiction section which occupies most of the floorspace in most bookstores. The neat thing about fiction from a bookseller's perspective is that because the human imagination is kind of unlimited in what it can produce, the fiction section acts more like an old record store. Admittedly the lead time for a fiction and non-fiction book is probably about the same but whereas for a work of fiction the writer can invent whatever they like, a non-fiction writer can not.
A really successful fiction writer can build a fan base and write sequels but I would argue that nobody really cares who wrote a non-fiction book unless they mean to cite them. Fiction has fandom built into it. Non-fiction does not. That means that in principle a writers festival is more like a music festival, or a crafts fair, than a trade fair or motor show.
Books though, are subject to the same forces of supply and demand as other products. In the same way that the movie theaters are replete with superhero movies at the moment because teenagers and ex-teenagers who are comic book fans effectively created a viable market for them, the fiction section of bookstores is mainly marketed towards women because that's where the profits are to be made.

As for me, I am a straight white dude. That means to say that I tend not to buy very much from the fiction section of the bookstore. The section not particularly designed for me and so I tend to have no idea of who the current crop of writers are, much less want to see them speak at a writers' festival. This is coming from someone who reads an awful lot.
The average age of the fiction writers that I read, is 'dead'. The works of fiction that I tend to read have almost always been dead for a considerable amount of time too. If there is a work of fiction on my bookshelf, it is highly likely to have been printed as Penguin Orange or Penguin Black book at some time. That doesn't bode well for my ability to see the author at a writers' festival.
Also, if we suppose that for some hitherto unknown reason that I should end up going to a writers' festival, then even if we assume that I have gone because I want to hear from a fiction writer, then it will be almost certain that they arrived in fiction writing having invaded from some other discipline.
That was a place where you went to buy bits of plastic for extraordinary amounts of money, with music on.

I feel this about so very much of the kosmos though. Either the kosmos wants me to be a customer and they want my Money and because I don't particularly have a lot, they don't want to know about me; or as a straight white dude and therefore symbolic of everything terrible that has happened since time immemorial, they don't want to know about me.
A writers' festival is therefore a Venn diagram of things which either aren't designed for me or people who don't really want me there. The underlying industry doesn't really have to, need to, or bothers to engage with people like me either.
In fact I'd say that writers' festivals in general are proof that the industry is doing fine without me and people like me. The industry is doing so incredibly fine without me that even though I walk through a bookstore every other day, I wasn't even aware that it had happened. I can say dispassionately that that is perfectly fine with me too, and that I'm not going to go.

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