Australia is a foreign country.

This post was brought to you by a double-shot coffee and the matchsticks propping up each of my eyelids, because jetlag is playing some pretty wicked tricks on me. My office-mates are away this week, so I’m working from cafes as it’s less easy to fall asleep on the tables when other people are watching.

I’ve been in Australia for the past three weeks (not doing that hot-country-bragging thing: we had two days of sun, which was totally fine by my pasty freckled skin), mainly caught up in the skirl of the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne, where my fella was Roving International Ambassador at Large  or some such thing.

Oh, I like Melbourne. They do things differently there, what with it being a foreign country and everything. The EWF is the most exciting lit fest I’ve been to – for a start, its audience is writers rather than readers, so there’s less of yer straightforward novelist-promotes-book-for-pricey-hour events. The focus was on discussion: the business of writing, the future of it, what it means to be a writer (oh, writers. I know no other occupation so keen on defining and re-defining itself). EWF is inclusive in its understanding of that term, stretching to include journos, bloggers, editors, copywriters. Anyone who makes their living (or wants/tries to) by words. There were practical workshops and panel talks on everything from narrative voice to the future of journalism, sitting sweetly side by side with some of the best-curated and frankly bloody hilarious cabaret-style performance nights I’ve had the pleasure of. And I run a cabaret-style performance night, so I know what I’m talking about.  Both ends of the day were propped up by coffees /espresso martinis* at Rue Bebelons (really respect a writers’ festival which not only commandeers a bar for the duration, but a Parisian-style bar with an in-house Lego poet).

The best bit was meeting people. Mary and Binnie took us into their house. Jess took us dancing on sticky floors. Meredith and Paul took us for brunch at St Kilda. Karen and Ben and Sophie and Myke and Sara and Anna and Emmy-Rose and Angela and Meg and Lisa and Scott and Philip and Benjamin and t’other Benjamin and many many others drank and talked and talked in bars and on panels and at late-night pavement pie shops, and slowly we began to work out what made this city and country so different from ours. “Glasgow’s like Melbourne”, we said quite a bit at the beginning of the trip, to explain. Then we stopped.

They were all people of comparable age and what I’m going to vaguely term ‘work-arena’ (like, they work in the arts and meeja? and so do I, yeah? Ah, shut up) to us, but there was a sureness about the way they went about things that I haven’t felt as strongly here. Standard of print journalism not to your taste? Set up your own online news source. Everyone blogs. Everyone connects and holds forth. The websites and festivals and ideas they started were mostly successes, and even if they weren’t, they’d tried. Things seemed more possible than they do here: everyone we met was a doer, the possibilities for reaching huge digital audiences enthused about. There was no waiting for an establishment company, whether newspaper or publisher, to approve your opinions and that way prove your worth. And that’s where we felt the difference.

“Yeah,” said Lisa, on our last day. “When I was over in Scotland, the first thing I asked was for recommendations of Scottish bloggers, and I got all these blank looks”.

Is it just the difference between being a (relatively) old or young country? We talked and thought a lot about the various definitions of nationalism while we were out there: the Scottish elections were fresh in our minds, and the various forms of Aussie media we were exposed to were presented a country still at odds with itself and very much a site of debate, particularly where land rights, class and immigration are concerned. Now we come back as the Daily Record is downsizing, as the commentators begin to question whether Scotland’s old-guard media is sustainable, but there aren’t that many fresh new alternatives presenting themselves. Blog? Start an online magazine? Ach, Ah couldnae. What’s the point?

I don’t think it’s terminal, though. I don’t think Scotland is incurably tongue-tied; especially not now we’ve got to start really examining who and what we are. There’s hunners of energy and enthusiasm for the new and the possible in recent start-ups like Bella Caledonia  and Cargo Publishing. There should be more like them. I’m sure any Australians reading this would scoff and say, no, that’s not really what it’s like, not at all, and I admit my full-on crush on Melbourne is colouring the way I see things. But if it’s also inspiring me to do more than write just to pay the bills, that’s got to be a good thing, no?

So, here we go. I’m pinning a virtual motivational poster to the wall of my corner of the internet and blogging, and maybe in time I’ll even work up the confidence to ditch the self-consciously clunky sentences.  We should all blog. And talk. And publish. And start things. And make them loud.

*Why have I never had an espresso martini before? I like espresso. I like martinis. It’s, like, the most sophisticated I’ve ever felt, clutching my Marie Antoinette’s breast glass-full of treacly coffeebooze and probably being Fascinating as I held forth on some sort of literary thing or other. That said, they cost $17, so it wasn’t really a lasting sensation. Anyway, I need a Glasgow-based dealer. Recs, please.

A espresso martini, yesterday.

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2 responses to “Australia is a foreign country.

  1. This is a beautiful post, and captures for me too what the energy and buzz of the Emerging Writers’ Festival was like. After decades of living in Melbourne, I’m finally appreciating what others have always loved about this city. Don’t, however, underestimate the effect of the energy that you and your Roving International Ambassador fella put into this event. I wish I’d had a conversation with you when you were there. When are you coming back?!

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