Introduction to Lit-Mag #26
The first reading at Pepperinas café in Newcastle that I went to was for the National Young Writer’s Festival of 2001. It was a great year. The AFL and NRL grand finals were on the same weekend, and the Newcastle Knights won the flag that year. There were scenes of bedlam and rumours of rampant nudity as the town went absolutely ape-shit.
Shane Jesse Christmass had invited me to come over from Perth, Western Australia to read from the novel I was working on. At the time I was jaded and pushing a boulder uphill as most of my close friends and creative peers had either moved overseas or to Melbourne. I was alone with my spent muse wedged between the desert and the sea.
I got there for the opening night, it was Wednesday, and the festival club that year was at the Mission Theatre, a grand old Dame with good legs under her crumpled gown. The place was empty around 5 o’clock. About four of us sat down with our schooners for a chinwag. And slowly the sea breeze brought in a trickle of characters the extent of which I had been starved of in WA. They were young, they had crazed eyes; they were unpredictable, garish and loud. Everyone quickly got loaded, and the next time I raised my eyes from my schooner, the entire place was packed with a godless throng of recalcitrants. I looked around and thought to myself, ‘everyone in here either writes or is doing something creative’ and for the first time in a long time I felt normal.
We had been pulled into Newcastle from right around Australia. You can imagine what that would do for your temporal nodes. I had grown up in a small country town, lived in Perth since 1995. The only people I knew I met on the way to Uni and back. The sense of national camaraderie is immense and liberating. It gives great comfort knowing the full extent of all that space is dotted with people like me.
So when Shane asked me to help organise the readings for the 2002 festival, I jumped at the chance. The Pepperinas readings had been started in response to the burgeoning spoken word scene, to provide an alternative for prose that seemed to have been relegated to the old-school by the young whippersnappers. Pepperinas is a quiet venue; a bookshop café by day, run by a mellowed old fruit named Sue whose hair I saw bright pink last year, and this year, electric purple-blue.
There is no microphone, you sit on a stool and have to voice out your work. The voice becomes a muscular vehicle, and the audience has to actively listen. The voice alone is an incredibly intimate thing, and lends itself perfectly to the nuances of prose.
The balancing act in spoken word is the fine line between the performer and the performance. Where they are the same, it can get boring, but when the spoken word artist actually tries to perform the work without getting in the way of the work, it can be exhilarating. Likewise with the voice alone, when it is simply trying to deliver the words, it has great effect upon the listener. When your personality is there, your voice is unaware of its importance, and you crouch all your timidity, embarrassment, or effusiveness over your delivery. It diffuses the effect of the words and you are left with nothing to stand upon. With spoken word, you may be able to save yourself through physical gesture, or interaction with the audience, or electronica, but reading by voice alone is the most naked, most revealing, and if the words are half lost, the performance can be most unsatisfying.
The prose pieces this year were of a great quality and the majority of writers gave readings that breathed life into the written word. For the first time this year we introduced a short open-mic section at the end, and amazingly there wasn’t a turkey amongst them.
I was glad to have been given the opportunity to participate in this year’s festival. All thanks go to the funding bodies and organisers, in particular, Kylie Purr, Shane Jesse Christmass, Alan Boyd and Daniel Watson. A big thank you to Sue for providing us with the venue and also to the readers whom participated this year, Natasha Cho, Adam Ford, Nicole Gill, Michael Aitken, Geoff Parkes, Sally Hardy, Kami, Hayden Payne, Shane Jesse Christmass, Heather Taylor-Johnson, and Briohny Doyle, and to Lachlan Williams, one of the readers from the open mic section.
The contents of the current issue of Gangway celebrating the Pepperinas readings are the majority of the prose pieces that were read out on this year’s schedule. Thanks to Gerald for the opportunity to publish the works of some of Australia’s young writers.
In 2000 I was told about the National Young Writers Festival held in Newcastle annually. My first reaction being an unconnected chap from Western Australia was “Hang on, there’s a festival, for writers, for young people?” It seemed a joke, and an insult, and it wasn’t until I got to Newcastle, that I realised Phil Doyle wasn’t having me on. The festival was everything I had wanted, and much of what Hop has said about feeling normal again was true. However I did notice a distinct lack of opportunities for Novelists and Short Story Writers. The festival was overblown with Performance Poets with their aerobic gyrations and laser shows, guff that detracts from a true essence, that is story telling. I got back, I whinged, I railed, expressed my disgust that there was a Spoken Word Coordinator AND a Poetry Coordinator, but where the heck was the Short Story Coordinator. Not knowing the structure of the festival, and myself thinking it was like all festivals, high brow and out of reach of the underclass, was told and quite rightly so “Schizz you want it, you organise it.” So in 2001 the NYWF had its first Short Story Coordinator, hopefully this will continue, only because I love the medium so much, and there’s some damn fine kids doing some damn fine stuff. Briefly can I be so humble to thank some people for their friendship, mentorship and all round good looks. Kylie Purr, Penny Savidis, Hop Dac, and Phil Doyle. Enjoy the magazine, give us some money. God bless and Good Luck.
Shane Jesse Christmass
Although some of the ‘kids’ glanced suspiciously at me as if I was a dirty old man – well, I don’t feel it, but after all I’m twice their age – I enjoyed myself immensely at this year’s National Young Writers Festival in Newcastle. It was the first one I attended, and only after accepting an invitation to speak on a publishers’ panel. Anyway, while I was there – stopping over on my way from Byron Bay back to Sydney – I did not miss a single one of the four Pepperinas café nights, and was surprised by the quality of what I heard. After the last reading I decided spontaneously to dedicate an entire Gangway issue to these young writers, and offered Hop and Shane to publish the texts in this special Steaming Hot Pepperinas issue. Cheers guys!