Welcome to Why Write, a super short podcast that asks writers just that, why they write. Hi, I’m Noè Harsel, a writer and Chair of Writers Victoria, and I’m excited to chat to a diverse group of writers and simply ask, why write? I’m glad you’re here with me.
Today we chat to Astrid Edwards. Astrid is an interviewer, writer, advocate and Chair of the Melbourne Writers Festival. She is one half of Bad Producer Productions. An independent Australian podcast network specialising in arts, comedy and sports podcasts. She hosts the Garrett: Writers on Writing and co-hosts Anonymous Was a Woman. She’s a member of the Victorian Disability Advisory Council, where she advises the Minister for Disability ageing and carers. She’s also a national advocate for MS Australia.
Welcome to Why Write, Astrid. You have just so many feathers to your cap, and you do so many things to support, and, you know, talk about people in the writing community. I am so happy to have you here. So let’s get right to it. The big question: Tell us Astrid, why do you write?
That is such a big question. And thank you so much for having me. Writers are my favourite people on the planet, and books and ideas and the written word has always been, it’s always been my home, I found my friends in books and with writers and I genuinely feel more alive when I am reading, when I am writing, and when I am around people who read and write. So why I write? I would love to tell you that I am a best selling novelist. I am not. I like to think that I contribute to bestselling novels. But I am not a fiction writer. I am part of the writing community in the sense that I get paid to teach other people to write professionally. So corporate writing, social media writing, etc, because I teach at RMIT University. But I also write book reviews. And you know, we could have a whole discussion about a book review culture. But that is one of the ways that I find that I understand books, but also that I support the writing community, because reviews can be really important, if you are at a certain stage of your writing career.
I find the reviewing part of your writing, as one of the many things that you do, incredibly important and fascinating. And you’re absolutely right, we could talk ad nauseam about the culture of reviewing in Australia, and I’m sure you have so much to say about that, but I’m also really curious about what you see as your role and the responsibilities, I mean, I don’t mean this just as yourself, but of reviewers. What is, how important is the role, the responsibility they hold not just for the emerging but for all writers in Australia?
Another great question. I think it is evolving over time. And I think it is slightly different now then, you know, ten, twenty, thirty years ago, in the sense that reviews come in different forms now and they don’t have to be written in a, you know, 600 to 1200 piece review in a major publication. So review culture has changed because the platforms we find reviews on are different now. But the good old fashioned review, which you know, I am guilty of writing and getting published means a lot to a writer, because hopefully it drives book sales. Now, that’s not something that easily has a metric behind it. But that is the kind of the hope and the goal. But also, it really drives awareness of that writer, particularly if it’s a debut writer, or a writer with just one or two works behind them. Because you want that name recognition. And of course, let’s face it, we all know that many writers don’t make their full income through writing. And so if you have that name recognition, you are more likely to get on the school circuit or get on the library circuit or be invited to speak at corporate events and things.
So review culture can help the professionalism of a writer. And that’s the kind of sad part of my answer. My happy part of my answer is I love talking about books and true readers and writers love engaging with the ideas in a book, like you know, reading is not picking up a book, getting through it, and then finishing it and stop thinking about it. It’s a dialogue with other ideas that have been published or put out into the world now. And I like to participate in that dialogue. I am a massive reader and I don’t have enough people to talk to about books in my life. But in terms of review culture, I also think, you know, we’re talking on a podcast now and I do think that podcasts have a role to play in the idea of teasing out what a review can be because if you talk to a writer for half an hour or an hour, or you talk to another reader about a book for half an hour or an hour, or something like that, you are really also engaging in that kind of critical dialogue about what’s in a book. And you know, no book is perfect. Some of them are beautifully enjoyable. But no book is perfect. And I really love the idea of engaging with the ideas that writers put out there. I don’t know if I’ve answered your question.
No, I think you’ve done a really good job of answering the questions, but also opened up another area of conversation, because many of us do know you, as the host of these podcasts. The Garrett, and Anonymous Was a Woman. And so talk to me about those podcasts, and that form of creative storytelling that you have there for us. I mean, talk about that, is it something immediate and fulfilling for you in that? What is it that you love about podcasting as a form of creative storytelling?
I first fell in love with the written word, I will always and forever be a reader. But the older I get, and I do feel a little bit old these days, particularly after the pandemic in Melbourne, I really do believe that the written word is not the only way we can tell stories, and it’s not the only way we can engage with stories. And you know, a good old fashioned conversation can be really fulfilling and meaningful.
So the second part of my answer, also for you is that I think that we undervalue the skill of reading, and close reading and critical reading. I don’t mean how you study at universities, you know, do a certain type of degree. But I mean, you know, if you read fifty books a year, that’s different than reading 100 books a year, and I don’t mean in the actual skill of an individual sitting down and spending their time reading. I mean, you have more to compare it to. It’s like someone who goes to the movies once a year, or fifty times a year, you just understand differently what is out there. What is the current Zeitgeist; what publishes; what major publishers are putting out there; what minor publishing houses are putting out there; what happens in self publishing; it’s different. And so I like talking to writers and talking to readers about books, because I genuinely think that reading is a skill. And it’s a different skill than writing, but they are clearly interwoven and, you know, unable to kind of be completely separated from each other.
Yeah, I can totally understand that. And I think that we can, people who are used to listening to you and reading you, can clearly see the breadth of what you’re reading out there. And for a lot of people, I think the skill of reading has been lost, that whole skill of critical reading has been lost. A lot of us are just consuming now as opposed to critically reading and I find that really interesting. And on that, I’m just curious, do you find that there’s still a culture, a call, a need for a particular type of advocacy here in the writing community at the moment? Are there certain voices that are not being dealt with or not being heard?
Always. Yes, absolutely. I think that writing is as a cohort, but also individual writers and individual communities of writers always need support, because Australia at large, including the beautiful beloved Melbourne, City of Literature doesn’t actually value, or pay, our artists, our writers, our creatives that much. So yes, always in forever advocacy. I also think that we should start reading advocacy. And I don’t mean literacy, which is like, let’s let’s continue with our advocacy on literacy. But I mean, reading advocacy. And that’s because, I can think of books that were published in 2020, and 2019, I am not going to name them, but if anybody has been listening to The Garret or Anonymous Was a Woman you will definitely know who I’m talking about. There are writers who got lots of acclaim. I think they were quite commercially successful with their books, and their books are problematic. I am a person with a disability, there are disability slurs, there are odd representations or character and characterisations of people with disability. And there are other examples in terms of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, in contemporary publishing, and you don’t notice that if you just read a couple of books. And because reading is such a beautiful skill that we should all clearly value, there are levels to reading and the more you read, the more you can really pick apart the problems in our writing culture, and also our publishing culture. I also think that writers are kind of led down certain paths that publishers think might be commercial, and it might not be the personal creative impetus that comes from the writers themselves. And you know, you asked me why write? I want to add, why read, because I don’t think that good writing can be done without good reading.
Excellent. Astrid, thank you so much for all that input and that insight into why you write. I really appreciate it, thank you for your time.
Thanks for listening. We would love to hear why you write, tell me at whywrite.com.au
Original Music by Brand Music.