Miles Franklin authors share insights

November 25, 2015

The Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund gives $5000 to each shortlisted Miles Franklin Award author each year. We asked two of them about their writing processes; how such a payment benefits them; and what copyright means to them.

CRAIG SHERBORNE, author of Tree Palace: “In the morning when everything’s quiet, I do 200, max 500 words in a sitting. I come back to it in the afternoon – and review. The next morning the whole process starts again.”

What will you do with the $5000 from the Copyright Agency?

“I want to pay bills and buy a new heater for my legs for the winter.

“Importantly – my desk chair – at 7.30 the other morning in a moment of exuberance, I leant back and the arm fell off…and I’ve had this chair for about 15 years and I love it – but I think I need a new desk chair.”

What do you think about those who want to water down copyright laws?

“Firstly the idea that what I do to be just consigned to being ‘content’ is anathema and I think people who want everything to be reduced to content – they’re not really interested in things like freedom and equity and justice. What they are trying to do is flatten out meaningfulness in a piece of writing or a picture – to make it as meaningless as possible.

“It’s cultural spite – kind of like saying now culture is so small and we’re so big – the search engines and whatever – that we want to kill this off – render it meaningless and therefore it has no monetary value, except to us.

“And it has no cultural value except what we decide has cultural value. The internet is like a big shed where a whole lot of junk gets thrown into it and I think that what I write – it’s my blood, it’s my reason, it’s my identity, it’s my being – I feel as though that’s why I was put on this earth and I’m sure all the other writers on the shortlist and longlist are the same. And we probably are powerless to fight simply just being ‘content’ – but all we can say is that’s how it feels – to be treated so cheaply.

“The flattening out – to say one piece of writing or art has less meaning than something else, is denying humanity. We value this more than you value that – and I think if we are a not going to do that, then we become zombies.

“Writing is like going home every morning – it’s still a joy to have in your head.”

SONYA HARTNETT, author of Golden Boys: “A book takes form not just over weeks or months or years, but even decades really.

“I guess eventually the time just comes for each book and it was the time to write this one. I think as you get older I think it’s nice to write down what you still remember. I think that your childhood is sunk very deeply inside you and it’s part of who you are and how you look at the world. It colours every facet of my life.

How will the $5000 from the Copyright Agency help you?

:I’ve recently moved into a new house in Northcote and it’s a money pit. At the moment, I’m going ‘$5000!’ – I can either get a new screen door and maybe something else, but what I really need is a new heater.”

What’s your reaction to people who say content should be free?

“They’re not the ones who are sitting down in the freezing cold and writing the stuff. When they’re the ones putting in the hours and weeks and months and decades of effort into putting out some sort of artistic product, well then maybe they can say that.

“I guess it’s like any other commodity. They don’t give away clothes for free, they don’t give away jewels for free, they don’t give away shoes or carpet for free – or anything. All those things come out of somebody’s brain and end up as a physical product, so I don’t see that a book or a piece of music is essentially much different from any other product.

“In the end, what’s in it for anybody to put in the work? It’s true, you don’t do it for the money because you can’t do it for the money and I guess you write in order to be read, but if it’s all free then how do you eat? Most writers have to have another job anyway.

“I wrote for years and years and years before I was able to give up working at a bookshop and I was one of the extremely lucky ones.

“I stopped working a second job in 2003. Had I not won the Astrid prize (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award) in 2008, I would have had to go back and get a job. I was out walking the dog – actually thinking I have to get my job back at the book shop – and I got back from the walk and there was a message from the Astrid people. I have been extremely fortunate – most people aren’t. You’ve got to have a lot of love for it to get you through the years. One of my very good friends has an 11-year-old daughter who wants to be a writer and I was saying, you have to do something else, you can’t just be a writer and she was saying “I don’t want to do something else”, and I was saying: “Take it from me! Go and do something that will serve you well if you can’t think of what to write next”…and I could feel her just hating me for trying to take away her dream. But the stress of it was making my blood pressure rise – that someone else would take on this life of stress.

“It’s nearly impossible for anyone to survive now as a writer, let alone in ten years’ time.”

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