Behind the closed doors of the Wheeler Centre a workshop of writing hopefuls sat, a world away from the CBD streets, still recovering from the exploits of the previous night’s revelling. Judging by the smell, the guy in front might as well have brought Cherry Bar itself along with him.
Digital Drive was an all-day event presented by the Melbourne Writers Festival, featuring hourly discussions between notable local and international writers covering the industry shift in writing and publish- ing with the digital page. Deliberately broad discussions, ranging from podcasting and eBooks to the importance of Twitter for emerging writers, meant the day was comprehensive to the point of being overwhelming. Those who favoured the half-day ticket might’ve been onto something.
The workshop spanned over seven hour-long conversations between a total of fourteen different writers who also fielded questions from the audience. Some speakers outperformed others in charisma and rel- evancy, others were let down by Digital Drive’s bizarre sessional format- ting. Sydney-based freelance journalist Antony Loewenstein and Perth eBook author Annabel Smith, of the Words Beyond the Page, took on an oddly somber tone, perhaps feeling dejected by the many rows of empty seats at the 10am session. Fortunately attendance picked up again in the afternoon session where late-comers were unceremoniously shunted to the back.
Fashion blogger Lady Melbourne and Melbourne eBook author Darrell Pitt’s mid-morning panel about blogging and publishing online seemed poorly considered. The two shared little common ground and the conversation felt forced at best, and confrontational at worst. A better suited pair to tackle the Publishing Online: Books, Blogs and Beyond forum might have been Lady Melbourne and Antony Loewenstein, both with social media-savvy backgrounds. Similarly, given Darrell Pitt and Annabel Smith’s mutual experience as young adult eBook authors, it’s a shame Digital Drive didn’t consider pairing them up for the morning’s first panel.
The workshop picked up again to a full room after lunch, when the writers hit their stride. Freelancing for Online Publications, with Melbourne writer Ben Pobjie and dailylife columnist Clementine Ford, was a standout. Pobjie and Ford shared their insightful experiences of breaking into the Melbourne writing clique, and actively encouraged audience involvement to facilitate their conversation. The afternoon session’s speakers were confident and engaging, taking advantage of their high profiles within an audience of writing hopefuls.
American romance author Sarah Wendell, alongside Crikey writer and film critic Luke Buckmaster, followed with Audience Development: How to Find and Keep an Audience. The pair took to the stage with infectious charisma and inspiring honesty in a talk on engaging readers through social media, demonstrating the forethought they had invested in the panel by providing a link to pre-drafted notes. If the rapturous applause they finished on was anything to go by, Wendell and Buckmas- ter, who have a total of 50k Twitter followers between them, were the superstars of Digital Drive.
MWF’s Digital Drive offered insightful advice and encouragement for authors writing in the digital age but let itself down with a haphazard lineup. The afternoon session was still worth checking out.