Q&A with Geoff Orton

Else Fitzgerald  

For the month of November, we are running our annual open call out for EWF 2016 (which you can find out more about here). We talked to some of this year’s amazing participants about their experience, which writers they are excited about at the moment, and what they’ve been up to since EWF15.

Geoff Orton is the founder of Writers Bloc, previous director of the Younger Young Writers’ Program at the National Young Writers’ Festival and a high school teacher. At EWF15 Geoff hosted the Unlikely Paths panel at the National Writers’ Conference.

As well as participating in the EWF, you’ve worked on the National Young Writers’ Festival – what do you think some of the benefits of writers’ festivals are for emerging writers?

Well, they are heaps of fun. I have a vivid memory of walking out of the rain, and into a wet wool smelling room to hear first-time poets read to people sitting crosslegged and wide-eyed at my first NYWF. For me, festivals have always been about exploring. You might find a writer you love (which seems to happen literally as well, a lot) or a bunch of new friends.

For me personally, EWF has been a festival that is practical and participatory. For the last three years, the National Conference has had me with notepad in hand, soaking it all up.

And, well, it’s always a big kick in the bum when you see someone else kicking arse. I’m sure if you were to chart my productivity throughout the year, there would be massive spikes in early June and October.

Did you have any particular highlights at EWF15?

Being a teacher, I’m pretty accustomed to ‘imposter syndrome’. But when I was asked to chair a discussion on Unusual Paths, with three other talented writers, I was terrified. But I said yes and leading my first panel was definitely my personal highlight of the festival.

In terms of what I saw at EWF, it had to be Edmund. K. Coleman tell his story about working at KFC. Seeing a suburban kid tell a suburban story to an audience for the first time filled me with so much joy I almost flew back to Sydney that night by myself.

What have you been up to since EWF15?

A couple of months ago, Writers Bloc said goodbye and thanks for all the fish to our blog champion, Samantha van Zweden (a hit last year as host of the Blogging panel).

Since then, we’ve teamed up with two legends who have built on her great work. We revamped a couple of roles and are excited to have Liam Pieper as our new Content Director and Raphaelle Race as our Deputy Editor.

As well as this, we’ve totally overhauled the layout of the Writers Bloc website. It’s much easier to navigate, to find great stories but also access some of the gold in our archives.

Who are some of the writers and artists that you’re excited about at the moment?

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of literary journals. Magazines like the Canary Press and Suburban Review are great and it’s so exciting to watch them develop.

In terms of writers though, I just read Dan Marshall’s memoir Home is Burning about illness in his family. I always find that if I start something by Andre Dao, I have to finish it. The same goes for any review by Tristan Foster.

And I’m excited to see what a few people on the Scribe Non-Fiction Prize list do in the next couple of years, namely Sam van Zweden and Zoya Patel.

Can you tell us about the last book you read and loved, and what’s currently on your to-read pile?

The last book I read was The Quiet American by Graham Greene for our cult classic book club. While the story was familiar to me, I was impressed by way Greene was able to fit so many things into such a short book.

I’ve also recently been reading a few Penguin Specials and Sofija Stefanovic’s You’re Too Good to be True broke my heart. And Tom Doig’s The Coal Face got me angry.

What have you been working on lately?

Mostly trying to figure out a way to get Writers Bloc sustainable. If you have any ideas or money, let us know!

Where can we read some of your writing?

I often joke that the most writing I’ve done recently is for school reports, and this is certainly true for the last couple of months. However, the best place to find some of my stories and poetry would be to have a look in the Writers Bloc workshops. It’s anonymous and that’s a bit of a security blanket for me at this stage of my career.

I’ve written a few things within the education arena for various publications and organisations but I’m still very much an emerging ‘Emerging’ writer of fiction.

Have you got any advice for other emerging writers?

I really like the format of the five writers with five pieces of advice, so I’m going to co-opt it here. Some of this advice I should take myself.

  • Find your people (EWF is a great place for this)
  • Have a place to write
  • Make time for your writing
  • Look after your body
  • Pitch to magazines you love reading