Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 18, 2021

Melbourne Writers Festival cancelled

Well, in a decision that will disappoint many, the organisers of the Melbourne Writers Festival have cancelled their live program.

It was already a matter of some puzzlement to me that their digital program consisted only of famous international writers and that even with the C-19 Delta variant spreading, MWF’s admin couldn’t see their way clear to offering virtual sessions featuring Australian authors too.  Sydney has been locked down and barred from entry to Victoria for weeks, and this meant that the only option for them and other interstate readers blocked by travel restrictions was sessions with the international authors.

And now the inevitable has happened and (as everyone knew it would be) Victoria’s lockdown has been extended.  Nobody can attend any live MWF events at all.

Quite apart from the profound disappointment to the Australian authors, publicists and publishers affected emotionally and financially by this decision, I know how much virtual festival helped readers in locked-down Melbourne 2020. Last year I ‘went to’ festivals in Auckland, Edinburgh, Sydney, Melbourne, Yarra Valley, Williamstown and the NF festival in Geelong.  Earlier this year, I ‘went to’ Margaret River, the Perth Festival, Adelaide Writers Week and Yarra Valley. I advertised these events on Twitter and Facebook and bookish friends here and interstate told me how it helped their mental health to be able to buy tickets and have something to look forward to.  I posted about nearly all the sessions I attended in my blog and always linked to the festival bookseller to encourage my readers to buy the author’s book.  My thanks go to every one of these festival organisers who despite the difficulties, made it happen.

I find it very surprising that the biggest festival in Victoria (and the second biggest in Australia?) didn’t muster the wherewithal to prepare a contingency plan in case of a lockdown that anyone could see was inevitable, so that the festival could pivot online if need be.  I have no doubt that the admin team are disappointed, but — call me insensitive if you like (and, on Twitter, Sydney Writers Festival director Michael Williams has) — I cannot understand why they were not prepared for this.

Anyway, the best we can do to help our authors who (presumably) have lost their appearance fee and the chance to promote their books, is to buy some.  You can find them at the MWF website here. C’mon, get your wallets out!

And I repeat the offer I made on Twitter:

*Any Australian authors whose live appearance at the MWF has been cancelled can contact me to be featured in Meet an Aussie Author, where they can spruik their books to my entire readership,

BTW I’m already in contact with Harry Sadler author of Questions Raised by Quolls so you can look forward to hearing more about his book as soon as I can make it happen!


Responses

  1. Surely it wouldn’t have been too challenging to turn it into a virtual event, if people’s schedule was already locked in? Shame…

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    • I don’t know, Marina. They did it last year, so they have experience, and heaps of other festivals have done it. It might be an awful lot of work in a hurry but can’t be that hard. Not if it was planned for.
      I mean, nobody plans anything any more without having a Plan B, not even a dinner party or a coffee with friends.
      I feel so sorry for the authors: I’m assuming that they won’t get paid now because there’s nothing in the MWF statement to say that they will.
      Authors in this country mostly have pitiful incomes and most of them would have been counting on their appearance fee because government Covid support for the arts has been lousy. And if I’m right that everyone’s lost their appearance fees, the panel host will get nothing at all, not even book sales.
      The MWF website is suggesting that people might like to donate the refund they’ll get for any tickets bought, but they’re not saying that they’re going to give it to the authors whose sessions were cancelled. They may be hoping to recoup what they have to pay to the internationals whose program is so unfairly going ahead. I don’t know.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Do you think it’s possible that they might add some more local events as they work them out? I’m wondering if they’ve advised attendees immediately of the cancellation so that they know as soon as possible – and reminded us at the same time of the digital program – but that they may also try to put together some other events and let us know if and when they have? Of course they could have said they were hoping to do that, but still? You would think they might have had a Plan B, but life is tough for arts organisations which work on a shoestring. Maybe they did have a Plan B and this is it?

    Anyhow, I’m hoping that we might see events added!!

    BTW We have donated back multiple Musica Viva tickets over the last year and a half, and I have been meaning to ask whether some/most of that does go to the artists who were presumably relying on that income. Particularly, this year when they were all Australian artists. I will get organised soon and ask our local office manager if this is the case.

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    • Well, yes, you would hope so, that they’d pull something together, but when you imagine yourself as a panel host or an author, receiving this devastating news, wouldn’t you be looking for something in the press release that would give you hope?
      Some of the Tweets I’ve seen from authors would break your heart.
      Re arts organisations on a shoestring, I get that. All LitFests run with an army of wonderful volunteers and it is thanks to them that the festivals go ahead. As a panel host I myself have taken a lower appearance fee to support a small festival with a small budget.
      But big festivals like this one have well-paid admin positions, for the artistic director at the very least. The MWF also has high profile supporters including Creative Victoria, and the Council for the Arts. (See https://mwf.com.au/support/our-partners/) They would have had grants to run this fest, and those Australian government organisations aren’t paying them because they feel a need to promote international authors. Taxpayers’ money is there to support our own Australian bookish industries.

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  3. That’s too bad. Yes, I’m afraid people’s optimism that this was ‘over’ got ahead of them…..

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    • You’re probably right. But as our Premier says, ‘wanting it to be over’ doesn’t make it so.

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  4. Such a shame Lisa. I think hybrid events are definitely the way forward – I attended one virtually this afternoon from the Edinburgh Book Festival which had a live audience as well as online. I think this is definitely a good thing because I could never have attended in person, so they’ve obviously thought things through. I’m sorry the organisers of your event don’t seem to have…. :(

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  5. So disappointing Lisa but well-done to you, once again, supporting writers so selflessly. Is it okay if I mention this on a private writers’ page as I imagine some of those members would be affected?

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    • Yes, of course you can, please spread the word that I will do what I can to help.

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  6. It does seem strange in this very changeable environment that they didn’t have a plan B and even a plan C. Pivoting to an online event should have been easier this time around – they’d have last year’s experience to draw on to iron out all the technical issues. Maybe as Sue says, they’l come forward with more insight in the next few days

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    • Yes, it’s the new normal, isn’t it?
      We were supposed to be going on The Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin this month, and the day it was cancelled, we had an email from the travel agent booking us in with a choice of two dates for 2022. At the time we booked, everyone thought Covid was ‘over’ here in Australia but the tour company advertised its contingency plan on its website and its ToC and we knew what their Plan B was right from the beginning.

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      • I can’t imagine how hard it must be for businesses to manage when so much changes at short notice. Just been reading about the lock down in Auckland because of 1 positive case! No warning, just every one told to go home and stay there….there’d be riots here if that happened

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        • “there’d be riots here if that happened” … which is why in Britain and plenty of other places, Covid is out of control.
          Australia would not accept the same death rates as you. Here, at the moment, there are 4-5 deaths a day at most, and most days none at all, and every day at the press conference the Premier sends condolences to the bereaved families.

          But you see, here, business gets enormous financial support. Billions of dollars of it. Plus, Australia is a cohesive society with a general sense of cooperating for the public good. Yes, we have people who think that they are different and special and have a right to be treated differently because of it, but they are not the majority.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, this is the bottom line, Lisa, I agree. I say to friends who are getting frustrated with the lockdowns (not so much our own because this is only our first after the initial one last year but the lockdowns in Melbourne etc which stop us seeing family) that I just can’t imagine living with the death rates we see in other jurisdictions. I really couldn’t bear it, and I don’t think they could either when they think about it.

            As you know, I think, I write weekly to my friend in California and she commented in a recent letter that if Australia sticks to its lockdowns until it is more vaccinated, it will be an example of “the covid response that took preservation of life into most account.” I loved that she appreciated that. I was saying to Mr Gums today that this could well kickstart a new way of being based on new values – we are already seeing “living wage” discussions aren’t we. Wouldn’t that be lovely?!

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            • Yes, it would. A gentler, less hectic way of life that puts people first..

              Liked by 1 person

          • PS, That one case in NZ, is 11 cases today. And if the lockdown hadn’t been so prompt, you could be sure that each of those 11 would have given it to at least one other person, doubling the infections day by day.

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  7. Yes! My thoughts exactly. And you were actually called out for being insensitive on Twitter? Seems obvious to me, all along, that MWF live was never going to happen.

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    • I think it’s a bit rich to expect anyone to go along with the idea that the organisers are the victims here. Of course they’re disappointed, but they had a responsibility (and presumably a contract) to put on a festival in a City of Literature, and they have failed to do that except for 10 international events that were always going to be virtual anyway.
      They don’t get taxpayer grants to promote international authors, they are just the drawcards to get people to come to the festival and discover Australian authors. They are supposed to support the Australian book industry, and so far the only thing they’ve done is to plead with people to buy the books, to promote the international events and to (really? yes, really) ask for donations.
      They owe it to the authors they’ve disappointed and the millions of people in lockdown to make an announcement about making this festival work somehow.
      Yes, I am really, really cross about this.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m not as enthused about the ten international authors on offer this year compared to the smorgasbord of local and international on offer last year. Hopefully they can cobble some more digital sessions together featuring Australian authors, even if they aren’t ready until a bit later, it’s better than nothing.

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        • Yes, TBH, we’ve already seen and heard from most of them at other virtual festivals or author events.
          As for me, back to the Edinburgh festival!

          Liked by 1 person

  8. I received an email yesterday and booked all the overseas writers, not realising that Australian writers were not available on a different link. This seems very odd. Do you suppose there will be a late call on it? Surely not a funding problem?

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    • *chuckle* Maybe if they feel enough pressure they will offer more?

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      • Well I hope so. Presumably they have it all set up for the overseas writers. How hard can it be to add a few more?

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        • I don’t know. And frankly, if it is that hard, then they should explain why it’s that hard.

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  9. Hi Lisa. I am surprisingly depressed about this cancellation. I was really keen to present in Melbourne. As an events coordinator I do see how it would be too hard to pivot to zoom. You can’t sell tickets at the same price if it is zoom only and there is zoom fatigue so numbers would be small. Trying to refund tickets then resell zoom tickets would be quadruple the work! Having said this I am really sad to have missed Byron Bay WF and now Melbourne. Double blow. I’m reeling. And I also took a week off the day job for each festival so a triple whammy! So many sad writers. My heart is sore. Thanks for supporting the fallen writers x

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Krissy, it’s lovely to hear from you — I have fond memories of reading your novel Steeplechase:)
      Thanks for the explanation, though I am not completely convinced because they did it last year and so have heaps of other festivals. Though they did run it on a pay-what-you-can basis and maybe not enough people paid to make it worth all the work…
      I can understand that depression: bookish people have coped better than most with restrictions, but we’re like everyone else, we like to have events to look forward to and participate in, and hearing from our beloved authors is always a treat. The cancellation feels like something precious has been taken from us, and that, on top of everything else, is hard.
      LOL I don’t need much encouragement to spend money on books so I’ve had my wallet out today, but it’s frustrating because there are always books that you know you want so you don’t hesitate, and then there are always others when you’re not so sure and you want to hear a bit about them before you part with your money. Every festival I go to, especially the NF one in Geelong, I buy and read half-a-dozen of the titles before I go, and then I go to sessions about other books and I’m back in the festival bookshop because the author made me realise that I ‘needed’ their book too.
      That’s why I’m hoping ‘the fallen writers’ will take up my offer and spruik their books here.
      Because I try as I do, I can’t possibly read and review them all.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] I had an email today from Aussie YA author, Danielle Binks, about my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled: […]

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  11. […] Here’s another author who’s taking up my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled: […]

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  12. […] a problem I don’t have to solve until next year because the MWF (not to be confused with that other MWF) had to pivot online due to statewide Covid restrictions and I got to attend their festival […]

    Like

  13. […] Here’s another author who’s taking up my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled: […]

    Like

  14. […] Here’s another author who’s taking up my offer to spruik the books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled… […]

    Like

  15. […] Another author in my series featuring the new books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled… […]

    Like

  16. […] Another author in my series featuring the new books of Australian authors whose MWF events were cancelled… […]

    Like

  17. It’s great to see you raising these questions and concerns to get people chatting about the challenges and hopes and disappointments surrounding this festival. Some of it sounds familiar but much of it not, and I suspect this is because over here there has been very little/no return to “normal” (it’s a big country, so this is generalizing of course) since March 2020, so organizations have moved ahead with the idea of having to either postpone or plan for virtual from the beginning, so there’s no need to contemplate whether a last-minute pivot would be feasible. One issue that has been raised many times over here, is that even though having access to digital services is less commonly an issue for urban dwellers, having access to the speed and quality of service that makes Zoom a cinch is not something all authors can depend on. I’ve attended a couple of events where it was clear that the authors’ service just wasn’t equipped, and I am guessing that the public options they might have been able to rely on in other instances weren’t available. Constantly coping.

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    • True, poor internet access has cropped up in many contexts here, but especially online schooling in remote areas. One thing that should come out of all this is that it’s a basic bit of infrastructure that everyone should have, and that it’s cheaper in the long run to provide it.

      Like


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