2013 / Interview / Varuna

The Secret to Varuna

Varuna writers house is the kind of venue any person with a proclivity for the pen dreams of: a quiet venue designed to host the imaginations, talents, and dedication of the visiting writer. The only thing that could possibly improve such an exquisite hideaway is the possibility of working with an established publishing house. It just so happens that earlier this week, Varuna opened its inbox (and mailbox) for its 2013 Publisher Fellowship applications. We got in touch with the writers house to find out more about the fellowships, what they’re looking for in an applicant, and to learn about the publishing houses that have worked alongside Varuna’s resident writers in the past.

ACT Writers Centre: Varuna is a beautiful venue to write from. What kind of writings have your Publisher Fellowships housed?

Varuna Writers House: Varuna has had over 50 writers selected in this exciting and relatively new program.  These writers have been working in a diverse array of genres. Publishing houses who have partnered with Varuna in this exciting program include Allen & Unwin, GriffithREVIEW, Pan MacMillan, Picaro, Random House, Scribe, Text and UQP. These are all leading publishing houses- and are looking for a diverse range of work, so that has been terrific for writers.

The publisher fellowship recipient’s so far have included a diverse range of writing – fiction, including contemporary and historical fiction, quite a few narrative non-fiction works, lots of great poetry and short story writing. We are also excited that with GriffithREVIEW back this year as a partner, that they will be looking for both short stories, novella’s and short form non-fiction work (essays).

Almost all participating poets have been published by Picaro, either as individual chapbooks or included in an anthology. Three short story writers have had their final works published in the GriffithREVIEW. Recent news is that Yvette Walker’s “Letters to the End of Love” will be published by UQP in 2013. Many other works are still in development or currently being considered by publishers.

ACTWC: How do your affiliated publishers feel about working with young, emerging or new writers?

VWH: Publishers express a good deal of excitement about the process of discovering and nurturing new and emerging writers. A number of publishers enjoy the opportunity to turn their attention to work that is in development. Through the program with Varuna they are able to select work that they believe would benefit from writing space and time, and also literary mentoring from one of Varuna’s creative consultants. I think the publishers themselves say it best:

Comment from Jane Palfreyman, Allen & Unwin: Varuna has long been a supporter of Australian writing and Allen & Unwin feel privileged to have the opportunity to work in partnership with them on the important work of discovering and nurturing new Australian voices.

Aviva Tuffield of Scribe: Varuna’s Publisher Fellowship Program is a wonderful way for us to connect with writers early on in the writing process, and to spot talented authors and potential books that would suit Scribe’s list. It enables us to make connections with writers whose careers we would like to launch and/or develop further.

Meredith Curnow at Random House: Varuna is renowned as a centre offering writing time, feedback and space to writers new and established. Like all workplaces these days, publishing houses are busy, busy hives and it can be difficult to pull your head out of the work of writers you have been working with for a while and point your nose into environments where you can discover new talent. Varuna’s Publisher Fellowship Program is a wonderful opportunity to read new voices.

UQP: We are always looking for innovative and imaginative books. Working with Varuna and their upcoming writers is a great way for UQP to search for new Australian talent and to keep involved with the local writing community. UQP is a proud publisher of Australian authors so it’s nice to be able to read new voices that are supported through Varuna’s amazing program.

ACTWC: Usually, applying for a fellowship is an intimidating process – most writers imagine the hundreds of other applicants out there with incredible folios ready to show. As an organisation wanting writers to apply for a fellowship, how do you approach this perspective?

VWH: With eight participating publishers and a broad range of literary interests, the program offers a range of opportunities for a wide variety of writers.  In addition, the Publisher Fellowships supports writers whose work is in progress, not only those with a complete manuscript. We would hope that this would assist in making the process less intimidating. We also hope that by providing an opportunity for a writer to do a little pitch for their project – as part of their application – writers can share their own perspective on their project and how it might speak to readers. It also allows the selection committee, and the publishers, to hear from the writer about what their writing project is and how they intention to realise that vision. In this way we hope that talented writers at all stages of development would feel at ease in applying.

ACTWC: What are some of the rarer benefits of the Publisher Fellowship?

VWH: Varuna offers a unique writing environment which has no equal nationally. The Publisher Program offers a rare combination of private writing time, a place in a writing community, a literary mentor (supportive and professional guidance to bring your work to fruition) and guaranteed contact with a publisher once the work is complete.   It also offers the flexibility of a program which accepts writers’ work at all stages of development.

ACTWC: What is one piece of advice you would give to those looking to apply for the Varuna Publisher Fellowship Programme?

VWH: Try to bring your manuscript to the stage where there are clear points of engagement with readers. Include these intentions, even if not fully realised, in your pitch about your writing.

ACTWC: Finally, if at first applicants don’t succeed…

VWH: Try, try, try again! There are many writers who will tell you that they didn’t make the cut on the first or even on the second occasion, but persistence and careful honing your writing can pay dividends and bring ultimate success.  Varuna also offers a range of other selective programs and also non-selective professional development to assist in the crafting of your work and can assist writers to better realise their creative vision

For more information about the Publisher Fellowships, and to apply, click on this link.

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