Freelance – Writers helping writers


Freelance – Writers helping writers

So on 5th November I won’t be arguing with the louts down the road who regularly let off fireworks on the golf course opposite my home. Instead I will be setting off, three years in a row, for the New Zealand Book Festival, our great new annual event for indie authors and publishers. Whoopee! And what has Guy Fawkes go to do with New Zealand anyway? Whereas our writers and artists help us examine, interpret and understand our own culture that juch better through poetry and prose and plays. And let off the occasional firework themselves, as with the debate around Eleanor Catton’s award-winning novel, The Luminaries.

The first year a team of us brought up books from ten Tauranga Writers. (Too many, as we realised. Keep it simple, stupid.) I don’t mean writers who happen to live in Tauranga, though most of our members do. Tauranga Writers is New Zealand’s longest-running self-help group for writers, established 21st June 1967. I’m President this year, and we’re planning ongoing festivities from February to November 2017. In May we hope to bring the New Zealand Book Festival to Tauranga as part of our Golden Jubilee celebration.

And personally I think this festival could easily be replicated twice a year, locating in a different city on both the North and South Islands. However, there has to be a locally-based group which is, like Tauranga Writers, willing to undertake the work. I know exactly how much effort Louise de Varga and her dedicated support team have put into establishing and developing the New Zealand Book Festival. I also know by now they have probably got enough expertise between them to produce a basic guide on ‘how to do it’ for any writers’ group or indie publishing collective that wants to bring the New Zealand Book Festival to their home town.

Let’s put in the hard yards and make this an ongoing and widespread focal point for New Zealand writers anywhere in our land.

Let’s continue to showcase our abilities as writers, publishers and organisers of writerly events. We can’t rely on others, can we? Neither the Booksellers Association nor the Publishers Association has so far shown any interest in or the courtesy of attendance at the New Zealand Book Festival. Why not, I wonder? Shouldn’t that be part of their aims and objectives?

The report on our nation’s reading habits from the Book Council has sparked off a debate about why New Zealand readers don’t seem to favour New Zealand writers. It’s because they don’t know enough about them, and we all need to pull together on this. Even the Book Council has been slow to focus on the indie sector, whereas the Society of Authors is beginning to realise this isn’t only where many of us want to be,  it’s where we have to be, because it seems to many of us the literary arts are a low priority against performance, Maori and visual arts; that we don’t get the support and backing we should be able to rely on from our national organisations and from Creative New Zealand.

There are signs this might be changing, and it’s about time. When Sir Bob Harvey took over National Book Month he was hailed as a charismatic leader who would raise it to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness. Yeah, right. Postponed, postponed again, shut down. Compare this slack performance with New Zealand Music Month, an annual and much-lauded – and generously-funded – celebration of the nation’s music, which seems to go from strength to strength. I’d like to compare the funding New Zealand Book Month got when it was struggling along against what was allocated to New Zealand Music Month. None of the arts should be competing with any other; we’re all aspects of creativity, and that’s what fires a nation, in all fields of endeavour.

Thank goodness the Society of Authors stepped in and took it over, though with limited resources it’s now New Zealand Book Week, and coming up fast. So organise a day now and notify your local media and significant community resources such as libraries, bookshops, schools and colleges, writers groups and book clubs. Raise the flag and spread the word, hallelujah!

And it’s been good to see the many successes for DIY writers we’ve had over the past few years, many of them on show the second time I attended this wonderful indie bookfair – again, with Tauranga Writers, but with fewer titles and better organised. Myself and Kinsa Hays had a great couple of days meeting other writers and publishers, and I never underestimate the power of networking. However, we sold very few books – and that’s dispiriting. Everyone was there to sell, very few to buy. Even a ride on a giraffe and a tiger could not cheer me up entirely – I have always preferred notes and coins in the cash box.

That said, I had taken Freelance- Writers Helping Writers with me, and picked up many new subscriptions. Freelance has also been around a long time, 35 years by now, so this year it’s Freelance only I’m bringing to the New Zealand Book Festival, along with the team support of my friend and co-editor Shona-Ellen Barnett. We’re sharing a stall with another national organisation that we truly respect and believe is there with good intentions and the experience and expertise to help writers on a different level with all the intricacies of being both authors and writerpreneurs.

Yes, Freelance is sharing with the New Zealand Society of Authors in the World of Words section. Do come and chat with us! And if you’re curious, check out Freelance on Facebook right now, and LIKE us, please. Because between the quarterly issues of our publication, we constantly add useful info there for writers of all genres and at all stages of their writing careers. Go to

New Zealand writers are amongst the world’s best. As with the atheletes in this year’s Olympics in Rio, our writers, artists and musicians seem to ‘bat above average.’ Time we stopped calling ourselves a small nation; let’s adopt the term ‘boutique nation.’ Because we’re classy and clever, intelligent, innovative and industrious and deep in our psyche there is a part of us that responds brilliantly to the challenge of going it alone.

I was at the Frankfurt International Book Fair in 2012 when New Zealand was Nation of Honour and the Society of Authors took 40 independently published books along. What a splendid show they made, and  how well we represented ourselves there; you would have cried with pride to see it. Before we went, the Frankfurt times sneered, “Other countries send us literature. New Zealand is sending us hobbits, hangi and the haka.” That soon changed as our writers and performers demonstrated that when we choose to put on a show, we do it to the highest possible standard, and always with that unique New Zealand twist that thrills the world.

I am anticipating this, our third journey to Auckland for the New Zealand Book Festival, with as much excitement as I went to Frankfurt five long years ago. That’s the core and focus of it all, isn’t it? – a festival like this. Getting to know other writers, meeting the dedicated personnel who run the indie and small presses, talking to professional and commercial suppliers and services, and finding out what’s new and exciting in our fascinating, uniquely fashioned world of New Zealand writers and New Zealand books.

Jenny Argante

Freelance – Writers Helping Writers

PS If you want a free sample eZine copy, send us an email! Or come and talk to us about being a Freelance subscriber &/or contributor at the New Zealand Independent Book Fair on 5th  November.

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