By Lydia Roberts
Author and Deepwater resident Michael Burge wants local talent to shine at this year's High Country Writers Festival.
"We're aiming to turn limitations into bonuses!"
HIGH Country Writers Festival director Michael Burge wants to showcase local talent and emerging authors at this year’s event.
The festival, which starts on Saturday, December 11, is aimed at all authors and writers and will be held in Glen Innes. It is centred in The Makers Shed, in Grey Street. Burge will be joined by other authors, including Mary Garden, Jessica White and Gundula Rhoades who will share their experiences and ideas in workshops and discussions. The New England Writers’ Centre will have a stall at the festival.
“After having to turn down some of the biggest names in Australian publishing due to border closures [because of the pandemic and lockdowns], we’re aiming to turn limitations into bonuses,” Burge says.
“The New England North West has a great number of writers living and working here, producing fiction, non-fiction, books for young people and books about how to write and publish.
“This year it’s their time to shine, and we’re delighted to partner with NEWC in bringing local writers together for this event, to spread the word about our regional writing organisation and to show once again what’s possible for New England authors.”
While the annual writers retreat, held at Waterloo Station, has been postponed until 2022, there will still be opportunities at the festival for writers to experience workshops.
Burge, who is an established journalist and artist and who lives in Deepwater, is keen to talk about his debut novel, Tank Water, just published by Midnight Sun.
It’s an "Outback Noir" and touches on themes close to Burge’s heart; homophobia in institutions and rural Australia.
The protagonist in Tank Water is James, who must seek the truth outside the usual “police procedural” method.
Tank Water also delves into intergenerational issues in country families, and one of the novel's main themes is how rural people are often required to dig deep when it comes to acceptance and love in the face of great prejudice.
“I had long wanted to write about the part of the world I was born and grew up in, and despite the fact that the towns and characters in Tank Water are all fictitious, the landscape is most certainly that of the northern New England region, Kamilaroi Country,” Burge says.
The author returned to Kamilaroi Country in late 2017 after almost 40 years living and working elsewhere, including a stint in the UK.
“Combining old family stories and weaving them together with the pressing issue of historical gay-hate crime, I found a narrative in which to explore rural life, equality, mateship and masculinity, all themes that have cropped up in my journalism for years.
“Tank Water is a tribute to everyone who ever lived in the country and came up against prejudice and misunderstanding, and to the brave people who spoke out against gay-hate crime and reported incidents despite decades when society didn't want to face the issue.”
Burge wants to encourage all authors in their endeavours to have their works published.
“To young and not-so-young emerging writers I always say this: identify yourself as a writer, and start writing, because no one else can do it for you,” Burge says.
“We get better as writers the more we do the work. There are plenty of people out there claiming to be writers who rarely sit and create written material, and probably even more who read only sporadically.
“It takes a lot of time and passion to write a long-form manuscript. A lot of writers want to hit the market with their first novel in a year, but if you spend time in a related field, such as journalism, academia, or even simply reviewing other books on your blog or podcast, you will start to develop a presence in the publishing industry.
“This engagement is required as much as great writing, and everyone achieves this process in their own way, but it is critical for wordsmiths who want to become authors. Put yourself out there, have a writing schedule, and stick to it. Don’t wait!”
Meet Michael at the High Country Writers Festival