Sunday, February 04, 2007

An Open Letter To The Emerging Writers' Festival

Dear Emerging Writers' Festival,

It was nice to see an apostrophe given pride of place in your title:

But what happened to the capital letters? Why choose to omit the capital letters but include an apostrophe? (Other events or organisations with similar names don't bother with those pesky apostrophes). When you refer to the festival in the text on your website, you use capitals: why not be consistent and use it in the title? If I didn't know better, I'd think that you hate capital letters.
I'm a little perturbed by some other things on your website, too. For instance, you shorten the title

Emerging Writers' Festival 2007

to the acronym


What happened to the space between the acronym and the year? Granted, back in ancient times, when writers didn't even have enough money to buy a garret (which wasn't invented yet, anyway), they chiselled their words into hunks of stone without leaving one space between the words. But later, spaces between words really caught on; and a good thing, too. Spaces give you a spot to breath; a place in the text to contemplate the word that has come before and prepare yourself mentally for the word that comes after. I want the space back!
Reading on, I noticed this sentence:

As I type this we're excitedly putting out program together, which will feature a special culturally and linguisticaly diverse writers' focus.

I'll go past, for the moment, the rather unfortunate use of the adverb there - 'excitedly' - because it's the second half of the sentence that I really want to look at.

'... special culturally and linguisticaly diverse writers' focus.'

'Special' and 'diverse' are politically-correct cliches*, the word 'focus' really isn't needed, and, worst of all, 'linguistically' is mispelled.

Going on to the 'Program' page, I find more examples:

How does English reflect the way we think about the world, and how are writers bending English to reflect reality?

You're mixing metaphors here; and it's not at all clear what you mean by the second metaphor - 'bending English'.


I don't think that colon really belongs between the first word and the other three words; and it doesn't make the whole phrase any more grammatical. When I was studying at University I noticed that academics seemed very fond of using the colon in their titles, but this was a particularly ugly practice and I don't see any good reason for you to perpetuate this.


There should not be a question mark at the end of this sentence.

Am I being hard on you for this? No, I don't think so: there are many festivals and organisations that will resort to sloppy use of the English language in which meaningful language gives way to ambiguous cliche. That's hardly an excuse to continue the practice yourself.

Am I being pedantic?

Well, yes.

I am a writer, you know.

*Website Diogenes Lamp has an interesting take on words like this.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

I found myself - by accident - at the last Newcastle Young Writers' Festival, and was dismayed by the number of persons young enough to be my grandchildren, explaining in deep, serious voices, "I'm into publishing, like, I've done this poster and shit". So many Artistes, so little art.

Anonymous said...

yeah? and what were you doing when you were their age, grandma? not a whole lot i imagine.

surely emerging and youth festivals are about emerging artists and young artists? it's up to you to engage too, you know.

TimT said...

Another courageous anonymous commenter!

I lived in Newcastle before moving to Melbourne, and went to several events at the NYWF. I enjoyed one or two of the student media events, and the zine fair was always wonderful, but I too ran into people of this sort at the festival.

Regarding the Emerging Writers' Festival, I would think that when it comes to putting that website together, they'd want to present themselves as, you know, writers, with at least some understanding of the craft. And if (alternatively) they wanted to present themselves as experimental, fresh, original, and not bound by little grammatical rules, then why do they use such poor metaphors and worn-out cliches, and publicist buzzwords?

Anonymous said...

for somebody who has an obsession with semi-colons and exclamation marks, it seems strange to see your objection to the use of the colon and the apostrophe.

As for the use of cliche - how many people do you know who saunter to a newspaper stand?

good grief charlie brown!!!!!!

TimT said...

Actually, I didn't have a problem with their use of the apostrophe, but I did take issue with the use of colons and question marks - because the writers didn't seem to be aware of the grammatical conventions regarding their use.

In conclusion (and in what has become something of a grammatical convention on the internet, at least) I give you a semi-colon, a hyphen, and half of a parenthesis.


Alexis, Baron von Harlot said...

Dear Anon,

Just to clarify: I am all for the convivial meeting of like-minded (and unlike-minded) artists (and non-artists); I say three cheers for those who pursue truth, beauty, brutal reality, and love behind the bike-shed; good on the NYWF and the Emerging Writers' Festival for bringing joy and zine fairs to all and sundry. The attitude I'm critiquing (which I'm only bothering to critique because it reminds me alarmingly of my self), is best expressed (parodically) by my poet mate Cathy: "One is born a writer; whether or not one writes is completely beside the point". Any criticism I mount on this position will sound entirely hypocritical, since I am one of the biggest posers I've ever met, but there's a limit to the amount of artistic posturing one can endure before one wants to see some actual art.

Thanks for defending the NYWF. It's folks like you who keep events like it kicking along.

P.S.: though a punctuation pedant from way back, Tim, I'm not so down on the academic colon. I think of it as a pair of nostrils, breathing forth the latter part of an essay title.

TimT said...

I had no idea that 'saunter to a newspaper stand' was a cliche, but there you go. Bring on the criticism, I say. I'm aware - especially when I put these pedantic posts up - that I open myself up to similar criticisms of my own writing style. I can be a very lazy writer myself, and though I am interested in semi-colons and colons and grammar in general, my knowledge of such things is very, very amateur.

Anyway, isn't one of the problems with the arts at the moment that artists are so damned sensitive about their work? That they see any slight criticism as an attack on themselves??? I prefer to see it as a courteous exchange of knowledge: you tell me what you know about writing. I'll tell you what I know.

I apologise, by the way, for my brusque greeting; these internet veils of anonymity can be a tad offputting sometimes.

*Stumbles out of the comment box muttering about 'sauntering'*

TimT said...

Anyway, now that we're all here, let's all relax while I adopt my customary tone of raffish insouciance, and tell you all about the time that the Englishman, the Irishman, and the Chinaman all walked into a bar and...

*Ducks amid hail of rotten tomatoes*

I ask you! I try to live up to the 'Life of the Party' cliche, and I just end up being the 'Strife of the party!'

Caz said...

Good grief - I know real live people who saunter - with insouciance - where ever they go, but most especially when venturing to newspaper stands.

As for all those "emerging" and "young" artists: they'll be in the hospitality or retail industries soon enough. No reason for anyone to tiff over this ephemeral phase.

Mish said...

don't you know that using capital letters is passe?

really, get with the times.


TimT said...

I'm all for capital letters - in moderation. It's only when people start using it to EMPHASISE points that they could have made better in italics or bold or even *asterisks* that it really gets to me. (But I even get hung up about overuse of italics - I get more puritanical every day!)

TimT said...

UPDATE! Got an email today titled:

Use proper capitalization and punctuation, and always check your spelling.

Wow, I thought, a disgruntled volunteer for this festival! This will be interesting!

It turned out to be spam.

Anonymous said...

You want to get a team together and head to a few events?

TimT said...

Sounds like a good idea. Some events would be interesting - personally, I've got my eye on the zine events. I may or may not be able to persuade others to come along - I'll let you know!

David Prater said...

Interestingly, Sydney Writers' Festival has an apostrophe - while Melbourne Writers Festival doesn't. Personally I prefer to attend Writhers' Festival(s).

Anonymous said...

Tim, I think you are being overly literal, and not so much pedantic as political.

Identity: Get Over it. This allows "identity" to stand on its own as a concept. They are then suggesting that we "get over it". I presume this is to do with debates around identity politics (eg the rise of identifying oneself as gay or a woman or whatever, which became prominent in the 1960s and replaced old concerns like class).

New Writing..The Same Old Thing?

They are asking the question; is new writing just like old writing?

The separation of the words by the use of a colon is acceptable

What is politically correct is subjective.

The non-use of capital letter is just a device for visual impact. Hardly something original, but it looks quite good.

Also, I think we all should have our work edited. I made a few amendments the piece you gave me.

Anyway, just my views, and I certainly intend to attend the festival, Ms Rachy. I did tell Timbo about it, after all.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, I should have edited my comment.

Keep the faith, Timbo.

TimT said...

Hi Darlene, and thanks again for the tip off about the festival - I will be going along to some events.

Regarding my criticisms (whether they're over literal or not) I'd go back to what I said before - that the text largely seems to be composed of cliches borrowed from the advertising world. I saw the same sort of thing at the NYWF; the programs were written in a similar, hyped-up prose style. The sad thing is, the writers didn't even realise they were doing it. Instead of questioning the cliches, they tended to become trapped by them.

I should add that I DID receive an email in reply from Express Media, the people behind this festival (and the magazine Voiceworks - a copy is due to be released at the festival.)

They were polite, and said it would certainly give them ideas when they next updated the website.

Good for them.

Anonymous said...

Well, perhaps they should give you a job as an editor (but do be aware that we all make mistakes).

I love your zine, it's very quirky and fun. There are a couple of spelling mistakes (for example, "bizarelly"). Making mistakes is called being a human being. When I read the Emerging Writers' Festival website, I just thought "cool, I'd like to be involved in that".

TimT said...

Yes, I know, I've been going through it and shaking my head. The computer I edited it on didn't have spell check! Not that that's an excuse...

They've edited their website already:

As I type this we're excitedly putting our program together, which will feature a special Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) writers' focus.

By the way, have you noticed, Audrey is organising a zine fair?

I've already promised to send a few copies of my zine, and mentioned that you might be interested in sending a few copies of Spin out their way as well.

I'm happy to send them on with my zine, but I won't be back in the country until early March.

Caz said...

I haven't read that far yet, but I expect that when I get to it I'll read "bizarelly" as being a deliberate variation, a new political statement of some sort, much as when people like to write "wimmin" instead of "women".

I'll interpret your spelling as an innovation to help propel your new thinking and movement for radical change onto us unthinking and uncreative twats.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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