2014 / Sunday

Transported Through Time, Place and Culture

Jackie Keast

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Have you ever wondered where Australian literary luminaries Gillian Mears, Bernard Cohen and David Astle got their break?

The answer is the UTS Writers’Anthology, one of Australia’s longest-running and most prestigious university published collections. The anthology is published nation-wide to often critical acclaim. Kerry Goldsworthy, of The Sydney Morning Herald, wrote, “Of the many anthologies coming out of university writing programs, the annual UTS collection has always been the standout.”

This year’s edition, entitled Sight Lines, is its 28th incarnation.

In October each year, the call is put to all UTS students to anonymously submit their work for consideration. Works can be fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, screenplays or essays. This year over 350 submissions were received.

From there, it’s up to a seven-student editorial committee to sift through the works, find the ones that shine, then hone them into shape.

Dr Delia Falconer, senior lecturer in the Creative Writing at UTS, oversees the anthology and says a place on editorial team is highly sought-after, as it offers the students an opportunity for a working insight into the publishing industry.

“It’s a good experience in two ways. The first is obviously that they get the chance to take responsibility for a publication that has a national profile. But the other side is that it demystifies the process for them as writers,”she says.

Dr Falconer lends the editors her advice and expertise throughout the process. However, she is quick to emphasise that the anthology is the work of the students alone.

“It’s their baby,”she says. “I’m immensely proud of the team and think they’ve done a great job this year.”

Anthology editors Amelia Cox and Chris Marcatili

Anthology editors Amelia Cox and Chris Marcatili

Working as an editor on the anthology is an exercise in time management. There’s just under six months to pull it all together, half the time it would take a commercial publishing house. Right from the start there are all kinds of creative decision-making, like the cover design, the title and the author of the foreword – this year, it’s Hannah Kent.

One of the longest processes is selecting the shortlist. Amelia Cox, who is doing her Masters in Creative Writing, recalls long lunches where she and her fellow editors had passionate but productive arguments.

“We all disagreed strongly on some things, but we tried to see that as a positive thing. If something’s creating a lot of tension or creating a big discussion, it means the piece isn’t bland,”she says.

“It was really useful having those different backgrounds and those different interests to see the things you might not necessarily see the first time yourself.”

Chris Marcatili, also a creating writing postgraduate, not only worked as an editor on Sight Lines, but had his piece The Necrophage published as well. This is his second time in the anthology, having also been published in last year’s The Evening Lands.

As all initial submissions were anonymous, he says it was interesting when his work came up in the meetings.

“I mean we always tried to be very respectful. But it’s a bit of a strange experience because you can’t really talk about it as though it’s your own piece,”he says with a laugh.

Mr Maracatilli says he is grateful for the opportunity to straddle both sides of the fence.

“Working with other people and their work is really inspiring and gets those creative juices flowing,”he says. “To a large degree, one of the biggest benefits is realising writing doesn’t always have to be a lonely process. Working with other people can be really valuable as well.”

Once the shortlist has been selected, each editor is assigned five authors with whom they work closely over the next few months in order to refine their work. Amelia Cox learnt that being an editor is sometimes as much about building a relationship with an author as it is about finding grammatical errors.

“The authors needs to trust you and they’re only going to trust you if they think you get their work and get what they’re trying to do. Then they’re more happy to take on criticism,”she says.

In her foreword, Hannah Kent writes, “It is in collections such as this, the 28th UTS Writers’ Anthology, Sight Lines, that we find pressing proof of literature’s capacity to bring us new ways of looking at things. While many of the authors featured here may just be starting out on their careers, it is clear from their strong, original voices that the future of creative writing is bright and its relevance certain. The imagination and intelligence evident here are thrilling in their promise.

“In this anthology the reader finds stories of displacement, of the frailty and poignancy of human connection. Can we ever truly understand others? Can we ever truly be understood? What is the cost of perfect recognition? At times the reader is shown what has been hidden, or disregarded, and is asked to judge, bear witness or find meaning. Other stories simply invite us to understand and share in the rich emotional lives of characters experiencing regret, boredom, love, or anger. Beauty is found in language, which has been made strange and renewed again. We are transported through time, ages, landscapes and cultures. There is humour here, too.”

The UTS Writers’ Anthology will be launched with fanfare at the Wharf at the Sydney Writers’Festival at 2pm. Acclaimed author Christos Tsiolkas will be the guest speaker and will announce the winner of the UTS Anthology Writing Prize.

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