At the Brisbane Writers Festival on Saturday, Melissa Lucashenko, an Indigenous writer, said something that has been bobbing around in my mind ever since, buoyant like a rubber duck on a choppy sea. Melissa was a guest on a panel about the future of the publishing industry in Australia, and the session had been on the bleak side. Another panellist had just told us that, on average, Australian writers earned $13,000 per year, but that was actually inaccurate. That figure factored in the incomes of the handful of writers like Tom Keneally who are clustered at the top end of the scale, and who make a great deal more than that. Taking that upward inflection into consideration, the true average would be a lot lower. Possibly even fifty percent lower.
This probably wasn't a surprise to anyone there. Their presence at the event indicated that the audience were all patrons of the arts, if not workers in arts industries themselves. They knew how to nurse one drink for a good hour-long session.
Then, someone on the panel raised a point that they'd had to make a conscious effort to put their phone down and resist the temptation to only consume written words as they're served on social media - snappy little 'news bites', listicles and the like. I agree, but I'm actually quite fond of listicles. Melissa Lucashenko was asked if she lamented the possible decline in people reading more long-form writing, like novels.
'No,' Melissa said, 'because novels are the meat and potatoes of writing. Stories on Facebook are just a sugar hit.' I really liked that. Novels have substance and heft. When they're done well (cooked properly?) they can be so satisfying and fulfilling. Sustaining, even - a square meal rather than a brief reprieve from hunger.
Novelists can feed people, if we do our jobs well. Now we just need to make enough money to feed our own writing habits, then we will all be full and fat, and happy.