Q&A MONDAY: Lisa Dempster 7 Comments

Q&A MONDAY: Lisa Dempster

Lisa Dempster is the Director of the Emerging Writers’ Festival. She is a professional editor and writer who has been published widely, including book titles Neon Pilgrim and The Words We Found: the best writing from 21 years of Voiceworks magazine. As the publisher at indie outfit Vignette Press she created the sub-cultural journal the Sex and Death Mooks. Lisa is a committed vegan, and is the editor of The Melbourne Veg Food Guide. She blogs at www.lisadempster.com.au.

Writing: necessity or luxury?

It’s a luxury to write but unfortunately it doesn’t lead to living a life of luxury..

Your blog, Unwakeable, is a force of nature. What’s your blogging story? Why do you blog? How did you start?

I started blogging six or seven years ago when I lived in London – my blogspot blog was about dating and it was anonymous. Then when I started Vignette Press I started a wordpress blog about indie publishing with another publisher, aduki independent press. We were among the first publishers in Australia to start blogging. Concurrently with that I started blogging at my own domain and that’s when I really started getting into it – I discovered that I love blogging!
The immediacy of a response, the potential reach of a blog, the discipline of constantly creating content – even though my ability blog fluctuates depending on how busy I am (sometimes I post daily for long periods, other times only twice a week), I find the whole process totally joyful. But my favourite part is connecting with the people who read my blog – I have met so many wonderful and smart people through blogging and been exposed to so many great ideas and projects, it just blows my mind.
I’m currently and yet again reconsidering how I blog. I think at the moment there are a lot of blogs following a formula, and although that formula is probably a good one that ‘works’ (i.e. builds web stats), I don’t want to fall into a pattern of being samey with my blog. Although I do like seeing my web stats and number of visitors climb, what I value most about my blog is its dedicated readers and community; the level of audience engagement is more important to me than numbers and, I think, a more telling sign of a blog’s success.

As a writer and blogger I want to keep things fresh and keep redefining what blogging is and what it can be – and the best thing about the medium is, of course, that it is not static and therefore lends itself well to constant reinvention. It’s a playful medium, which is perhaps what I love most about it.

How does a writer end up as a festival director and how do those two parts of your identity co-exist?

Well, I direct a writers’ festival so there are common threads that tie it all together! I got involved with the Emerging Writers’ Festival firstly as a writer, as someone who went along to a festival and got so much out of it! And my involvement with the festival grew from there for over four years, until the directorship came up and it seemed like a good time for me to apply. I was thrilled when I got the job. I really love the festival and believe in what it does.

As far as those parts of my identity co-existing, well… I was told when I started at festival that if I was spending a lot of time facilitating the growth of other writers’ careers I wouldn’t have as much time and energy for my own. That person was right. I am working on my writing at the moment, however, I do find that I need to discipline myself to sit down and write. It was much easier to make that headspace when I was working a government job that I wasn’t engaged in.

You are probably one of the foremost authorities on Voiceworks and its history. Can you sum up its complicated identity in five words?

Wild. Raw. Angsty. Experimental. Mindblowing.

The Words We Found is one of the projects that I am most proud of producing. It was a real honour to be tasked with creating a history of Voiceworks and I had a blast putting it together. Reading the entire back catalogue of Voiceworks, it was impossible not to be totally sucked into the magic of the magazine – it has constantly redefined itself over its history, launched some amazing writers, and celebrated writing in so many forms! It refuses to be formulaic, which is refreshing when compared to many other great literary journals. I could rave about it all day!

If you could read anyone’s journal or raid anyone’s hard drive, through whose would you rifle?

Bill Murray. What is it like to be Bill Murray? I would like to know.

What are the best and worst things about working at the Wheeler Centre?

Woah – loaded question!

Best: I like being right in the centre of things happening. There are a lot of amazing organisations in the Wheeler and its fantastic to work alongside other driven and creative people. Friends are always popping in to say hi as well – it’s definitely becoming a literary hub, which is awesome.

Worst: the technology kind of sucks! It uses an archaic email system and the computers are all PCs and there is no wifi. There was this moment during the festival when Chris Meade, the UK Director of the Institute of the Future of the Book, came into the Wheeler to do an online forum for the EWF. He brought his own laptop and I had to tell him that this amazing literary hub… has no wifi. He had to open his computer and type out what he had already written onto one of our PCs. Shame!

The internet: friend or foe? Discuss.

Friend. However I find the idea of the friend/foe dichotomy odd – the internet for me is a space that is quite real. I see it as something tangible, like an office at the Wheeler is! It’s a place to go, and there are people there, and you can use it for fun or for work or for serious stuff. I’ve been online for so long I don’t really understand people who see things that happen online as unreal or separate from their physical lives, somehow.

The way we interact online now – through social media channels – makes the space and extension of our lives. It’s been interesting over the last decade to watch as people online went from anonymous and nervous – the use of monikers and avatars were king even as recently as four years ago – to representing their real selves, through names and photos etc. So the online/offline divide is being constantly broken down; I think it barely even exists anymore.

Sometimes I do think I might spend too much time online though.

What are you reading?

The Tour de France is on so I’m re-reading my favourite cycling books – 21 Nights in July (Ianto Ware) and The Rider (Tim Krabbe).

Apart from that, I’m reading about a million blogs. Including Virgule – keep up the good work, guys!

  • http://www.expressmedia.org.au/voiceworks/ Johannes Jakob

    The bill murray answer made me laugh, in the way it was phrased.

    But I also really liked the noticing of the online/offline divide being broken down, especially the change from avatars and nicknames to real names. That’s something I hadn’t realised, but I think is true – it’s certainly true for my own use of the internet. Is it a general internet trend, or is it that our generation is starting to grow up and do it that way (or are they the same thing)? I want to use my real name rather than a pseudonym because the amount of time spent playing games online and the amount of time using the web socially/professionally has inverted in the last few years.

  • http://bookworm-megs.blogspot.com Megan

    Great interview. Lisa is certainly a really interesting person!

  • http://www.lisadempster.com.au lisa

    Jojo, I think it’s a general internet thing and not limited to certain groups or just young people. I was with a bunch of non-web savvy people last week, we knew each other from a forum and they were generally aged 30-50. They HATED the idea of monikers, they all used some variation of their name when they joined the forum (like, say, Lisa_D) and it really reminded me again how much the internet space has changed! People I know who use monikers have been in chats and forums for many, many years, but even they are likely to put their real name on twitter, for example. But for the newies, say, people who started being social online with the advent of myspace and facebook, are more prone to be themselves.

    I remember about during the period of five – ten years ago, nicknames and perceived privacy online were paramount to people in forums. Even when we met offline we never used each other’s real names on the forum, for eg. And people used their nickname across the internet – I had one handle I used everywhere for about a decade. So there was this idea of an online and an offline identity. Every forum I was ever on always had an enormous shitfight every six months or so about whether online selves were real selves or whether you could seperate your handle identity from your offline identity. With the openness of the internet now and people hooking into facebook/twitter/flickr, that conversation no longer happens – yes, you CAN still be private online if you want, but most people are just as comfortable being themselves.

  • http://www.lisadempster.com.au lisa

    Btw, speaking of identity – that is not a photo of me! But it *is* my favourite photo from the Emerging Writers’ Festival this year, so it’s nice to see it there! :)

  • http://www.littlegirlwithabigpen.wordpress.com Sam van Zweden

    What a concise interview in such a short space!
    I really like what’s been said about the division between online and offline space – I had a moment at the EWF where my partner said that “this blogging thing seems to be taken quite seriously!” – it’s this kind of division that I just don’t see. I don’t see blogging as seperate to my writing endeavours. A different kind of project perhaps, but not seperated, nor should it be.

  • RBS

    I can’t for the life of me recall where I recently read a fantastic article (I think it was in the Guardian online) about Bill Murray, but Lisa’s response to that question only confirmed my post-article belief that Mr. Murray is a fascinating man! Also, when Lisa writes her next book about cycling the Henrei Michi (please, Lisa – just for me), I do believe it’ll be my favourite Tour de France-time book.

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