Working with Words: Sam Twyford Moore

Sam Twyford-Moore is the director of the Emerging Writers' Festival, which kicks off tonight with the announcement of the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. He’s also a writer and an editor, who has been published in Meanjin, the Australian and other places.

We talked to him about the importance of mentors, how he misses having to fight for someone to hear you, and why he believes you should write to engage and defy.

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

The Rock N’ Roll edition of Meanjin in 2006. I basically got lucky in as much as my non-fiction tutor at the time was Mark Mordue who was acting as guest editor and he was really encouraging his students to submit. Mark has this incredibly electric personality, and I was a deeply inspired him as a student – I remember I even started talking like him at some point. Mark was really passionate about his Newcastle roots, so I ended up writing a short memoir of a house party in the suburbs where I grew up on the Central Coast, the urban sprawl between Sydney and Newcastle. The subject matter probably makes it sound like a real piece of juvenilia, but when I go back to that piece I don’t cringe, instead I find something honest and I often think that I’ll never write that well again. I owe Mark a great deal.

What’s the worst part of your job?

It’s been great moving to Melbourne and finding such a strong and supportive literary scene down here, but I do sincerely miss Sydney and Newcastle. I miss fighting for someone to hear you, as perverse as that may read.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Reading the works of people who have gone on to become great friends.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Kill your darlings is a bit of a joke. But I love the magazine!

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself or your work?

I noticed Tom Doig wrote, in reply to this question, about me writing a letter to Voiceworks calling him an anti-aesthete. Where the hell did I get that combination of words from? I wasn’t having any fun when I was writing that letter. I love that Tom claims the term and I hope I too one day I can join him in being labeled an anti-aesthete.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’m not really writing at the moment – running the festival has become a full-time job for the moment. But it’s great getting to be an advocate for so many writers, and I’d hope that what I’m doing will benefit me as a writer somewhere down the line. I have little doubt I’ll learn something from each of the close to 200 writers in the festival program. That’s an obscenely privileged position to be in.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I learnt a lot from my studies in writing, but I got the most from connecting with other writers and I was lucky in that there seemed to be a culture of mentoring outside of the confines of the degree for the time I was there.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

Do it because you love it would be the typical advice – but I’d go further, I’d say do it because you love other writers and being in dialogue with them. Do it to both engage and defy.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both. But I get in trouble when I buy books online, because my girlfriend works in a bookstore. Book Depository is a sometimes food in our house.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? And what would you talk about?

I don’t read much fiction (is that the same as someone saying I don’t own a TV?). Maybe the kid from Wayne Macauley’s The Cook, but we wouldn’t be talking, he’d be in the kitchen feeding lambs some milk before a sweet dinner.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

Robert Adamson’s autobiography had an incredible impact on me. I was reading it as I was coming home on the train from university from Sydney back towards the Central Coast, crossing his beloved Hawkesbury. If you haven’t done that train trip, it’s stunning, and the Hawkesbury glitters and surprises the whole way. I was reading way too much American fiction, and here was a book that evoked the suburb Wyong, such a banal place growing up, and it made it something poetic and immediate.

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