London for Writers by Lisa Dempster

Lisa Dempster, EWF Director is touring the UK

Lisa Dempster, EWF Director is touring the UK

Although beautiful, London is not the most glamorous city, and definitely not the most buzzing, but it has a rich and diverse writing and publishing culture which fascinates me.

Of course, London has a long and rich literary history, and there is plenty here in that vein to keep visiting writers busy. There are hallowed places like the reading room at the British Library to seek out, literary walking tours on topics as diverse as the Bloomsbury Group and Harry Potter, and of course bookshops galore.

History aside, there is a vibrant events scene for writers of all descriptions. In the short time I have been here I’ve been blown away by the diversity of events that happen right across the city. It is a vast contrast to Melbourne, which although has a robust and busy literary scene, feels very contained compared to the vast scale of what is happening here in London.

There are large and exciting literary events, like the London Book Festival, Faber Academy and the School of Life. And there are smaller, more independent events that nevertheless have a big following, like Book Slam, Literary Death Match, poetry and jazz at Ronnie Scott’s, lecture series, and local writers' festivals. Then we get down to smaller, more local events, like readings nights, salons, writers' groups, workshopping groups, library talks and performance opportunities. There are events that are fun, networking-focused, craft-focused, ideas-focused and drinking-focused… and there are hundreds of them happening all the time. It’s overwhelming and incredibly exciting.

The Book Club bar

The Book Club bar

Some of the events I have discovered here are similar to things we have in Australia, and some are totally different. My favourite find so far is The Book Club bar, which is an amazing literary hangout in trendy Shoreditch. Without pushing its theme too far, The Book Club hosts a busy calendar of ‘thinking and drinking’ events from literary speed dating and life drawing to party nights, which recognises that bookish types are probably interested in a broad range of artistic topics away from the page as well as on it. Add to that a beautiful bar with a great menu and excellent drinks, an events room, free wifi, long opening hours and a smart vibe and it pretty much ticks every ‘ideal literary salon’ checkbox one could hope for. With it’s newly appointed title of City of Literature, I think Melbourne is in great need of just such an establishment.

So far, I have found that everyone is interested in the concept of the Emerging Writers’ Festival, and it appears that there is little that is comparable here. It has piqued my interest in return about how emerging writers manage in Britain - there seems to be less super independent publishing than we have in Australia, and the traditional publishers seem harder to attract. As the scene is not centralised or necessarily accessible like ours (it does feel like in Melbourne everyone knows everyone, or at least of each other), knowing how to move from writing something to getting it published seems more of a challenge on this side of the pond. So although London is vastly exciting, I also think that Australian emerging writers are very lucky to have such a flourishing yet friendly literary scene.

Lisa Dempster is the Director of the Emerging Writers' Festival. She is now heading to Edinburgh to attend the British Council’s Book Case Conference and the Edinburgh International Book Festival.