We love stories, and we love the people who connect us with them. This Love Your Bookshop Day, we’re celebrating some of our friends who help find and share stories: our local book-sellers.
Here, meet Jess Gately, from local not-for-profit and bookshop Underground Writers.
What’s great about working at Underground Writers?
Working at Underground is a different experience for each of our editors, but the one thing we all agree on is that it gives us a focus on the Australian literary scene, so we stop looking abroad and recognise homegrown talent. We’ve also all learnt a lot and gained an appreciation for the role of an editor. The amount of time and work that goes into reading and thinking critically about a piece and offering feedback is pretty intense.
But most of all we love that we can give unknown writers a voice. Sometimes it’s hard (and scary!) to get your work out there, and to have a platform that authors can submit to and get proper, professional feedback is extremely valuable. One example that had us excited was author Kerri Turner, who submitted to us for our issue titled the Hitchhiker, and now she’s a published author with an incredible historical fiction book. Seeing authors grow and figure out their voices, and helping them find that voice through our editorial work is so rewarding.
Your bookshop sells debut Australian works, and you’re champions of emerging writers. Can you tell us the story of how Underground Writers and Underground Books came to be?
Underground Writers was started by a group of uni students who were studying together at ECU all the way back in 2009 (it’s our 10th birthday this year!). They wanted to create a publication that could act as a stepping stone for new authors as they found the process of submitting to the bigger literary journals intimidating. Since then, new groups of editors have come and gone, and the current team have expanded Underground’s activities with the aim of helping to build a vibrant writing community, deliver information and advice to new writers, and to help promote the work of emerging writers.
Underground Books was launched last year to help support those goals. We think that when people can, they want to support local writers and authors but it’s not always easy to tell in a bookshop who is local and who isn’t unless they’re writing Australiana type novels. We also know that it’s really hard for new writers to break into the market. People are 70% more likely to pick up a book by an author they’ve read before than one they haven’t so getting people to pick up a debut novel is hard. The bookshop acts as a way to help those authors stand out, to find new readers, and at the same time, all profits go back into helping us provide information, services and opportunities for other new writers.
Can you tell us about some of the challenges and opportunities facing emerging Australian writers at the moment?
Particularly here in WA, we can sometimes get lost in the Australian literary scene. With most of the bigger publishers and writers festivals based in Sydney and Melbourne, writers in those cities seem to have more opportunity to speak and network with editors, publishers, and other writers. But WA has a great literary scene too, and we have a really strong writing community here. So we want to help strengthen that community and give them a voice.
The good news is, the WA writing scene seems to be taking off. This year we had the reintroduction of the WA Premier’s Book Award, and we had the inaugural Fogarty Literary Award for young writers. The Centre for Stories has also launched a bunch of really exciting initiatives, and it feels like writers centres around the state are really pushing to give emerging writers here the opportunities they need to get out there. We’re excited to see where it all goes over the next few years!
What local authors or books are on your reading list right now?
Oh gosh! So many. Between 6 editors with huge TBR piles… we could be here a while. But here are just a few that have our editors scrambling for reading time:
My Longest Round by Wally Carr and Gaele Sobott, Built Perth by Tom McKendrick and Elliot Langdon, Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard, Driving into the Sun by Marcella Polain, Devil’s Ballast by Meg Caddy, Alex and the Alpacas by Kathryn Lefroy, Catching Teller Crow by Ambellin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina—we might stop here before this goes on too long!
We love storytelling—what does it mean to you, and why do you think it’s important?
Our editor Shelley summed this up very nicely in a recent discussion. She said, storytelling isn’t just about the regurgitation of a narrative, but about sharing and passing on a story. Storytelling is important to pass from generation to generation, but it is also an important aspect of building a strong community that is aware of its past. For many people, storytelling is a way of expressing themselves, of expanding their own minds, of sharing their experiences, and of being understood by the people around them. Therefore there are so many ways in which stories have the power to shape who we are—both in the stories we consume and the stories we tell. They can set us on a path for the rest of our lives or change that path entirely.
So here at Underground, we know that while stories can be a lot of fun, they have a lot of power, and we like to help share those stories so that more people and more diverse stories can be adding to our community’s narrative.