The National Young Writers’ Festival is a fantastically free, annual event that brings together young creatives from across Australia to talk about life, drinking and occasionally writing. If you have any time at all over the long weekend and are interested in writing, writers, looking at pretty writers, creativity or publishing, it’s the bomb-diggity. Over the next week Vertigo will be showcasing some of the lovely lads and ladies who’ll be at NYWF. Here’s Heidi Pett, writer and radio maker based in Sydney, on that time when constructing a teepee and taking it to festivals seemed like a great idea, excellent podcasts and what it’s like starting out.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I’m a radiomaker and sometimes writer living in Sydney where I’m the EP and co-host of FBi Radio’s Backchat. I also have the absolute privilege of jobsharing with my best friend Jess O’Callaghan, in the role of Features Executive Producer for national storytelling and doco program All The Best. I am forever doing other things on the side because The Fear has not yet left me and I never think I’m doing enough.
Before that I’ve worked as a publicist, arts producer and youth projects officer which were all pretty ace jobs, too.
What was the hardest thing about starting out?
I still very much consider myself to be starting out, so in the present tense: imposter syndrome. That feeling that you’re not actually supposed to be here and that one day, very soon, somebody is going to figure that out and rectify the world’s mistake.
I started out on the front desk at FBi, having applied to volunteer in event management after becoming seriously disenchanted with my studies and the city. I sort of fell into the actual radio part, which is not to say that I haven’t worked extremely hard as a producer, all-nighter presenter and done nearly every job at the station once I realised I really loved it. I’d say actually, the hardest part is calling your parents all excited about whatever new thing you’re doing and having to explain, patiently, that no, you’re not getting paid yet but that you are being allowed to do a bigger better and more important job. These days I still bring home my little successes like a cat dropping dead mice on the doorstep like, “look guys! I didn’t make a huge mistake!”
What sort of wisdom can you impart to young writers / radiomakers / people in general?
1) My best advice is actually stolen from Ann Friedman. Go and listen to her Longform episode and do everything she says but especially the part about kissing sideways and down. The people you’re hanging out with now, all the ones who are writing and editing and making bedroom radio are your freelancers, editors, bosses and friends of the future. Worry less about competing to cosy up to your elders and build networks amongst your peers.
2) Embrace your freedom to make mistakes and trust that you are making the right decisions. Drop out, volunteer, do a big hard thing and maybe fail at it, whatever it is, just commit to it. This is really hypocritical because my biggest terror, still, is that nobody has taught me how to do this and I am maybe probably definitely doing it wrong and will one day be sued / never get another job. But it also means that there’s nobody telling you what you can’t do.
Radio’s been around for a while, but it feels like the form / medium is coming into its own, with the stuff that you guys do at All The Best, and shows like Radiotonic and Soundproof. What excites you about storytelling today?
There are so many people doing cool/great things that I have finally given in and started listening to podcasts while riding my bike, just to keep up.
A lot of my favourite shows have always been from the US, and I think that’s common, and it’s part of the reason why All The Best was created – to make quality storytelling and feature radio with Australian voices. Paper Radio, an independent Melbourne based collective, have always been an Australian favourite of mine, and I’m so pleased that RN now has Soundproof and Radiotonic, who are collaborating with Paper Radio.
Lately I am obsessed with the work that Kaitlin Prest is doing at Audio Smut. She’s a producer for Life of the Law which is great podcast about law (which having studied it and then bailed, I can say with authority that I usually find very boring) who has been working with this collective who are all about ‘frank conversations about sex on public radio’ and they make the most excellent shows with really inspiring sound design. Movies In Your Head is the best jumping off point.
There are also loads of people doing cool live episodes, one of my favourites is the Wild Ones live ep of 99% Invisible. And I love Andrea Silenzi’s Why Oh Why. It should be the most terrible podcast; she airs half-hour unedited interviews with her friends and noisy bar audio and breaks every single rule of radio ever but she’s so real and sweet that it just works. I think that’s what I love about radio today – while it’s still labour intensive work, it’s relatively easy to get started and so there are all these people who’ve never had any formal training just trying things out.
Also, community radio! Such a wonderful bunch of talented, driven and passionate people making great things happen on a shoestring.
You’re speaking at Breakfast Book Club and also doing a live broadcast of Backchat. What can we expect?
For Backchat we’ve got Jodi McKay joining us down at Hunter Design School where we’ll be talking about ICAC and political donations, and we’ll be asking whether political campaigns should be publicly funded to eliminate the potential for corruption. We’ve also got a couple of our favourite festival guests joining us for a panel discussion which I’m really excited about — Yassmin Abdel-Magied and James Farrow.
Breakfast Book Club will involve coffee and hopefully a whole lot of people getting evangelical about their favourite books. I love when a book is so good you just want to force people around you to read it and I think that’s exactly what will happen.
Which NYWF events are you keen to check out this year?
I’m pretty keen to head along to Dear Diary to see how all those babes actually manage to keep them regularly. Tinder Poetics! Creating the Story should be really interesting and I’m also really looking forward to Mandatory Attention: the State of Immigration in Australia Today.
Fondest memory of NYWF?
Skinny dipping in the baths, drinking beers in the sun, the strange little involuntary noise I made last year when Anna Krien said on a panel “oh I don’t think anybody wants to be me” because I do, so hard. I love watching internet pals blossom into real life friends and lovers, and the fever you leave with to make and do things.
What’s your favourite failed project and why?
Last year we decided to construct a story teepee for All The Best and take it to festivals, so people could pop headphones in and listen to radio features. I also hung about with a recorder thinking we’d get some surprising and kind of fun tape from people but actually what I have is two hours of ‘this one time I was really high and this thing that could only have been funny if you were there happened’ which I have never listened back to and likely never will.
Which #rejectedNYWF panel did you most want to see happen?
Drunkenly talking to that writer you admire: good idea or great idea? #rejectedNYWFevents
— Alex Bennetts (@NoiseEtc) September 10, 2014
Because let’s face it, that is sometimes the most sought after advice at the festival.
Breakfast Club character you’re most like, and the one you wanted to be growing up?
I have a terrible confession to make, which is that I’ve never seen the Breakfast Club. I know, I’m sorry.
Backchat’s online producer Laura Brierley is super horrified right now and we are in talks. “I don’t know whether you’d be the sassy, cool one or the kind of surly one. I think you’d be Molly Ringwald. She’s cool and sassy but also like a really decent person and she’s got mad dance moves.”
I am going to take that.
National Young Writers’ Festival runs from October 2 – 5 in Newcastle.
Heidi Pett will be appearing in:
Breakfast Book Club @ Staple Manor on Friday 3 October, 9am
Backchat Live @ Hunter Design School on Saturday 4 October, 11am