'There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter movies. Hagrid invites the students to come up and meet a really terrifying critter. “All right, then,” he says, “Who’s first?” All the students take a step back, leaving Harry standing alone in front of the group. That’s kind of like how I fell into the job.'
This October 8 and 9 is the annual Japan Writers Conference. A melting pot of free talks, workshops and readings, the event brings together a community of writers, publishers, and lovers of literature to share their knowledge and celebrate words.
We sat down with John Gribble, one of the organisers, to learn what Harry Potter has to do with his involvement, what he finds surprising and challenging about running the conference, and what he's working on now.
Q. What motivated you to run the conference, and how long have you been running it?
There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter movies. Hagrid invites the students to come up and meet a really terrifying critter. “All right, then,” he says, “Who’s first?” All the students take a step back, leaving Harry standing alone in front of the group. That’s kind of like how I fell into the job. The people who organized the first Conference in 2007 were unable to continue. But some of us thought it had been so great that it seemed a shame to have it be a one-time-only event. So a group of us organized a second one in Nagoya in 2008. I was the #2 person that year. The #1 left Japan shortly thereafter, and there I was. There have always been co-coordinators. Bern Mulvey has done the job for several years.
Q. What’s been the most surprising, rewarding or challenging aspect of the conference for you?
Surprising: How popular and well-supported the Conference has become. It has really grown legs of its own.
Rewarding: To see how much work the presenters put in to their sessions. The quality of the sessions is amazingly high. And its all done from love—nobody’s getting paid.
Challenging: It isn’t always been easy to find sites to host the Conference. We have no money or institutional support, and schools have had to tighten their belts. But it looks like we’re good for a couple years. Another problem has been making sure there’s food available. It isn’t always easy. Conferences, like armies, travel on their stomachs. But we’re getting better at it.
Q. What’s unique about this year’s conference or what are you most excited about for this year?
We're in Tokyo for the first time in several years, so we’ve had a larger number of people submitting worthwhile presentation proposals. So we’re going to have a bigger Conference, with more sessions than usual. And I think this year we have the largest number of writers from overseas coming to present. People are coming from England, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and India to speak. That’s pretty exciting!
Q. What writing projects are you working on now?
Today I worked on a draft of a new poem about Shirakawa-go. It's the village in Gifu famous for the gassho “praying hands” houses. I have a couple large projects going, including a book on five-string banjo.
Whether it's the ins and outs of writing horror, poetry, interactive fiction, memoirs or first lines, exploring the pros and cons of small presses, learning how to be a writer and an editor, or landing a newspaper column in Japan, this year's lineup has something for everyone. We'll be doing a session on interactive fiction on Monday Oct 9 at 2pm. So if you're in Tokyo, come down and say hello, Programme details here.