Siobhan Harvey – President of the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) – annual AGM address

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Talofa lava

As President of the New Zealand Society of Authors, I welcome you to our 2018 AGM and Development Weekend, ‘TURNING THE PAGE’.

A veritable feast of workshops, panel sessions, discussions, ideas and meetings with fellow writers await you tomorrow.

I want to humbly thank The Auckland Branch of the NZSA for hosting and organizing this fine series of events. Especially organizing committee, Adrian, Weng Wai, Libby, Tom, Sue and Anita.

Our branches – Northland, Auckland, Hamilton, Central Districts, Wellington, Top of the South, Canterbury and Otago/Southland – these are where writers connect, share, sustain and nourish.

So I extend my thanks to all branch chairs, secretaries and members across Aotearoa. Thank you for your service and your commitment.

“Writing,” declares author Paulo Coehlo, “means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions …”

This ethos, I offer you, is at the heart of tonight’s gathering and tomorrow’s TURNING THE PAGE events.

And, more significantly, at the core of what The New Zealand Society of Authors represents. In its membership, in its National office staff – its Director, Office Manager and Bookkeeper, in its National Council membership and representative positions on the Book Awards Trust, Creative Licensing NZ, the Public Lending Right Advisory Group, We Create and others, in its awards, fellowships, mentorships, advisory service and its advocacy roles, the NZSA stands up for writing, and for writers, and for the shared commonalities of experience and understanding of what – in this fluctuating world – being “a writer” is.

So when we say the New Zealand Society of Authors, what we really mean is “us” – everyone in this room who is a member of our organization, and everyone across the country who is the same.

And if we all share the communal space of the writer, then we also share its knowledge. And we all know that being a writer presently isn’t an easy task or responsibility. It offers many challenges.

The world of publishing is in flux, and indeed has been for some time.

Being a writer is a precarious existence, particularly at this far end of the globe. Few amongst us are the privileged who can live comfortably and exclusively off their royalties. Rather, to be a New Zealand writer is to juggle innumerable jobs, including journalism, teaching, mentoring, editing and so forth.

As I stand here, a year into my role as President of this organization, I look to the year to come and say to you the challenges we face are manifest and many.

In no particularly order of priority, I offer you two of the most pressing.

FIRSTLY FUNDING –

The New Zealand Society of Authors has faced many years of static funding. Given inflation, this has meant – year on year – that the monies we have been allocated by Government have reduced.

Of course, we are not alone in this. The world of small arts organizations like ours has experienced the same over the last ten years. And as a swathe of recent media stories have made us aware, the wider world of public service – health and teaching professions, for instance – also find themselves under funded.

We at The New Zealand Society of Authors have been forced to tighten our belts; and we have managed to do so. But, there comes a time, when we can no longer tighten, or rather when, to continue tightening, would mean cutting important services we offer.

We mightn’t be part of the social services of health and teaching, but I believe – as the Prime Minister iterated only a few days ago – that arts services such as our play a vital good in people’s lives and the psychological good of the country.

The new Government has discussed increases in the arts budget, which we at The New Zealand Society of Authors wholeheartedly welcome.

However, words are one thing, action another.

The New Zealand Society of Authors, like all arts agencies dependent upon Government funding will have to reapply for its support next year. Only then will we know whether a verbal commitment to more arts funding by this government actually transpires into an actual increase in the funding we receive.

Until then funding remains an area of great challenge to us; and we will have to continue to make difficult choices are how we spend the limited monies we have.

 

SECONDLY – COPYRIGHT REVIEW –

This is also one of our biggest fights.

A copyright act review is currently under way. There are some in positions of power who see the future of writers’ work as one in which copyright is a public affair. In which, in short, your copyright over our own work is to be subjugated to the “public right” to have the work accessed at large – on the internet, say – without any recompense.

We have all seen how copyright and mass sharing of artistic materials has panned out, for instance, in the music industry.

Such a new copyright future in which your work no longer belong to you but belongs to the many, and offers no dollar recompense for that, would be – I believe – dystopian and inherently unjust.

The New Zealand Society of Authors has much work to do over the next year with its partners CLNZ, PANZ and We Create to, as our CEO Jenny Nagle says, “prepare a value chain narratives to show the $value and impact of the publishing industry to NZ’S GDP – and the export potential across the creative industries.”

If we don’t continue to fight – and ultimately secure – a better copyright outcome for us all, our work will become subsumed to big international tech giants like GOOGLE.

Of course, there are other challenges. The fight for more funding for the Public Lending Right scheme, for instance.

Also the review of good governance. To survive, all organizations need to reform, develop and renew themselves. In this, the nature and structure of our governance needs to be considered, to be developed and improved. As part of its striving for good governance, National Council will be bringing considerations for improvement to tomorrow’s AGM.

But for now, it is enough, I feel for me to conclude this welcome by returning to Coehlo’s definition of writing as a shared experience.

Without writers, the world would be a lesser place indeed. We provide the world its conscience, its sense of obligation, its memory, its belief in justice, alternative possibilities. In the narratives of truth and fiction, be they poems, short stories, novels, memoirs, creative nonfiction, childrens books, YA fiction, romance, be they whatever they are, we – in the writing of them – provide the world with much needed enjoyment, escape, imagination, creativity, feeling, catharsis, remedy and/or a reminder that we aren’t alone. We aren’t alone. Our experiences, though individual, are also – a la Coehlo – “shared”.

So to all of you – here and across Aotearoa – I say, let the year come and bring us its challenges and its rewards. We at The New Zealand Society of Authors will continue to face those challenges and enjoy those rewards as we continue to stand for writers and writing.

And you all will continue to write; to which I say I honor and thank you for doing so.

Aroha, aroha, aroha!

Siobhan Harvey

President

New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc)

Te Puni Kaituhi O Aotearoa

 

 

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