Q&A: Zoe Barron from Ships in the Night

Published on November 11, 2015
Categories - Blog, Events, Q&A, Read About

Ships in the Night is a bimonthly evening of words and songs. It is at home at the Rosemount Hotel, where every two months, you can head down and hear some glorious tunes, and wonderful words from all sorts of different people. The final installment for 2015 is happening on 19 November, so we caught up with Ships in the Night Manager Zoe Barron to find out what’s in store this time around.

Ships in the Night

What inspired you to start Ships in the Night?

Predominantly the death of Cottonmouth, which was a monthly spoken word and music night that ran for a number of years in venues around Northbridge and North Perth. Cottonmouth rallied such a great community around it, and when it finished that community didn’t have anywhere to go. There didn’t seem to be many opportunities for writers to come together socially, and then the literary magazine Dot Dot Dash finished up as well. Alex Kannis was drunk at a party in Freo one night, lamenting the loss of this community, and that was where the hair-brained idea of Ships in the Night was born.

What’s your writing background?

I’ve been a writer pretty much since high school, but started getting more formally involved in writing and editing when I moved to Melbourne from Fremantle in 2006 to attended the University of Melbourne. I became an editor of Farrago, the University of Melbourne student magazine, and joined the editorial committee of Voiceworks, which is a quarterly publication for writers under the age of 25. After that I started doing freelance work and eventually moved back to Perth. Currently I write reviews, blogs and articles for various publications and organisations, and occasionally get to write fun things, like creative non-fiction and travel pieces.

Were you surprised by how popular Ships in the Night instantly was?

Yes, actually. It makes sense in retrospect, considering the holes that Cottonmouth and Dot Dot Dash had left behind, but we did expect it to take a little more time to build up momentum.

How do you organise the programs / choose who will perform?

We have a word (Alex Griffin) and a music (Xanthea O’Connor) curator, who pick the line-up based on a number of things. Both of them have their fingers in lots of pies around the Perth scene, and a good idea of which writers and musicians are doing good work, and whether they’d be appropriate for the night. Xanthea will always tweak the musicians to suit the writer line-up, to ensure the whole evening flows well. We also occasionally get interstate performers (such a Geoff Lemon this time around, who will be coming from Melbourne), if they happen to be in Perth for whatever reason.

In terms of writers specifically, we have a really broad focus. Our idea when we started was to get writers of all kinds on stage, regardless of form, so we’ve had comedians, playwrights and academics, as well as fiction writers and poets on the Ships stage. It just depends on who’s writing well at the time, and whether we reckon they would suit the format of the night.

Ships in the Night image by Mark Wahlsten

As well as Geoff Lemon, who have you got in store for guests with the next installment of Ships in the Night?

So, we have Geoff coming over from Melbourne. He’s a writer and performance poet, an exceptional performer and very funny man. Also headlining is Lucy Dougan, who’s a Perth-based poet and editor with editorial experience with Westerly Magazine and a number of her own publications under her belt. And then there’s comic Patrick Marlborough, novelist Dennis Venning, writer and illustrator Richard Moore, and lyricist and comix author Ashley Ramsey. It’s quite a grungy, punk line up this time around, especially considering we’ve got Sam Atkin as our opening musician and then chick rock band Fingernail playing later in the evening. It should be quite a good one.

What do you love about Perth?

When I was living in Melbourne, I found that being a writer was a bit like screaming in a crowded room. While there’s a really great community over there, it can be difficult to start new things – especially if they’re outside the mould. There seems to be a more space for dreamers in Perth, and it gives rise to crazy, beautiful things like Paper Mountain and SJ Finch’s Grr project. It can be lonely, and it takes a bit of effort to fight the inertia sometimes, but if feels a little like you can do anything over here if you try. There’s a really wonderful, whimsical culture in Perth – a little less pretentious, some lower expectations (which can be incredibly freeing) – coupled with bucket loads of imagination and courage. I really love that.

And then there’s Perth summer and the ocean, and how well those things go together.

What does Perth need?

I think, culturally anyway, Perth is already in the process of generating what it needs. Our city has come an exceptionally long way, and is a totally different place to what it was ten years ago. There’s the Perth Cultural Centre and Urban Orchard with all the activities that go on there, and the Fringe Festival, Paper Mountain, the Blue Room Theatre, Barefaced Stories, Freo Press, the brilliance of the music scene – the list is very long. And then there’s the hospitality scene, the exceptional venues we have now, great small bars, and so on.

If anything, I reckon Perth needs to learn to be less safe. Regulations can get pretty silly sometimes, especially when it comes to things like liquor licensing, insurance requirements, permission processes and security. Stuff happens despite these, but red tape can have a nasty habit of trampling some wonderful ideas.

Overall, though, Perth is doing great. I’m excited to see what happens next. Zoe

The next Ships in the Night is happening on Thursday 19 November at 8pm, in the Four5nine room at the Rosemount Hotel. Entry is $10 on the door on the night, and doors open at 7pm. See you there!

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