Writers’ Journey, Sydney Writers’ Festival Event @ Katoomba

Like many readers and writers I find it interesting to hear how other writers approach their craft, how their interest in writing came about and what their process looks like, not least of all because it is unique to each writer.

And so I jumped at the chance to attend an event about the writing journey as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, held in conjunction with Varuna and the Blue Mountains Library. The four people who shared their stories and insights into the writing life are accomplished Australian writers across fiction and non-fiction and their oeuvre crosses many genres. David White, who facilitated the event, acknowledged the endless fascination that readers and writers alike have in the writing process.

The session began with each writer providing a 15 minute overview of their writing life. Malcolm Knox shared the story of his first day on trial with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1994; Catherine Cole spoke of the influences of childhood, of how the joy and pleasure of reading led to a desire to create. Craig Cormick demonstrated his passion for writing the story that demands to be told by passing around a sample of his many published books, ranging across non-fiction, children’s fiction and short stories. Lisa Chaplin, a self-described housewife with an imagination, outlined her transition from romance writer to historical novelist, and shared her approach to writing which includes a hand drawn visual map incorporating the three act structure, soundtrack and scented candles specific to the current work in progress.

The reality and challenges of a writing life were acknowledged by all of the writers. Self-doubt, how your best work isn’t always your published work and how success does not always correlate to talent were some of the points agreed upon. Cormick said that writing exposes your heart and that publishing takes a bite (out of it), but write anyway. A couple of good examples of learning from the masters was provided by Chaplin, who learned the art of editing through the Romance Writers of Australia, and Fiona McIntosh Masterclass. All agreed on keeping drafts of your work, and to remove your darlings to a separate document rather than to kill them off completely – a character or situation which might not fit one piece of work may suit another.

But there are many upsides to a writing life as well. The importance of small things, of celebrating the success of other writers and of keeping in mind the need to engage in the world around you. How the best you can expect is a life in which there is space and scope to write.

Write anyway – this was the overarching message. Embrace the power of creation, and believe in yourself as a writer.

[Photo: Lisa Chaplin, Malcolm Knox, Catherine Cole & Craig Cormick, left to right]

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Australian Wordsmiths

As Australia Day approaches (January 26), I’ve been thinking of Australian writers and the role they play in providing insights into Australian life and times.

In my memory, Australian authors seemed to hover on the peripheral of English studies in school. I vividly recall being introduced to Patrick White’s Tree of Man, then Voss and The Vivisector, but that was after high school had ended. I think we did study one of his plays,  Signal Driver. The preciseness of his language, the razor-sharp descriptions of landscapes and characters remain vivid in my mind.

Another influence in early adulthood was Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. Perhaps this contributed to an enduring interest in a mixture of goldfields and madness, the impact of circumstances and environments on people’s lives.

Landscape is an integral aspect of Tim Winton’s writing, and Dirt Music is a firmly lodged favourite although this might be because I picked up a soundtrack selected for this book and if a bluegrass song plays at random I am right back there, lost in the world of Georgie and Lu Fox.

Australian poets and playwrights were on the high school curriculum, including Judith Wright’sWoman to Child‘ and Ray Lawler’s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll as well as Michael Gow’s Away. I would struggle to recall any mathematical theorems or biological facts but I can recall with clarity the word picture created by Wright with the lines:

‘You who were the darkness warmed my flesh where out of darkness rose the seed. Then all a world I made in me; all the world you hear and see hung upon my dreaming blood.’

Have any Australian writers left a mark on you this Australia Day?

[Photo: some wattle blooms]