On Writing

Writers, editors, agents, publishers and more share their thoughts, experiences and stories.

Regional writing groups, literary organisations and arts organisations in Victoria are able to apply for grants of $880 to subsidise literary activities in their area, thanks to the support of the Grace Marion Wilson Trust.

On writing place so your reader will go anywhere with you.

I have been told on more than one occasion that I write about place and landscape beautifully, that my visceral writing about Australia helps my readers feel like they are travelling in those places. It’s challenging to unpack how I do it, though, as I am not aware of learning or consciously studying how to write places. You can imagine, I am sure, how hard it is to explain something I was not aware of ever knowing.

I recently wrote a book called ‘Blue Lake: Finding Dudley Flats and the West Melbourne Swamp’. The book centres on telling the fragmentary history of a large blind spot in the west of Melbourne. The site, which takes in the entire area between the city’s CBD and Footscray, was once a lush wetland but has since become a labyrinth of industrialised discontinuity that has no particular name. European settlement reduced it to a muddy swamp, dredged it to make the city’s docks and ports, and infilled it with refuse.

1. Something familiar: convincing ourselves we are not ‘something’ enough. As writers, before or after we put something to a page we are likely to question whether or not we’re close enough to the subject in order to fully capture it. In writing class, the most common question the class asks our lecturer is: can we write a place we’ve never been to, but know about, or a place we’ve spent minimal time in? Or, can we write a person we don’t fully live inside the shoes of but can empathise with?

It is early 2016 and, after being ‘on submission’ for eight months, my first book for young adults, ‘What the Woods Keep’, finally has a home with a publisher: Imprint, part of Macmillan in the US. ‘It takes about two years to launch a YA debut’, my agent warns me once we receive the interested publisher’s long-awaited formal offer. Responding to my numerous ‘is this really happening?’ follow-up queries, the agent assures me that this is indeed very much happening, and then reminds me for the thousandth time that ‘publishing is slow’.

 

I am a Palyku woman who comes from generations rich in story. Many of those stories were carried on the inside. Many had to be; for in a colonised land, it was not safe for Indigenous voices to speak. We had much taken from us, including our stories, which continue to be appropriated still. My work is given many labels, such as ‘young adult’, ‘speculative fiction’ and ‘literature’. But all these words come from Western story traditions. What do they mean to me, an Aboriginal writer?

When I tell people that I’ve written a verse novel they often look at me blankly and ask what that means exactly. I explain that it’s a novel written in verse, in poetry. According to the Australian Poetry Library, ‘A verse novel tells a long and complex story with many characters, much as a prose novel would, through the medium of narrative verse. The verse may be blank verse in the manner of Shakespeare, or free verse, or (less often) formal rhymed verse of any type.’

Before you are a debut author, you spend all your time hoping that you’ll become one – that all your toiling away, locked in a little room with your paper and pen, or your laptop, will finally produce a work of art that a publisher will read and think, ‘yes, we simply must to publish this’.

The recent increase in online mentoring and pitching events has opened new pathways for Australian writers to gain exposure to overseas industry contacts and expand their writing community. But, as with all opportunities, it’s important to ensure it’s right for you and your work.