Why Writing?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Emma Noble

We asked Australia’s top authors, poets and illustrators – nominees for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards – why they chose their career, and their responses are as varied as their creations.

Meredith Lake, The Bible in Australia (Australian History):
Well, I became an historian – and found that it’s all about stories. But I’ve always loved reading, and even as a kid I was often making things with words.

Emily Rodda, His Name Was Walter (Children’s Fiction):
I loved reading so much as a child that I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be than someone who created stories. As I got older, my deep admiration for the authors I read made my ambition seem impertinent. But then I got older still, and in telling stories to my own children, I found my way back to writing.

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much Lip (Fiction):
Because Aboriginal stories needed to be told and heard more widely, and because, like most 25 year olds, I was an egomaniac.

Alison Whittaker, Blakwork (Poetry):
I liked doing it, it was useful, institutional chance lined up at the right time, and I had enduring support from people I loved.

Anna Haebich, Dancing in Shadows (Australian History):
I’ve always been reading, scribbling ideas, drawing. As a young girl I glimpsed a future career in the adventures of the Sally Baxter Girl Journalist series. But it was many years before I began to write and then it was about more serious matters. Working on a project with Nyungar researchers collecting family histories, stories and photographs I suddenly had a life changing insight: I love history. The sort that engages with people and places to make a difference. History that’s a verb not a noun. And this became the driving force for my writing career, whether I’m writing about Nyungar families, women and crime, the visual and performing arts, immigration or the places I live.

Cynthia Banham, A Certain Light (Non-Fiction):
I realised it was the only thing, apart from being with my family, that I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Billy Griffiths, Deep Time Dreaming (Australian History):
Writing is a way of making sense of the world. It helps me think.

Clare Atkins, Between Us (Young Adult Fiction):
I don’t feel like I had much of a choice about becoming a writer: I never stop dreaming up ideas and stories, and have always written, ever since I was a child. After university it felt like it was worth trying to turn that passion into a career. Work takes up so much of our lives - why not try to do something you love?

Eddie Ayres, Sonam and the Silence (Children’s Fiction):
Because being a musician is so difficult financially. Hang on a minute, and a writer’s bank balance is better? Hmm. I started to write because I had a story which wouldn’t be quiet until I told it.

Gail Jones, The Death of Noah Glass (Fiction):
I’m interested in the idea that reading and writing are ways of thinking and making sense.  So I didn’t become a writer to ‘express myself’; rather to understand, to contemplate and to imagine the lives of others.

Jill Jones, Viva the Real (Poetry):
To try to make sense of the world. To work through that in language.

Judith Beveridge, Sun Music: New and Selected Poems (Poetry):
To hang around words and find out what they could do.

Karen Foxlee, Lenny’s Book of Everything (Young Adult Fiction):
I have always loved telling stories. I fell in love with it very young and it was just something I always did, and that became part of me. There’s always been “another story’ waiting in my head for as long as I can remember.

Keri Glastonbury, Newcastle Sonnets (Poetry):
I started writing poetry as a high school student in the late 1980s when I attended Australia Council funded workshops with visiting poets through the Wagga Wagga Writers Writers. I met poets such as Les Murray, Kate Llewellyn and Judith Beveridge, who is also one of the poets shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in Poetry.

Kirli Saunders, The Incredible Freedom Machines (Children’s Fiction):
I’ve been blessed to be raised by storytellers and artists. When I was a child, I was often found drawing and painting. In my high school years, I had some really brilliant teachers who focused my interest in art and poetry.

I started writing with intention when I was studying my Honours in Primary Education at UOW. My favourite subject on children’s literature, had me captivated by picture books. I fell in love how they brought together art and poetry in evocative ways, and I wanted to be a part of their world.

My picture books originate from poems, and my paintings are often poems too (the ones I can’t quite find the words for). My love of poetry was gifted to me by a high school teacher, but it’s been through working at Red Room Poetry, and with wonderful publishers, mentors and editors at Scholastic, Magabala and Hardie Egmont that I’ve really found my voice.

Laura Elizabeth Woollett, Beautiful Revolutionary (Fiction):
It’s what I do best, quite simply. I have an articulacy on the page that I don’t have in my everyday life, and I’m thrilled by the process of choosing the right words to express the images and ideas in my head.

Matt Ottley, The Incredible Freedom Machines (Children’s Fiction):
I was often ill as a child and young adult and so much of my life was lived inwardly, as well as a passion for all things artistic and creative, for as long as I can remember.

Michael Gerard Bauer, The Things That Will Not Stand (Young Adult Fiction):
From a young age I fell in love with the power of words and stories and inevitably I dreamed of using my own words to create my own stories. I tried a few shorter things, including writing song lyrics, but eventually a story found me that demanded to be written. I thought if I was ever going to have a chance of being a publisher author, then this was story I should try to write.

Pam Brown, Click Here For What We Do (Poetry):
I started reading extracurricular books as a teenager and, under their influence, began writing my own poems.

Paul Genoni, Half the Perfect World (Non-Fiction):
I have no memory of ‘becoming’ a writer – no moment of choice, or even of perceiving myself to be such a thing. When I was a keen young reader it became apparent that there were skilful writers and not so skilful writers, and as it seemed that writing in all its forms was important I thought it mattered that I should try to be one of the former. But taking care with your writing skills doesn’t by itself make you a ‘writer’.

Sharon Kernot, The Art of Taxidermy (Young Adult):
I first began writing creatively when I was at university and decided to do children’s literature as a sub-major. Some of the literature topics included creative writing assignments and I really enjoyed them. Two of my lecturers encouraged me to submit my work to publishers and I had a couple of early successes so I continued from there. I’ll always be grateful to those early mentors who assisted and encouraged me to continue writing.

Suneeta Peres da Costa, Saudade (Fiction):
I am not sure it was a conscious decision. I think writers are unconsciously made through experiences that take place in their early and later environments and of course through gifts which are given to them, as they are distributed in so many ways across human nature and the natural world.

My siblings and I were quite creative and imaginative as children. Our games involved stories of witches and fairies down a concrete drain in the backyard and putting on plays to entertain relatives both here and in India. There was a plank of timber that rolled out of the top of a set of wardrobe drawers which we’d treat like a secret escritoire, scrawling on computer paper, the kind that had little perforations down the sides.

We were also keen on the local library. My older sibling was a big reader and I would try and copy her tastes. In my late teens, I discovered writers like Rilke and Kafka. Janet Frame and later Latin American and Indian literature in English became influences too, giving me a literary vernacular for the things I wanted to say about the world and my cultural identity.

Having grown up Catholic, the Bible was a powerful literary touchstone. One of the earliest stories I remember writing was in Year Two. It was a Catholic school and we were asked to write on one of the Gospel stories, a miracle, and I wrote about Jesus turning the water into wine. As I wrote the dialogue, something similar to the transubstantiation happened – a feeling of having slipped into the story and become a part of the world and drama of the wedding in Cana!

Later a high school, I had two wonderfully encouraging teachers – Mrs Lea (English) and Mrs Warren (Drama). At University I was lucky enough to be taught by the late novelist Glenda Adams and poet Martin Harrison who were gifted teachers and writers.

On my 21st birthday we were moving house and I was reading The Waves by Virginia Woolf, and I was thinking, maybe I can write a novel…

Tanya Dalziell, Half the Perfect World (Non-Fiction):
In Half the Perfect World, Paul Genoni and I explore a number of reasons why people sought out a writing life on a Greek island. Among these was the idea that writing might be a way of making sense of the world, particularly a post-war world. This desire to create meaning in some modest way I share, although I wouldn’t say that I made a conscious decision to start writing, or to start writing with that hope.

Rodney Hall, A Stolen Season (Fiction):
While still at school in Brisbane I was drawn to art and science. As I look back on this I realise my reasons: these are humanity’s two great systems for understanding ourselves and the world around us.

When I left school at 16—my marks were pretty dismal except for repeatedly coming top in mathematics—this was too young for science to be a workable option. Out in the world my hobbies obsessed me: writing, painting and playing baroque music. I could have taken any of these directions. The choice was made for me that year when I met the poet John Manifold who became my mentor. His encouragement was the deciding factor. A writer I would be. By seventeen I was committed.

Find out more about the shortlist for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards here: https://www.arts.gov.au/pm-literary-awards/current-awards