On Writing

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

An image of an open notebook and a person writing

A creative writing PhD looks pretty good on paper. A research adventure into a topic you find fascinating, mentoring from expert supervisors, immersion in a creative community and in some cases a scholarship to go with it, all with the aim of adding something new to the literary landscape.

But is it right for you?

PhD island can be a lonely one. You’ll be spending several years at the precipice of a research project that only you can complete. Just you, your laptop, your Endnote library and your over-full brain.

a portrait of Leanne Hall

The line between fantasy and reality can be fertile ground for writers. Ahead of her workshop, we spoke to Leanne Hall about seeing magic in everyday life, responding to strangeness and getting in touch with your inner weirdo.

A portrait of Nick Gadd standing

There’s an idea that the suburbs are banal, but Nick Gadd believes that there are seeds for stories everywhere in the shopping malls, bus stops, street signs and pavements we encounter everyday. Ahead of his workshop in Prahran, we spoke to Nick to find out how he stays curious about the suburbs. 

A portrait of Ellen van Neerven

The editing process is about more than just proofreading. Ahead of her September workshop on Editing and Enhancing Your Work, we asked Ellen van Neerven how she goes about tackling the editing process and what writers can do to make their work appealing to publishers.

Five years ago I would never have expected to be working full-time in publishing, let alone supporting two amazing agents at Australia’s largest literary agency. Every day is different and as an assistant you get to see the nuts and bolts of publishing – from reading first drafts and giving editorial feedback to being privy to overseas rights and film deals and the nitty gritty of contract negotiation and royalty statements. I feel really lucky to do the work I do and be paid for it, which means I can genuinely look forward to going to work every day.

With the pace of journalism increasing, it can be tempting to rush the writing process. But for Michael Green, journalist and producer of ‘Behind the Wire’ and the multi-awardwinning ‘The Messenger’ podcast, the most compelling stories come from taking a careful, considered approach to interviewing and writing, empowering your subjects and putting ethics at the heart of your work.

The tendency to look overseas for great literary works is hardly new. The notion of ‘cultural cringe’ (coined by AA Phillips¹ in 1950) describes an Australian assumption that ‘the domestic cultural product will be worse than the imported article’. We suppose it’s being done better internationally, and look to international markets as arbiters of taste. We measure our own successes against international works – both in terms of sales and reception – and maintain the baseline assumption that international work represents the highest level of achievement.

Professor Megan Davis recently presented the 2018 Human Rights Oration, ‘Towards a Treaty’, organised by the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

The distinguished English biographer Richard Holmes once described biography as ‘a handshake across time’. He was trying to draw out the degree to which writing a biography is ‘an act of human solidarity, and in its own way an act of recognition and of love’. This is surely true, but his analogy strikes me as somehow too cool. For me, writing a biography has been more like a big warm bear-hug across time, or maybe a wild, nose-in-the air, nose-to-the-ground fox-hunt across time.

It’s the opening night of the poetry festival in Heidelberg in Germany, one of the International Cities of Literature. Onstage stand a poet and musician who’ve travelled from Ballarat in regional Victoria. Nathan Curnow introduces his first poem, ‘Student Kiss’, about a famous Heidelberg chocolate. He’s googled those things that make Heidelberg unique and written poems to deliver. But he’s taking a risk; like saying ‘put another shrimp on the barbie’, it might not sit quite right. He gauges his audience as he shapes the delivery.