On Writing

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

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.

Girls are funny. I say that because my female pals can lighten up even the heaviest of days. I say that because, when I teach and visit schools, I witness girls making each other laugh until they cry.

Photo of Arnold Zable

Advocacy is very often about telling stories that struggle to be heard. An experienced advocate and storyteller both, Arnold Zable spoke to Deanne Sheldon-Collins about some of the issues he was to cover in his February 2015 workshop, including the importance and complications of writing for social justice.

A portrait of Anna Snoekstra

ERG: Can you talk a little about how you came to be a crime writer? Have you always been a fan of the genre?

AS: I’ve always loved suspenseful films. For a long time, I was infatuated with Film Noir, and loved trying to pick apart the ways tension was built and released in a story. I have always been a big reader, but was never really interested in crime novels. I think this is because I always saw them as very male and very conventional: a dead woman, a detective, a bad guy. It didn’t interest me.

A portrait of Kathryn Heyman

2019 Summer School: Writing Your Way to the End: Plotting, Momentum and Re-Drafting

CJ: Your first memoir is coming out soon. Has the process of finding narrative structure or ‘plot' in your memoir been different to that of your novels?