Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Pearls of Wisdom from the Melbourne Writer’s Festival …

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The count down is on. My brother’s flight is scheduled to arrive at 12:40am. It is running late. We are now looking at 1:08. I have time to share my pearls of wisdom with you, snippets of disjointed information that I have picked up at the writer’s festival.

First, a quote:

Truth in her dress finds facts too tight. In fiction she moves with ease. (Tagore)

The experiences you write about can be quite ordinary. If you write about the ordinary with intensity and feeling it comes alive. (Alice Pung).

Don’t tell the reader a character’s feelings. Give them a way of seeing it, feeling it, hearing it. Arnold Zable, illustrated this by citing an example from a student he was teaching who hated writing.

Zable asked the kid what he did on the weekend.

He said: ‘Surfing.’

‘What was it like,’ Zable asked.

The kid said: ‘Awesome.’

Zabel asked him: ‘What was so awesome about it?’

The kid said: ‘Words can’t describe it.’

After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing, Zable said: ‘Close your eyes. Imagine you are on a surf board. Tell me what you see?’

The kid said: ‘The water is a wall like glass shimmering. (I can’t remember the exact words but it was very poetic).

Zable said: ‘Tell me what you hear?’

‘I hear wind rushing through a tunnel.’

‘Tell me what you feel?’

‘I rise on wings like a bird, flying.’

Zable then asked us. Do I need to tell you how he is feeling?

Tim Winton was asked what story model he used when plotting. He said he does not use any. Which is all very well, if you are a genius but not very useful for a pleb like me.

Robert Muchamore, a children’s writer, was inspired to write by his nephew who could not find anything to read. He said, the nephew still hadn’t read his books.

What did I learn from this? You can’t please everyone.

Muchamore personally thanked us, the volunteers, for our assistance. I will be recommending his books heavily in future.

Emily Rodda talked about finding ideas in the ordinary, everyday and how they became fantasy. One such example came from watching a wasp drag a paralysed spider into its mud nest and sealing it inside for its young to eat. The children were delighted to recall an instance in which some of her characters were trapped in a mud cave.

Melina Marchetta said her stories always start with character and grow from there.

Lili Wilkinson said she writes a ‘zero draft,’ a draft that no one gets to see. From that she learns what she wants to write about and builds the ‘first’ draft.

Lili read Trixie Belden books as a child (among other things). She also used to chew her books. She showed us examples of books that had most definitely been munched. Remind me to check if she is one of our library patrons and suspend her membership.

John Marsden writes with the TV on in the background. He read Enid Blyton books as a child (yeah). I admired his honesty. He is a born storyteller. He is also a teacher. He directed one of his comments at some boys who were reading from a newspaper(ouch!).

Margo Lanagan likes an envirnoment free from distractions.

In Kate Mosse’s session I put my hand up and asked my first ever Writing Festival question. I attribute this newfound courage to my job share partner Philippa. She told me you get more out of a conference if you read the latest book of each speaker. I have spent the last week reading Labyrinth and have Sepulchre in my TBR pile.

Mosse’s books have two stories, a historical one and a modern one, intertwined and interlinked, but distinct. I asked if she wrote them separately or wove them together as she wrote.

She explained that she wrote the historical strand first, then the modern one, to keep their voices distinct. Then she went back and put them together, crafting cutting and shaping. Finally she wrote the last ten chapters, tying up all the stands and links.

I was pleased with her answer because it is how I imagined I would tackle it. More important by far was that immediately I asked the question, she looked up into the crowd, beyond the spotlights and asked:

‘Are you a writer?’

I called out: ‘A wannabe.’

She said: ‘Well, that is a good question, a writer’s question, and good luck with your book.’

It was the highlight of the festival for me.

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1 Comment

  1. Oh GOOD question. You got to hear Mr. Winton? well done. I didn’t even try, I figured it would be a packed session. But it was sweet to see him at the awards on the Friday.

    Have been reading down the page here, Liz, and about to fly off with half a dozen other family things too – but congratulations on your reviewing position! and on your 21 year old and valedictorian, they both look beautiful.

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