I spent a little time at the Brisbane Writers Festival recently. What struck me most was the huge variety of writing that was profiled – as well as all genres of fiction imaginable, we had poetry, translations, cartoons, journalism and writing games for iPods, to mention just a few. Memoirs and histories took pride of place, alongside science writing and social science treatises.
Academics spoke about influential reports and reviews they had authored; so did legal eagles. The social media came in for a good deal of scrutiny.
As I bussed it home I reflected that, courtesy of technology, these days we are all authors as well as readers, and our communications can be transmitted far and wide. There’s some responsibility attached to that.
Books can be a long time coming! I started putting ‘Pick and Choose’ together a couple of years ago. Most of my writing as been at the lighter end of crime. This collection started life as a collection of my other (ie non-crime) stories, most of which had been successful to some extent in competitions. Then I began to add bits and pieces – new stories, reflections on travel, and on life itself. When is a book finished? Probably never! but sometime the author has to let it go. That happened last week.
So finally, here it is, published only as an e-book. I hope its readers find something to entertain them, and something to ponder on.
I noticed him as soon as I strolled into my local park. The young man was lying on his stomach propped up on his elbows, staring into his phone. He was taking a selfie. His expression was dark, mournful, even grim. On my second circuit of the walking track he was sitting cross-legged, phone thrown on to the grass, and he was weeping noisily into a large handkerchief.
I was a bit nonplussed: should I speak to him? Try to offer comfort? I didn’t. As you don’t. But he’s been in my thoughts.
That’s probably because the writer inside me has been speculating. What was his story? Did his girlfriend dump him? Did he send her the selfie to show her how miserable he was? Did she text back something like – get over it? Worse- sent a happy photo of her with another bloke? Or was another story altogether?
One of the perils – and responsibilities – of being an author is critiquing the work of other writers. I’ve recently been reading a novella, a beautifully presented piece of work by a keen first time author. I remember the feeling well, of giving my very first real attempt at fiction to a respected writing colleague for an opinion. It was a bit like passing a cherished child over to the dentist!
I find it’s always a difficult balance to strike when I’m reviewing work in progress. It’s no mean feat for a new writer to produce a coherent 25,000 word story, and credit must be given for that. So where do I draw the line between praise and (hopefully) helpful criticism? The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone. But many writers fresh off the starting block see their first draft as the finished product, and want to send it off to be published while they get on to their next project. I have learned the hard way that I need to take at least as much time to rewrite as I do to write the first draft – of anything. Maybe that should be the last of my comments on this particular piece of work?
Anyway it’s been a salutary reminder that I should take a closer look at issues like pace and tension in my own fledgling novel. It’s all too easy to roll along, letting the characters tell their own story.
I’m always fascinated by the Big Picture. Look at this recreation of Central Australia which has been installed in the fabulous Cranbourne Gardens southeast of Melbourne. Someone was able to stand back and find the essence of the colours and the feel of our Red Centre, then plunge into the detail to find a way of representing it so vividly in a totally different climate.
My work in progress was put aside for a fortnight’s holiday. Of course it came with me – in my head. But instead of focussing on details, I was able to muse on my Big Picture: what is this story really about? what’s the point? what needs to happen for that point to be made? While I haven’t added many words I’ve now got a clearer idea where I’m heading with this novel. I never plot too far ahead, but all authors have to keep a grip on their Big Picture or their writing can start to meander.
Having a breather let me do some reading too. ‘Me, Antman and Fleabag’ by prizewinning Aboriginal author Gayle Kennedy is a sparkling collection of short stories about life as a ‘blackfulla’ – written in the vernacular, it’s funny, quirky, sad and above all insightful. This was one of several Australian books I took with me on my Kindle – what talent we have here.
There are plenty of roadblocks out there for writers. Emotional upheaval, money worries, family problems and illness probably head the list. We won’t mention writer’s block. Then there are the distractions of life that get between the fingers and the keyboards – like other (real) work and its deadlines, like Christmas and all the food and socialising it involves, and of course holidays.
I seem to be working my way through all those distractions at the moment, and blaming them for lack of progress on anything vaguely associated with my writing life. Now I’m ticking the last box and going on holiday for a fortnight. My iPad will come with me though – you never know when you might have a good idea and none of us can afford to let one of those get away!
So I would just like to wish all you keen readers out there a very happy reading new year for 2015 – may you discover some new authors that interest and excite you!