Tag Archives: Natasha Lester

2, 2 and 2: Natasha Lester talks about A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald

UnknownIt’s a pleasure to welcome Natasha Lester to 2, 2 and 2. Natasha has been a writer friend for several years (see the Writers Ask Writers series of posts) and I’ve had the privilege of reading, in draft form, parts of the novel she is about to release, so I know that readers are in for a treat!

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald (Hachette Australia) is Natasha’s third book, and she already has her fourth ready to follow in April 2017. Her previous novels are What is Left Over After (2010, winner of the TAG Hungerford Award for an unpublished manuscript) and If I Should Lose You (2012). She is well known as a writing teacher and mentor, and has been described by The Age newspaper as ‘a remarkable Australian talent’.

Here’s the blurb for A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald:

It’s 1922 in the Manhattan of gin, jazz and prosperity. Women wear makeup and hitched hemlines—and enjoy a new freedom to vote and work. Not so Evelyn Lockhart, forbidden from pursuing her passion: to become one of the first female doctors.

Chasing her dream will mean turning her back on the only life she knows: her competitive sister, Viola; her conservative parents; and the childhood best friend she is expected to marry, Charlie.

And if Evie does fight Columbia University’s medical school for acceptance, how will she support herself? So when there’s a casting call for the infamous late-night Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, will Evie find the nerve to audition? And if she does, what will it mean for her fledgling relationship with Upper East Side banker Thomas Whitman, a man Evie thinks she could fall in love with, if only she lived a life less scandalous?

And now over to Natasha:

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2 things that inspired your book

1 Bizarrely, a biography of Emily Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon, was the thing that really kicked the idea off. And no, I’m not a huge Emily Dickinson fan, nor am I a big biography reader. It was really a moment of serendipity. I was at the Perth Writers’ Festival in 2012 and Lyndall Gordon was speaking about her book and for some reason I went along to the session—I don’t know why but I’m so glad I did! Lyndall spoke so feelingly about Emily Dickinson and her biography that I just had to buy it. One of the things the biography touched on was the fact that in the mid to late nineteenth century, a very small number women began to go to university for the first time, even though it was very much frowned upon by society. Of course, these days, women go to university and nobody thinks twice about it, so I was fascinated by the idea that university used to be, for women, an exception rather than the norm. Being the evil novelist I am, I began to wonder what would be the most unacceptable thing for a woman to study at university and it was medicine, with obstetrics right at the top of that list. That was when I knew I had my book.

2 The other inspiration was a scribbled note I’d written down after watching an ABC documentary on the history of music about 10 years ago. One of the segments in the documentary was about an infamous Broadway revue called the Ziegfeld Follies and I thought to myself at the time: wow, that would be a fabulous setting for a novel. So, a woman studying obstetrics in New York combined with my scribbled note about the Ziegfeld Follies in New York became, via a long and winding road, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald.

2 places connected with your book

1 New York is the lifeblood of my book. It wouldn’t be the same without that city. It’s a city I love, a city with a huge history, but it’s also a city of opposites: uptown and downtown, the east side and the west side, skyscrapers and tenements. And it’s those contrasts that I play with in my book: two sisters who are unalike, yet related by blood; two brothers who are the obverse of the other, yet love the same woman; the struggle of a woman to break into the world of medicine and obstetrics against the wishes of all the men in charge; the life that goes on in a boardinghouse in Greenwich Village versus that which takes place in a mansion on the Upper East Side. All the places I’ve used in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald actually existed, from the New Amsterdam Theatre at 42nd Street, to the Sloane Hospital for Women on Amsterdam Avenue, to Chumley’s speakeasy in Greenwich Village, and Minetta Street, where Evie lives, on one of the few curving streets in the city.
[The following photos were taken by Natasha on a research trip to New York.]

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Grove Court, Greenwich Village

 

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Perry Street, just off Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village

2 Evie grows up in Concord, Massachusets, which is where Louisa May Alcott lived, and where she wrote Little Women. I wanted Evie to grow up outside Manhattan so that the decision to go to medical school involves not only a complete shift in the direction of her life, but also a physical shift in terms of where she lives. And Little Women was a source of inspiration to me when I was writing—it’s a book about sisters, as is mine—so I thought it was fitting to set part of A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald in Concord. It’s completely unlike New York City, full of pastel-coloured timber houses and so much greenery, so it lends another contrast, plus it’s close to Radcliffe College, where Evie initially goes to school. I visited both Concord and New York when researching the book, which meant I was able to write with a full and complete picture of both places in my head.

2 favourites from the book

1 The 1920s has a very specific set of slang words, which I just loved using. Terms like panther sweat for whiskey, spifflicated for drunk, hotsy-totsy for excellent, and billboard for a flashy woman. Plus the animal anatomical phrases, used to signify that something is great: cat’s whiskers, cat’s meow, cat’s pyjamas, butterfly’s boots, bee’s knees, elephant’s eyebrows. I had lots of fun with all of these.

2 One of my favourite quotes from the book is the first line of Part 2, where we jump ahead two years in time. Our last impression of Evie at the end of Part 1 is as a determined woman who’s decided to go ahead with medical school no matter what the cost to her reputation, but she’s still a relatively polite person, and a little afraid of what her decision will mean. Then she has this line of dialogue at the start of Part 2 and we know instantly that things have changed: she’s much braver now, and she’s prepared to fight. Her supervisor at the hospital, a man who can’t comprehend the idea of a female obstetrician, has just told Evie, in front of all the other medical students, that she’s not qualified to have an opinion about birthing women, and this is Evie’s response:

‘Given that I possess one, I think I have a more intimate knowledge of the vagina than any man could ever lay claim to. That should make me well qualified to be an obstetrician,’ Evie said.

Exactly!!!

A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald will be in stores on 26 April.
Visit Natasha’s website
Find out more at Hachette Australia

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Review of Australian Fiction special WA volume: issue #5

The new issue of Review of Australian Fiction has just been published, no. 5 in the special volume showcasing WA writers, edited by Laurie Steed. I’ve just read my subscription copy—with a great deal of pleasure, too, as Natasha and Yvette are members of a much-valued writing group I belong to.

Natasha Lester, with two published novels (What Is Left Over, After, winner of the T.A.G. Hungerford Award; and If I Should Lose You) is the established writer of this pairing. Natasha’s third novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, is due out in April 2016. Paired with Natasha is Yvette Walker, whose stunning debut novel Letters to the End of Love won the 2014 WA Premier’s Book Award in the WA Emerging Writer category and was shortlisted for a 2014 NSW Premier’s Award (Glenda Adam’s Award for New Writing).

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Natasha’s story, ‘The Maelstrom’, re-creates New York City in the wake of Hurricane Sandy—scenes that resonate with me, as I happened to be there too a few days after Sandy hit. The story begins with a line borrowed from a Joan Didion essay:

She went to New York to stop herself from asking her husband for a divorce. But now she is sitting in a hotel in the East Village in the dark. She cannot turn on the lights because there is no power. She cannot flush the toilet because there is no water. She cannot telephone anyone to tell them she is fine because the phones don’t work. She cannot send an email because every network in the city is down. She is trapped in a speculative kind of fiction with an uncertain ending. Needless to say, this is not what she had in mind when she decided to go.

In Yvette’s story, ‘Brown Paper Parcels’, the protagonist, Kathryn, becomes enmeshed in the world of Forster’s Howards End as she rides the train to Fremantle:

Kathryn stood on the train platform reading Howards End. Margaret Schlegel had intercepted Mrs Wilcox at King’s Cross Station, having decided after all to accept Mrs Wilcox’s invitation to Howards End. Kathryn would have loved to hear the rattle of Pullman carriages, the curse of a surly porter; to watch cigarette smoke curl around the fingers of a young man, ash and lint about his coat. Perhaps all the decades of reading Forster had finally seeped into her blood. The train for Fremantle arrived. Kathryn closed Howards End and stepped into the first carriage.

RAF publishes two stories every two weeks, delivered in mobi (for Kindle) or ePub (for iPhone/iPad, Kobo, Nook, Readmill) format. Individual issues of RAF are $2.99. A subscription for six issues is $12.99.

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Writers ask writers: tools of the trade

MWF Ang_portraitThis month on Writers Ask Writers, we’re talking tools of the writer’s trade, and I’m delighted to welcome our special guest, Melbourne crime writer Angela Savage. I’ve just read the first in Angela’s Jane Keeney PI series (Behind the Night Bazaar), set in Chiang Mai, and can’t wait to read the rest (The Half-Child and The Dying Beach).

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I don’t really think myself as having ‘tools of trade’, although I have a studio full of ‘stuff’ that probably qualifies. Here’s a random selection:

DSCN4018Reference books: shelves and shelves of them, accumulated over three decades of work as a book editor—many, perhaps most, of them pre-dating the internet.

Stationery: I couldn’t get by without my post-it notes, markers in every colour, and more pens and pencils than the average person would use in a lifetime. My late Burmese cat, Daisy, once famously ate all the post-it notes off the side of a manuscript, which is why her successor is not allowed on the desk!
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DSCN4004Notebooks: ordinary A4 or foolscap lined lecture books, plus travel journals in all shapes and sizes.

Talismans: because I am open to the idea of good luck (not bad).
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Manila folders: possibly half the world’s supply, and yes, I know what’s in most of them, although on occasion I’ve been surprised.

100_5941Tea: I drink copious volumes every day, at least partially as part of the creative process (time out).

Heavy-duty airconditioner: because I live in Perth!
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Technology: I love my MacBook Pro—I’ve been using Macs since Macs began—and I work with Microsoft Word and the Macquarie Online dictionary.

That list only scratches the surface, and it excludes all the pinup boards, archive boxes and research books specific to each of my books. It also excludes these:

DSCN4026because I’ve given them up. Honest.

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Here are the links to posts by the other writers, who all have interesting things to say about their tools of trade.

Angela Savage: ‘I love Chinese-made notebooks with nonsensical English phrases on the cover like “Health is the things that makes you feel that now is the best time of the year”…’—Read more here

Annabel Smith: ‘I make notes with a pencil and am especially fond of the ones made out of recycled Chinese newspapers—they are beautifully smooth—and sustainable—what more could a gal want?’—Read more here

Natasha Lester: ‘[Scrivener] is a note-taker, a word-processor, a scene organiser, a research collector, an organiser, a motivator; in short, it’s a miracle.’—Read more here

Sara Foster: ‘I like perforated notebooks so I can tear out pages and collate them properly. I save the pretty notebooks for diaries instead.’—Read more here

Emma Chapman: ‘I made myself a crucial “inspiration board” to remind myself that this process isn’t always easy, but that the most important thing is to keep going.’—Read more here

Dawn Barker: ‘If I write in the morning, a strong flat white. If I write in the evening once the children have fallen asleep, a big glass of wine.’—Read more here

What are your idiosyncrasies when it comes to tools of trade?

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Writers ask writers: why I write

This month’s question in the Writers Ask Writers blog series is particularly challenging, and one that writers are often asked: Why do you write? Here is my response, followed by links to posts from Dawn Barker, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, Natasha Lester and Annabel Smith.

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In an online article entitled 15 Famous Authors on Why They Write (Flavorwire), we’re told George Orwell listed four reasons: ‘sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose’—to which he added, in the process undercutting his own certainty: ‘All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.’

The same article quotes Joan Didion as saying: ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’

I find my own instincts far more allied to Joan’s than to George’s.

Another online article (an organisation called Author’s Promoter) boasts a pie chart, representing the results of a survey of 100 published authors. Why do writers write?

As a way to express themselves (15%)
Because they have to (13%)
To help others (13%)
To educate (11%)
To share their imagination (8%)
To influence (6%)
Because they are influenced by other writers (6%)
Because it is a passion and a pleasure (5%)
Because it is therapeutic (5%)
Because it is their profession (3%)
To entertain (2%)
To immortalise themselves or others (2%)
For exposure and fame (2%)
Because they were victims of circumstance (2%)
Because of curiosity (2%)

Now, unless my calculator is faulty, that adds up to 95%, but let’s not quibble.

Once again I find myself with Joan rather than with the 100 published authors who took part in the survey.

In thinking about how to answer this seemingly simple question, I have meandered up and down a few paths—the philosophical, the aesthetic, the downright flippant (Why do I write? It’s not for the money!)—finally leaning towards the existential.

And so I offer a simple analogy.

In 1998, during a holiday to the UK, I travelled to Scotland for the first time. My husband and I drove up through the spine of England, crossed into the west of Scotland, passed through Glasgow, drove north alongside Loch Gare—eventually, that is, after going south for some time thanks to a wrong turn insisted on by the navigator, ahem, me—and finally into the Highlands, our destination. The area around Glencoe was the most spectacular, rugged, luminescent landscape I had ever seen, and I fell utterly in love with it. But my seduction had begun almost as soon as we crossed the border. The outer-city sprawl of Glasgow, the sparse Lowlands, the narrow road winding round the lake, signposted with warnings like BEWARE OF FALLING SHEEP, the dour faces and deadpan humour of people in bars and cafes—I had looked on all of these things and felt a slap of recognition: So this is where I come from. Ancestrally, this was true. But I am two generations removed from my nearest Scottish forebear; I never expected to feel such a visceral connectedness to a place so far from what I’d always thought of as my place.

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A few years before this, I had decided to take some Creative Writing units at university. I’d had a patchy kind of background in writing. In primary school, ‘composition’, as it was called then, was my favourite subject. At thirteen, I had my first poem published in the school magazine. In the same year I wrote my first ‘novel’ (about fifteen pages, I think) and was crushed when my English teacher did not value my sense of melodrama and cautioned me against plot contrivances like gypsy fortune-tellers. I also wrote execrable song lyrics in my twenties. However, by the time I enrolled in writing classes at university, I had been working as a book editor for many years and my motivation for choosing these units was closely tied to that rather than to any ambition to be a writer. I wanted to understand the creative processes of the writers I worked with and to put myself on the other side of the red pen, to feel what it was like to have my work critically assessed and edited. I thought it would make me a better editor, and I think it did. But it also gave me a light-bulb moment: So this is what I’m supposed to be doing. And I think I’d had to reach the right time of my life to flick that switch.

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These two moments of clarity come from the same place, have same constituent cells—the blood and tissue and neurons of identity. What I do. Who I am.

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Here are links to the reasons my Writers Ask Writers friends offered. Every one of these rang true for me. And how about you? Easy question? Or does it get you thinking?

Annabel Smith: …it has to do with the creative impulse, with creating something from nothing, with the deep satisfaction of pounding at a sentence, a paragraph, and beyond, to create something which others will connect with and be moved by. —Read more here

Natasha Lester:  …my reasons have to do with being a child and then a teenager and then a young woman and now a much older woman who still finds herself lost in the world of a book.—Read more here

Sara Foster: I write to try to look life in the eye—both when it thrills me and when it terrorises me. I write to explore the vagaries of human nature, the dichotomy of what is said and what is done. —Read more here

Emma Chapman: Writing offers you the chance to imagine a life wildly different to your own, and being a dreamy teenager at the time, any life seemed more interesting than my mish-mash of school and home.—Read more here

Dawn Barker: writing is an escape, an intellectual challenge, and an incredibly frustrating puzzle that gives me immense satisfaction when I solve it. —Read more here

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Writers ask writers: author for a day

kirstenkrauth_webThis month in our Writers Ask Writers series, the question posed is: If you could jump into the life of another author, past or present, for one day, who would it be and why? And it’s a pleasure to welcome, as guest blogger for August, Kirsten Krauth, who has recently released her accomplished debut novel, just_a_girl, described as ‘a Puberty Blues for the digital age’. There are links at the end to Kirsten’s choice of author, along with those of Annabel Smith, Natasha Lester, Sara Foster, Emma Chapman and Dawn Barker.

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Katharine Susannah Prichard seems to have been a presence in my life since the beginning of my writing career. The first validation I ever received as a writer was as winner of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award in 1996. And a few years later, a story of mine called ‘The prospect of grace’, which draws on the lives of four famous couples including Katharine Susannah Prichard and Hugo Throssell, won the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to the literary journal Westerly (the story has since been included in Inherited).

DSCN3567I have been a member of the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre, in the Perth hills suburb of Greenmount, for many years, and last weekend I spent a few hours there fulfilling my duties as a member of the Literary Advisory Board. Serendipitous, because it gave me an opportunity to take a photograph of the lovely old weatherboard house that was once Katharine’s home and place of work, and is now still a place where writers work—and learn and share writerly things.

Katharine Susannah Prichard was productive in her long lifetime. It makes me reel to think of what she achieved: 13 novels (translated into 13 foreign languages for international publication), 10 plays, five short story collections, two volumes of poetry, an autobiography, a work of non-fiction, and many pamphlets and articles. I doubt there are many literary writers who could come close today.

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While I admire this amazing output, it is not the reason I would choose to be Katharine Susannah Prichard for a day.

Nor is it because she had an especially happy life. She did not—or so it appears, at this distance, to me. I don’t doubt that there was happiness, both through her writing and in her personal life; one only has to read the passionate dedication to Hugo Throssell in her autobiography, Child of the Hurricane, to know there was love:

To you, all those wild weeds
and wind flowers of my life,
I bring, my lord,
and lay them at your feet;
they are not frankincense
or myrrh
but you were Krishna, Christ and Dionysus
in your beauty, tenderness and strength.

But she also lived through unbearable personal sadness, losing her father and, later, her husband to suicide. And as someone who cared deeply about social justice, and believed in fighting for something better for all of humanity, happiness frequently eluded her.

As a young journalist, she worked in the slums of Melbourne, witnessing the plight of women slaving in sweatshops. In 1908–09, she spent a year in England, a time of hunger marches, Salvation Army soup kitchens and extreme poverty—symptomatic of a fraying social fabric (as Virginia Woolf was to say, ‘On or about December 1910, human character changed’). Returning to England just before the First World War, she remained there throughout the war years, and took part in suffragette marches and feminist lectures on women’s issues such as birth control. For a week in 1914 she reported from the battlefront in France.

These experiences deepened her compassion for the powerless, a thread running through so many of her novels—exploited Aboriginal women in Coonardoo (and the play Brumby Innes), returned servicemen in Intimate Strangers, struggling timber workers in Working Bullocks.

DSCN3573They also formed in her a great interest in pacifism and socialism and, later, in communism—and this last made her a target of official inquiry. It took guts to be a communist in those times. She became known as ‘the Red Witch of Greenmount’, and during the years of the Second World War her house was searched and she was put under surveillance amid fears that she was signalling from the hills to enemy craft at sea!

It’s not because I long to be notorious that I would wish myself into Katharine’s skin.

But I admire Katharine Susannah Prichard. I admire her commitment and her compassion—and especially her fearlessness. And that is why I would like to be her for a day. I would like to feel that kind of fearlessness in my blood. I harbour a suspicion that I might also find it an adulterated brew, tainted with the self-doubt and uncertainty that are found in any writer. But I imagine, I am sure, there is much I could learn about courage from this remarkable woman, this compassionate writer.

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Here are the links to companion posts from our group and guest Kirsten Krauth:

Kirsten Krauth: When I was a kid, a family member was obsessed with [Leonard Cohen] … I always rolled my eyes; it’s so embarrassing when adults think their music is cool.—Read more here

Annabel Smith: [As Truman Capote] the day would begin with me lounging in my smoking jacket while I opened my mail, including fan mail, letters of outrage about my sexuality and moral degeneracy …—Read more here

Natasha Lester: [Joan Didion] made meaning out of her life. She wrote about unique experiences in a way that made them seem commonplace and connective.—Read more here

Sara Foster: I will go back to a day in 1990 on a crowded train and become JK Rowling the moment she met Harry Potter in her imagination for the first time …—Read more here

Emma Chapman: I wanted to write about the stereotype of the ideal writer: someone who is free to write when they want, read when they want, and take the day off when they want. That’s the life I wanted …—Read more here

Dawn Barker: Mary Shelley … had lots of trauma in her life, but she had one wonderful summer that would change her life and propel her into literary history.—Read more here

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Writers ask writers: books that changed my life

hannah richellIt’s a pleasure to welcome Hannah Richell, author of Secrets of the Tides and the recently released The Shadow Year, as our guest in this month’s Writers Ask Writers series. Great to have you with us, Hannah!

Our question is: What are the books that have changed your life? I’ve really had to think about this because I suspect every book you read changes your life, in the same way that every day you live changes your life—imperceptibly, infinitesimally, incrementally. But with some books—as with some days—the impact is more profound, although it might only be with hindsight that you realise this.

It’s large, this latter category, so I’ve limited myself to an eclectic group of four—two that helped confirm me as a lifelong reader and two that, in surprising ways (considering they are non-fiction), affected the kind of writer I would become:

md4201611800Enid Blyton’s exotic school series

Exotic? Well, to a schoolgirl in Western Australia, the world of boarding schools was exotic. And this world was unfolded, year by year, in Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St Clare’s series in which girls played mystifying games like lacrosse and had midnight feasts and learned French (there was always a Mam’zelle), and there had to be something almost mystically wise, inviolably good, about the individual destined to scale the heights to become Head Girl. This was my first experience of narrative compulsion—I was avid for the next book, and the next, to find out what would happen to characters whose lives I had become invested in. Imagine it: a series set in a school with a set of characters who grow with each book; a school peopled with quirky teachers and a saintly but twinkly eyed, much revered headmistress; boarders of all kinds with faults to overcome and talents to develop; a place where lifelong friendships are formed; where games are played and lessons learned. Sounding familiar? I’ve always thought the Harry Potter series owes a debt to these early models.

1298405-3263547853-lLittle Women (1868)

Louisa May Alcott’s Civil War era story of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy is the first book I loved so much that I re-read it until the pages wore away. I responded to its story of love, family, friendship; its internal storytelling (there’s so much reading or acting out or writing of stories); its coming-of-age struggles; its grave, moving handling of death; its gentle humour and honouring of the joy to be found in ordinary things. The writer character, Jo, probably inspired generations of girls to write, but I always found Amy more interesting—Amy the artist, flawed, honest, kind, much maligned as trivial and shallow (I always knew she was anything but).

DSCN3407Biological Science: The Web of Life (1973)

A high school textbook? On science? Those who know me might find this hard to credit, but I loved this book because (although I couldn’t have articulated this back in high school) it was my introduction to ideas about the environment, the body, genetics, evolution—ideas that continue to interest me and find their way into my writing. I also hated this book because I had to read it, and learn it, and regurgitate it for examiners; I can still recite kingdom–phylum–class–order–family–genus–species (the order of biological classification) in the same way that I can recite aus–bei–mit–von–nach–zu–gegenüber–ausser–seit–entgegen (German prepositions that take the dative case). DSCN3406I’m so glad that love trumped hate and I kept this well-worn, much annotated, falling-to-bits copy. And the last time I opened it I found a few brittle flowers pressed between the pages.

100_5886The People of Perth (1979)

Tom Stannage’s social history of my own city—personally significant also because it was my first paid proofreading assignment—introduced me to a new kind of writing about the past, anchored not in dates and figures but in people’s lives. And not royalty or statesmen or founding fathers, not just those elevated by wealth or political prominence, by race or gender or class—but convicts and servants, women from all walks of life, Aboriginal people, children and the elderly, dissidents and artists, criminals and drunkards.  In 1979, the year of the state’s sequi-centenary, this book was a revelation. I’ve returned to it many times in the course of research, and this piece by S. A. Jones suggests its influence on me as a writer.

I could equally have included—for different reasons—Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, the entire Agatha Christie catalogue, My Place by Sally Morgan, Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson, everything Gail Jones has written …

What are the books that have changed your life? It’s interesting to see the diversity of titles, plus a couple of shared favourites, among the Writers Ask Writers group.

Hannah Richell: Inside were the Greek Myths, stories of brutal gods and powerful goddesses, fallible mortals and amazing, mystical creatures. They were fairy tales on steroids, filled with the sort of racy content that boggled my young brain and left a lasting impression.—Read more here

Dawn Barker: [We Need to Talk about Kevin] was the book that has had the biggest influence on my own writing career, because this is the book that made me realise that I could write Fractured … as soon as I started reading it, I had a physical reaction: my heart sped up, my skin tingled.—Read more here

Emma Chapman: I just couldn’t get enough of [The Magic Faraway Tree]: the endless possibilities of the worlds at the top of the tree, the whimsical characters. It’s the first time I remember getting lost in a book.—Read more here

Sara Foster: [In The Elephant Whisperer] I got so much from Lawrence Anthony’s balanced reflections on what it is possible for humans to achieve, how we can know so much yet understand so little, and how our blind spots are failing us.—Read more here

Natasha Lester: [Little Women] inspired me so much that it kickstarted the idea for the book I’m currently working on and I was very lucky to visit Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord just last week.—Read more here

Annabel Smith: I read Don DeLillo’s White Noise in my second year of university, aged twenty or so. It was the first time I had encountered what appeared on the surface to be a book about nothing—the minutiae of one somewhat dysfunctional family’s life—but turned out to be a book about EVERYTHING.—Read more here

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Writers ask writers: dealing with discouragement

This month, the question posed in our Writers Ask Writers blog series came from one of Annabel Smith’s readers: How do you maintain interest in your project when you’re discouraged?

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Becoming discouraged during the course of writing can happen for various reasons. Sometimes, for me, it’s because the editor who sits on my shoulder, who has to be levered off with whatever sharp stick I can find, refuses to go and won’t be silenced, and the air is filled with waspish, deflating questions like So what?

Discouragement is likely to result in despair and gloom. General prickliness in response to  everyday questions. Sometimes a kind of creative paralysis. Extreme anxiety. But with the exception of one abandoned novel many years ago, it hasn’t resulted in a loss of interest.

One of the reasons I did lose interest in that long abandoned novel is that, as a neophyte knowing nothing, I read everything, and everything seemed to suggest you needed things like a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline, and a 20-page back-story for every character, and a clear vision of what you were wanting to say before you started. Well, I tried that, and I lost everything: momentum, enthusiasm, motivation.

It wasn’t until I went to a workshop in 2000 presented by Australian novelist Sue Woolfe that I discovered that there are many ways to write a novel. The workshop was attended by several experienced writers I admired and they seemed to be grappling with the same things that I was. Sue Woolfe’s startling proposition, a proposition that she and Kate Grenville also put forward in their edited collection Making stories: how ten Australian novels were written, was that it was OK not to plan, not to know. That in fact, not planning and not knowing could be a process in itself. I discovered there were many novelists who worked this way, finding their way as they went, through the writing itself, drawing on that well of ideas, research, thinking and wondering that compelled them to begin, carrying (to appropriate Adrienne Rich’s metaphor in ‘Diving into the wreck’) a knife, a camera, a book of myths. And so evolved the sketchy, spidery process I now use.

But …

This way of working has its difficulties.

It is not certain, and it is not comfortable. And it is another of the reasons why discouragement can set in.

I’m still working out what is the best way, for me, of dealing with this—I try different strategies, and the way forward often seems to lie in the space between persevering and allowing time for sifting and settling. But I do have a few mantras that help me keep the faith:

‘There is no way to be a writer and be comfortable.’—Eva Sallis (Hornung),  Text, 3 (2), 1999

‘Trust that the story is there.’—author unknown

‘Mastery [of the art of writing] is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.’—John Gardner, The Art of Fiction (2001)

As for comfort along the way, I put my faith in this:

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and this:

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To read how my writer friends deal with discouragement, click on the links below. It’s reassuring to know you’re not the only one to run into a brick wall from time to time! If you have some strategies that work for you, I’d love to hear about them.

Dawn Barker: That is the reason I write: when I feel like the project is going nowhere, something happens that starts it all again: the thrill, the excitement when you know that you can write something that might just work.—Read more here

Emma Chapman: … it’s easy, after coming through a difficult patch, to look back on it and be glad it happened. To see the positive with hindsight. But it’s not so easy when you are in the thick of one, unable to see the other end.—Read more here

Sara Foster: One of the most valuable things I’ve learned so far is not to fear discouragement when I am writing. A stumbling block might contain a valuable lesson … —Read more here

Natasha Lester: A residency is a wonderful boost. It made me feel that the work must have something good in it to have been selected above all the other submissions, and it gave me a whole week of tranquil and focussed writing time …— Read more here

Annabel Smith: … some years ago I became strangely addicted to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Remember the lifelines? Well, my husband, Jonathan Franzen and Ferris Bueller have all provided potential solutions to my writing dilemmas; they’ve been my lifelines.— Read more here

PWFC author collage

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