Thursday, August 30, 2007

MWF - Voice and Crime Writing

Two excellent sessions today. It does seem that the focus of the festival has changed to a more relaxed approach. In past years, speakers have often delivered papers that have been either theoretical or analytical, but this year I've found most people are working from good notes but also ad libbing more and telling anecdotes and experiences, which is so much more engaging.

The Still, Small Voice
Emily Ballou wondered if it was the "still, small voice" or the "still small voice", given that all of the speakers were women and most of the audience was! In answer to the question: how do you find your voice? she says she can't practise voice - it's a gift or a beautiful visitor. All you can do is write and write, and then search for evidence of it. Is the one true internal voice a myth? She uses different voices for different kinds of writing and feels her fictional voice will shift and grow. She also sees voice as the heartbeat of a novel, rather than a style.
Cate Kennedy says when you sit small and still is when the writing and inspiration come. Voice only works for her when she senses the writer is saying something particular and true, otherwise it's all form and no content (or all hat and no head!)
"I want to give you something to eat ... something you've been hungering for without knowing it." The best reader responses she gets are to the most ordinary, everyday things in her stories. The thing that is most powerful in writing is the metaphor, that you invite the reader into that room with the metaphor and let them find what they want in it. Sound and rhythm is also important, that it should be what the writing floats on but the reader will be hardly aware of it. She also thought that writers move from writing to explore their own emotions to writing to evoke emotions in the reader.
In question time, Emily said that people are reading too much stuff that has no rhythm (in the words and language) - the more you read Dan-Brown-type books, the less you are able to read writers like Cormac McCarthy and Don de Lillo.
The more I hear Cate Kennedy, the more admiration I have for her intelligent and thoughtful commentary on writing and what it is to write fiction and poetry. (Emily Ballou was good too! Dorothy Porter was a no-show for this session.)

This session was about crime writing, with the focus on main characters - the fictional detectives. Quinton Jardine has 26 books published, and writes 2000 words a day. Yes, one of those things does lead to the other!
He wrote his first draft of his first book by hand, and will never do so again - he has terrible handwriting. His first decision was to have a main character who is a DCC, which is a high position in the force. His books are as much about the subordinates Skinner works with as him, and they all work on crimes. Jardine said he thought he was probably writing police soap opera, but that was OK by him!
Leah Giarratano is a new writer (who is a psychologist) and she provided a Powerpoint on her two main characters, profiling them psychologically - their backstory and what makes them tick. She also talked about interrogation and how to work out if someone is lying to you. Everyone was very attentive at that point.
Gabrielle Lord is a very experienced crime writer. I remember interviewing her on 3CR radio years ago and she is such a professional. She talked about her characters, but also about the forensic knowledge and tech knowledge a writer has to have these days. She has studied courses in anatomy, anthrax, SCAN techniques (a science analysis tool) and skull reconstruction. She also does a lot of personal research with experts in their fields. She said, "Most crime is stupid and brutal and unconscious and hateful" and the writer needs to write about crime that is more interesting to the reader. She has two series characters, and knows when she gets a story idea whether it will suit the male or female character by "the feel of it".
And if you want to know one of those lying giveaways? Leah G. called it "the liar's lean", when the person is either leaning back from you, or has one leg stretched out (wanting subconsciously to get away).

1 comment:

Tracey said...

I studied anatomy for two years -- used to be able to name every ridge and socket on the inside of the skull. Ask me sometime about my skeleton on the tram story. Does that mean I can write crime? No, don't go there. lol.

Why wasn't Dorothy there? Did they say? That's always disappointing when you go to a session to see someone specific (not that I'm saying you went to see her, but some people probably did) and you miss out. Still, sounds like they got their money's worth anyway, and of course sometimes these things can't be helped.