Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Melbourne Writers' Festival 08

Last year I went a bit berserk. I went to twelve sessions. A wide range from poetry to crime to short fiction - all sorts. This year? I searched through the program, found maybe five things I was interested in and booked ... one. The program seemed laden with worthy sessions on issues and politics and topics I felt I should be keen on, but couldn't really be bothered. It all felt a bit academic and D&M. On any day there were two things of interest, they were at opposite ends of the day. Even I can't waste five hours drinking coffee and wandering through the bookshop, trying to keep my credit card in my pocket. So instead I had a look at the schools program for the festival, a challenge in itself since it's all on the website and is like trying to grapple with a many-headed monster.

I booked four school sessions, and attended three today (luckily you don't have to be a student or a teacher - anyone can go). There was I, and some teachers and a few hundred school kids from Grade 6 through to ... bigger teens, maybe Year 10 or so. Session 1: I've never read anything by Joseph Delaney (and neither had 99% of the audience, funnily enough) but I'd heard of his series which begins with The Spook's Apprentice. As soon as JD sussed out that hardly any of us had read his books, he quickly gave us a tidy summary of the characters and plot that sounded pretty good, and then talked a lot about background, characters, dialogue, research, all in a lovely Lancashire accent (he mentioned lads a lot, which made me laugh).

He was a teacher for many years before selling his first novel and eventually turning to writing full-time, and it showed. He talked fast, but had lots of interesting anecdotes and examples, and kept everyone focused. He had multiple rejections for adult novels before turning to fantasy for kids, and has found his niche, if you can call having books published in 20 countries a niche.

The second session was Melina Marchetta and Rachel Cohn, talking about characters, but for me, this session never really gelled. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was because they talked about characters in that vague way that writers sometimes do (the characters talked to me and told me what to write) and the audience seemed a bit sceptical about it all. The joint reading was very, very fast, hard to follow at times, and the woman up the top giving the wind-up signal didn't help. A teacher standing next to me in the coffee queue had been to another session where a writer dropped the F word, which apparently didn't go down very well.

The third session was Emily Rodda, and many of the kids in the audience were Grade 6 or Year 7, and were clearly big fans. Emily got applause just for walking onto the stage! She talked about ideas, and the questions she often gets asked. She said many kids ask her where she gets her ideas from, but only one has ever asked how she makes her stories so believable. She said it's because she herself totally believes in the worlds and the characters she creates, and it just naturally comes through in the storytelling. Question time showed dozens of hands raised, with only a few able to be answered - a very popular session.

Afterwards, I thought more about that concept of believing in the world you have created, and I think she is absolutely right. The two novels I have really struggled with have both been ones that I have felt I never entered into entirely, heart and soul. Yet with others, like the Tracey Binns stories, I can see that school, those kids and teachers, as if they are real, and it feels so easy to dive into that world and write from within it. There are stories and novels I have written where I have felt that same experience, and even though some have been rejected and may never get published, I doubt I will ever give up on them. They have been "real" writing experiences, and I have to hope that one day I'll find an editor who will engage with that story world in the same way.


Kristi Holl said...

How wonderful that you can actually go to some school visits and observe other writers! I would enjoy that. I think you're right about believing in the world you create. If you don't, the first thing an editor will say is, "These characters didn't ring true for me." In the books that got that comment, they often didn't for me either! Sometimes they did, but I wasn't effective in translating that to the page. Until you've revised half a dozen times, you often don't have enough detail in there for it to come alive.
Writer's First Aid

Anonymous said...

A great post, Sherryl. I feel that I've been there with you. No doubt I should know, but what is 'D&M', please?

Sherryl said...

Deep and meaningful!