Sunday, August 30, 2009

Melbourne Writers' Festival - 2

Debut With Style featured a mix of writers, some with several novels published - Lisa Unger and Japanese writer Hitomi Kanehara - and some with just one or two books - Reif Larsen and Evie Wyld. Was the audience there to find out the secret recipe for that first publication success? Towards the end, it seemed the key was to have an agent (heard that one before) although Hitomi said there are no such things as agents in Japan. One writer also shared with us that receiving the news that their first novel was going to be published was on a par with having a baby (presumably achievement- and excitement-wise, she meant).

Some of the "tips" were predictable: write every day, write all the time, no matter what else is happening in your life, and you will eventually get to the stage where you can't not write. Lisa Unger said when she writes, she is alone in her space, alone in her head, and what comes is not controlled. She doesn't plan her novels, she starts with a germ of an idea or a place or a character and goes with it. She writes to know what is going to happen, and what will keep her turning the pages - in that way she is being true to the readers. She also said to the audience, 'You have to be present and centred in every phase of the writing, and not be outside in the publishing space.' There will be people relying on her words (to provide what they want) but she can't be out there with them while she is writing.

Reif Larsen said it's easy to let outside voices influence or change you or put you off. You have to create a safe space for yourself and be free of what the book "needs to be like". Early drafts will be messy - it takes either courage or insanity to keep going and get to the end. Evie Wyld had just done a stint as the writer in the Atrium, writing while everyone watched and could see her words. It made her realise how personal her writing, and the act of writing, normally is.

Hitomi was being translated (one person translated what everyone said, the other translated what she said!) so it was a little difficult for her, no doubt, but she talked about never being satisfied with her novels - that even when one is published she still wants to keep trying to get the level of her writing higher. Someone in the audience asked Reif if his next book was going to be illustrated (the current one has maps and drawings all over it) and he said no - it would be completely different. Each story is told how it has to be told. It seemed, in the end, that what the writers were saying was you have to write the book you have to write, without trying to please anyone except yourself. The revision is where you make it work.

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