Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Patrick Ness at the SWF

I freely admit that I travelled up to Sydney for the Writers' Festival so I could go to the sessions with Patrick Ness and Kate Atkinson. Why? Well, yes, they did do sessions in Melbourne, but I wanted to be at a writers' festival where everyone was talking and thinking about writing fiction, for a change. Instead of social issues and politics. And let's face it - great fiction does that anyway, without being pedantic about it. Just ask Mr Ness about the Spackle!

The session on Saturday with Patrick Ness was great. And I am here to tell you that he is funny! If you read his books (especially A Monster Calls), you might not think so, but he was very witty and dry. I failed to take detailed notes in this session because I just wanted to listen. Later, things came back to me that I jotted down, and he did repeat a few things in the Sunday session with Carlos Ruiz Zafron. But here are the things that stuck with me (a little paraphrased in some cases):

* Writing vernacular is a lot more fun than reading it (we might also call this dialect). He started writing Todd's voice in the Chaos Walking books in deep vernacular, which didn't work, and it was only when he kept simplifying it that the voice finally worked and he found it. Even third person, past tense has a voice.

* "I don't think about whether a book should have a happy or a sad ending. I think about how a book should have a truthful ending."

* He said he needs 3 or 4 or 5 things to start a novel - images, scenes, ideas. He thinks about how they all connect until he gets an "exit feeling" - the last line. He never starts a book until he knows the last line. (If you think this is unusual - the big scenes and ideas - read "Write Away" by Elizabeth George).

* "A book is not a song. It's the performance of a song. So you can take an idea that has been done before but it's the way you perform it."

* He wants to treat his teenage characters as complex beings - people who are complicated make mistakes. He talked about "A Monster Calls" - the moment when a character realises they are capable of believing contradictory things.

* If you are trying to write humour, you have to write stuff that makes you laugh. You can't write stuff that you think will make other people laugh. That has been Hollywood's mistake.

* He often has people tell him that they want to write a novel one day, "when they have time". He says if you want to write, you will be writing now. You will always be writing, working on a project, if you are a writer.

And the thing that Carlos RZ said that stuck with me was: "I have to squeeze out every letter, every word. I have to animate my characters myself. When I write, I am trying to get into your brain and rearrange the furniture." For once, not one writer I heard waxed lyrical about being swept away by story and characters - they were all quite honest about the hard work that writing really is!


Kristi Holl said...

Loved that last comment...

I love when writers are honest about how hard things can be. It would save many of us from thinking, "I must not be any good really because my characters aren't taking over and speaking on their own, my ideas aren't flowing from my fingertips as if I'm only a channel, and I'm not writing a bestseller and getting an agent in four months." Time to tell the truth! :-)

Lucia Nardo said...

True all of that Sherryl. When the writing task ahead seems overwhelming, I need to know that it's a point in most writers' journeys, otherwise it's too easy to get discouraged. It IS hard work! Which might account for all the 'writers' who don't actually write.

Sherryl said...

Kristi - that myth about the writing flowing and coming easily is finally being "disrobed"! There are plenty of quotes about drawing blood, and going to your desk to write even when you don't want to, and they make us feel better about our bad days.

Sherryl said...

I agree, Lucia. Patrick's comment to his students about "if you are a writer you will be working on something all the time" really hit home. He called it tough love!