Writers in Focus
FAW WA is pleased to present our new blog, Writers in Focus, in which we share thoughts from members of
our own writing community on writing and being a writer. Feel free to join in the conversation! And if you'd like
to contribute post for our blog, please drop us a line.
To leave a comment please go to the bottom of the page.*
Marcia van Zeller
A shadow beneath the swell
High above Redgate Beach is a lookout – more of a shrine,
really – bedecked with a bronze plaque and several
monochrome photos of the seascape below. One of the
photos shows an arrow pointing to a vague shadow on the
water: the shadow, according to the caption, marks the
wreck of the S.S. Georgette. The ship lies a hundred
metres from shore, five metres underwater, and what remains of her is sometimes visible in calm conditions.
Wouldn't swap it for the world!
Just put up the latest issue of Australian Poetry Collaboration.
It contains work from poets who attended the workshop at the KSP Writers Centre while I did a residency there in April/May http://meusepress.tripod.com/apc.htm. This was 10 years after a brilliant residency at FAWWA, Tom Collins House work from there can be found in issue 15 http://meusepress.tripod.com/apcarchive.htm.
Got to reunite with many of the brightest voices I met the last time in Perth. There is such a diverse, vibrant assembly of writers there supported so tirelessly by the various organisations about the city.
Residencies are so important for many of us. The opportunity to interact with host communities is a win-win for all as our understanding and appreciation of that which is going on is deeply enhanced.
Publisher Fremantle Press
on not becoming a writer
I was going to be a writer when I grew up. That belief forged my identity from the age of six, when I won the Keilor City Library short story competition with a priggish moral tale called ‘The Rabbit Who Loved Smoking’. As an earnest fourteen-year-old, standing by the Murray River, I had an exciting conversation with a Penguin editor, who told me how I might go about building a writing career (enter short story competitions, build a profile, work towards a novel). The belief sustained me and defined my leisure time as I trod a middling course through an arts law degree at the University of Melbourne, doing far better in the English Department than I ever did in law.
It's later than you think
The mild Western Australian winters have always appealed to
me more than the harsh summers and I’ve often done my best
writing at this time of year. As a high school English teacher,
I know when my windows of writing opportunity open—for two
weeks in April, two weeks in July, two weeks in
September/October and six weeks in December/January.
Twelve weeks a year when I can write instead of going to work. At least that’s the theory.
The winter holidays have often been my most fertile period of the year. In July 2013, I wrote ‘A Void’, which was later shortlisted for the Carmel Bird Award and published in The Great Unknown. In July 2014 I wrote ‘Enter Sandman, Exit Light’, which found a home in Tincture Journal. In 2015 it was‘Epoch O’Lips’. 2016 was a rare winter strike out, but in 2017 I produced ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’, which won the Joe O’Sullivan Writer’s Prize and was published in Award Winning Australian Writing. 2018 was another bust, but I had the excuse that my wife had just given birth to my third child and thus I was otherwise occupied. Between July 2018 and July 2019, I wrote precisely one story. Not surprisingly, I called it ‘Mr Agoo’.
In writing short stories, I’ve often found it helpful to rely on some kind of visual or musical stimulus. Some competitions, such as the City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award, require authors to respond to a painting in written form. In 2015, the painting was of a lighthouse in Fremantle entitled ‘(Light) House of the Rising Sun’. In preparation, I listened to the famous song by The Animals before starting work each day to get into the mood. For once the planets aligned for me and ‘Frank’ became my most successful story, not only winning the City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award but also finding homes in Award Winning Australian Writing and Westerly: New Creative.
This probably helps to explain why I carried around a leaflet from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, pictured (on fire!) above, for more than six months even though I am and remain the staunchest of atheists. It was the title, ‘It’s Later Than You Think’, which inspired me. At nearly thirty-eight years of age, I’m conscious of the fact that my time in this vale of tears is limited and no one knows just how limited it might be. Turns out there’s an old song by Guy Lombardo, ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’, that the Jehovahs had (presumably unwittingly) referenced in their leaflet. I’m sure you can picture me huddled over the computer screen, religious material in hand, listening to a song from 1949 that exhorts listeners to seize the day by asking, ‘how far can you travel when you’re six feet underground?’
In a celebratory mood upon finishing the draft of the story, I finally got to do something I’d been itching to do for months—burn the leaflet. It’s not that I have anything against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the symbolism of a cleansing flame appeals to me deeply as a sort of writerly ‘scorched earth’ policy. So, phone in hand to capture the requisite picture, I burned it. And now, the more I look at the photograph, the more I can see a hummingbird or maybe even a penguin jumping out of the flames at me. What does it all mean? Who knows, but if I’m lucky I might get another story out of it.
Maybe next winter . . . .
author of nine books and has written for newspapers
and magazines around the world
Being a writer
Being a writer is not so different from a lot of professions: it involves spending much of the day sitting at a desk, working at a computer. That reality is contrasted with how others see the life of a writer: that we tap away for a few hours each day and give readings in crowded rooms full of people fawning over us, all while the royalty cheques roll in.
I have long referred to this as the “party problem”.
I’ve been a professional writer for over two decades, generating a decent income from various sources
- 2 Aug 2019
writer, educator, theatre director: consultant in creativity
Why plotting a story won’t help you write it
If you want to write a story that works you can forget about plot. Plot is retrospective: it’s a great tool for analysing a story once it’s finished. But it won’t help you if you’re setting out to create one.
Why? Because the process of making stories is not amenable to the application of logic. It doesn’t matter how many guides to creative writing that you read, how many rules you know about plot, characterisation, turning points, crisis, resolution and denouement—when you start writing a story you’re on your own.
- 19 July 2019
author of Elsewhere in Success and original icovenor of
FAWWA's Book Length Project Group
Thank you to FAWWA and Pat Johnson for the invitation to contribute some thoughts
on my personal writing experience for the blog. I must admit, the thought of doing
this was a bit daunting.
The older I get the less certain I am of anything, and this applies as much to the practice of writing as to everything else. I have a number of theories on why and how I write, but whether or not they get close to the truth, I can’t be sure. It’s a habit I developed fairly early on in life, writing poems and short stories mostly, and the joy that I got
- July 5th 2019
I recently discovered, with regards my compulsion to write, the actual cause of it, the diagnosis! Hypergraphia – beautiful. In these days of uber-diagnosis of just about everything, it’s nice to know us writers are no different. According to Google’s greatest source, Wiki, this disease is defined as, ‘… a behavioural condition characterized by the intense desire to write or draw. Forms of hypergraphia can vary in writing style and content. It is a symptom associated with temporal lobe changes in epilepsy, which is the cause of the Geschwind syndrome, a mental disorder.’ Nice to know, again, as this news will bring great consolation to many of my family and friends who always thought I was a little ‘left of centre’. Little do they realise just how far off that particular Richter I really am.
‘Intense desire’ may well be a euphemism for compulsion. And in this I don’t think I am that far outside a wide circle of most serious writers. To young writers who questioned Gide as to whether they should continue he answered, ‘What? You can stop yourself writing and you hesitate?’ Orhan Pamuk’s compulsion takes another form, although no less forceful his version is to escape crowds, crowds, the stuff of ordinary, everyday life and …’ shut himself up in a room. According to Pamuk, a writer is someone who ‘spends years patiently trying to discover the second person inside’ themselves to discover the world that makes them who they are. Nietzsche of course screams at you to become who you are. In the case of the writer – that ‘who you are’ is just that, the writer, the one who can sit for ‘days, months, years slowly adding new words to the empty page.’ The writer must write.
Of course, not everyone is compelled to write and there are obviously as many reasons to do so as there are unique individuals who practice. The sheer joy of it, to create, to enter a social milieu where they have a sense of belonging, to make money, to have fame, perhaps out of boredom. I think Murakami, who had spent years creating and running bars in Japan, finally woke up one morning as said to himself, “O, I think I’ll write a book.’! Of course, he does!
On the other hand, Lydia Davis, whose writing I adore, beautiful gems I return time and again, suggests writing’s a choice, at least what we leave out or put in. She reckons we should not cave in to the pressures of publishers, or agents – do what you want to do and don’t worry about if it’s not right or doesn’t fit the market. She says, work hard, aim high and get to know words. Solid, practical advice. Still, if she was stranded on an island and there were no more people in the world, would she still continue to write? As long as there was a pencil and paper, I ‘suppose’ so she laconically answers. Of course, she would, she suffers the same disease as I do. How could someone who writes like this NOT continue to write?
"First a poet writes a story about a mouse, in moonlight in the snow, how the mouse tries to hide in his shadow, how the mouse climbs up his sleeve and he shales it down into the snow before he knows what it is that is clinging to his sleeve. His cat is nearby and her shadow is on the snow, and she is after the mouse. A woman is then reading this story in the bath. Half her hair is dry and half of it is floating in the bathwater. She likes the story." Collected Stories, 2009
Finally let’s listen to that most mystical of writerly creatures, Ukranian born Brazilian author, Clarice Lispector; how can someone with a name like that NOT be a writer?! If you really want to know why we write, us poor defeated beings, you must attend very carefully to her last, and in my opinion, most exquisite novel, A breath of life, completed ironically, on her death bed. The novel is a paean to the writerly life, a dialogue between the writer and her creation, her masterpiece of a character Angela Pralini. In one minute she declaims, ‘I want to write and can’t do it’, in the next she confesses, ‘I don’t write because I want to, no. I write because I must. …’ with that sumptuously ironic twist then ‘…Otherwise what would I do with myself?’ O the irony, boredom and compulsion – what a horrid predicament. Never the less, what truly gets me in this work is the magical truth that Lispector cannot avoid, ‘I like words.’, ‘When I write I’m not thinking about the reader or myself: then I am – but only from me – I am the words strictly speaking.’ And again, ‘I want to write with words so completely stuck together that there are no gaps between them and me.’
Like many who have been diagnosed with one thing or another, I feel utterly grateful to have finally found out what is wrong with me. Perhaps now I can cure it. Somehow, I think not. In the words of the inimitable Samuel Beckett, ‘I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’
Christopher is a Western Australian writer. He has co-authored several poetry books, including Sandfire (2012) published by Sunline Press with other WA Poets. He has poems and short stories published in many journals and online including Westerly, Southerly, Regime, Page Seventeen, Wet Ink, Creatrix, Swamp, Axon, Island, Cordite and Tamba. Along with many other awards he received first prize for the Tom Collins Poetry Award (2009 and 2018) and the Todhunter Literary Award (2012) for a short story. He is published in Best Australian Poems 2013. He completed his Doctorate in Creative Writing (2012) at Edith Cowan University. His poetry book, Letters to Mark, was published by Regime Books in 2014 and his latest collection, Argot, by Pomonal in 2016.