Monday, May 25, 2009

Writing quote VI

Today's quote is from the German writer, Thomas Mann, as related by Clive James:

A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for other people.

Clive James then goes on to say: "That line is perfect in every way. Not only is it perfectly written, but it's absolutely true. The only thing I've got better at as the years have gone by is I've grown more resigned to the fact that it comes hard. You realise that hesitation and frustration and waiting are part of the process, and you don't panic. I get a lot better at not panicking. I get up every morning early if it's a writing day and I will do nothing else but write that day. But the secret is not to panic if it doesn't come."

You can read the rest of Decca Aitkenhead's Guardian interview with Clive James here. And thanks to Shannon for the heads-up on this one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sydney Writers' Festival

What fun! Yesterday, five hundred kids high school kids (some of whom were either actually in primary school, or pupils from Our Lady of the Sacred Oompa-Loompa) streamed into the amazing Sydney Theatre to hear Randa Abdel-Fatah, Garth Nix, Mal Peet, Isobelle Carmody and me talk about our books.

And today, slightly fewer (but still several hundred) kids flocked to the gorgeous Riverside Theatre at Parramatta for the same program.

My talk was titled Of Truths, Towns and Elephants (or why I'd have made a crap engineer) and it seemed to go over OK. I even sold a few books afterward.

But I have to say, that Garth Nix is a bit of a rock star. Yesterday, Garth wasn't even on stage yet, and the MC said, 'Our next speaker is Garth Nix." And the place went crazy. Seriously 'Oh-my-God-I-think-I'm-going-to-faint-someone-fan-me-before-I-completely-pass-out-OH-MY-GOD-IT'S-GARTH-NIX!' crazy. Unbelievable.

I got my own cheer, but it wasn't pre-emptive like Garth's - it was only by slagging off Twilight. A girl in the audience asked me what I thought of Twilight, and I said, 'I think Stephenie Meyer has singlehandedly set the liberation of women back by forty years.' The questioner asked me why, and I said, 'Because she tells us that someone like Edward Cullen can be as much of a prick as he likes to a girl like Bella, and she should just take it, simply because he's all shiny.'

I was slightly surprised when the place went crazy with applause, and to be honest, I felt just a tiny bit of my faith in the discerning nature of teens beginning to return.

(Photos: Jamie Simpson)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The shame of rugby league.

I would love to weigh in on the Matthew Johns furore, but since this blog is linked to my website and therefore occasionally visited by young students, I can't be as direct as I'd like to be. So I'll simply say this...

The trio of Matthew Johns, the second Sharks player, and the young woman involved entered into an arrangement that was consensual, at least at the beginning. That decision was, with the benefit of hindsight (and some might have seen it in foresight as well) clearly a foolish one. They didn't start out doing anything 'wrong' (I've avoided using the word 'immoral', because that's another issue altogether) but a whole world of wrong turned up later in the night.

What alarms me most is the vitriol being spewed in the direction of the girl. Apparently, according to many, many tiny-minded people, and at least one journalist, she got exactly what she was asking for. I don't agree. I suspect it was probably a booze-fueled experiment that became much more than she intended. Questions of morality aside, I don't think that girl signed up for what took place later on in the evening.

Is seven years too long to wait to report something traumatic? Probably. Except she didn't -- she reported it at the time. No charges were laid. No, of course not, because no laws were broken. But that doesn't mean that an abuse of power didn't occur. As twitterer babycakesjase said, 'how much agency does a single19 year old girl have surrounded by a bunch of footy players?'

Should one man take the fall for everyone else involved? Probably not. But I have a message for Matthew Johns: mate, your claim that you 'walked away' when things started going too far does not make you a hero. It does not give you the moral high ground. Quite the contrary. You helped create a situation, but didn't have the guts to speak up when it escalated to a level with which you were uncomfortable. You were a senior team member, and supposed to be a leader.

Some leader.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Writers Talk 2009

The clever people from the Centre for Learning Innovation at the NSW Department of Education and Training have just started releasing the 2009 edition of the Writers Talk series of video interviews and resources, where authors talk about their process, their inspiration and pretty much anything else you can imagine asking a writer. The '09 videos available thus far are from Tohby Riddle, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Mark McLeod and me, while some of the names still to come this year include Mal Peet, Garth Nix and Morris Gleitzman.

Click on the image above to go to the 2009 videos. This link also provides access to the interviews from 2008 and 2007.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing quote V

Today's quote is from John Grisham. Now, courtroom books aren't everyone's cup of tea, and I haven't read every book Grisham ever published, although those I have read, I've quite enjoyed, with his first, A Time to Kill being my favourite.

But I especially love Grisham's personal story, sitting in his car during his lunch break, writing his fiction longhand on yellow legal pads.

But my bestest most favouritist thing concerning John Grisham is this quote, which more or less describes why certain themes (such as bullying) seem to keep popping up in my own work.

The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I've gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians. I just line 'em up and shoot 'em.
(John Grisham)

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Target is on the move", or Adventures of an Espionagey Nature

You know that feeling you sometimes get, where you sense that you're being watched? And then you realise that you actually are being watched?

There we were at the Art Gallery of NSW, having paid our family entry fee for the Archibald exhibition. My daughter April had her camera around her neck, but had noticed that no one else seemed to have cameras out, so we assumed that we must have missed a sign somewhere near the entrance that stipulated no cameras. Therefore she made a decision that she wouldn't take any photos.

Then my wife saw a female security guard who seemed very familiar. Why so familiar? Because she looked exactly like the female security guard in the previous room. And the one before that. And the one before that. At risk of sounding paranoid, it seemed we were being followed. And watched. In a crush of people, we, the Roy family, were being tailed.

Or were we? We decided to conduct an experiment, and vary our journey through the exhibition. Take a slightly unexpected direction. And there she was again, watching us. Actually watching us. I'd look at her, and she'd look away, then glance back. Then follow us into the next room. God knows how many Archibald portraits were being touched by inquisitive fingers while we held the attention of the security guard.

We tried something different - we doubled back to one of the earlier rooms. She came with us.

Then we entered the turf of another security guard, and we saw them have a brief conference, in which we were pointed at. Actually pointed at, as in, "Watch them, they're trouble." Then this new guard followed us for the next twenty minutes. At one stage I pointed at a sculpture, with my finger a full thirty centimetres from the piece, and he craned his neck to make sure I wasn't defacing the priceless relic.*

So, my question is this: if you are a gallery security guard and you see someone with a camera around their neck, and there are signs saying that patrons shouldn't have cameras (signs which we didn't in fact see) why wouldn't you go up to that patron and simply say, "I'm just letting you know that you can't take photos of the exhibition." In which case we'd have said, "Oh, we're sorry. Thanks for letting us know." We might have even said, "One of us will take the camera out to the baggage check desk and come back in." Either of those options would have been preferable to putting two security guards on spy detail, tracking the shifty movements of a family of four having a nice Mothers' Day outing in the city.

Just saying.

(* An abstract thingamy made of pencils glued together with Araldite.)

Friday, May 8, 2009


Remind me, how long does it take to start a broom?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Anonymity Jones, and Writing Quote IV

It's finished, and is currently sitting in Leonie's inbox. Ah, wondrous day!

It was so tempting to stay in bed this morning, and sometimes I wonder if I'm burning out. I know that sounds dramatic, but having worked in a high stress healthcare career for almost twenty years, I think I'm qualified to identify the signs of burnout. The fact is, I've been pretty prolific over the couple of years. Not Jackie French prolific, just 250,000 words prolific. Hunting Elephants, The Gimlet Eye, the first in the Edsel Grizzler trilogy, and now Anonymity Jones, plus all the incidental stuff, articles etc. I've got several (10-ish) more projects lined up, but I also feel like I need a break.

The problem is, though, that if I'm not writing, everyone else is. And I'm aware of the collective weight of Other Stuff being written, and published, and bought. So this is why, after finishing a YA novel at 11pm last night, I'm now cracking my knuckles in preparation for something new.

The other day someone called me a 'word machine'. To which I replied, 'Yes, I churn out the words, but then a bunch of women in hair nets have to pick out the bent ones.'*

I learnt a long time ago that if I set myself a minimum amount of writing time per day, I can waste that so easily. There are so many distractions right here, contained within the 6 square metres of space that is my study, and at the end of an eight hour day, I'll have achieved very little in terms of actually writing anything. So my solution - which works very well for me, I might add - has been to set a word quota. 2,000 words a day. Minimum. Every day. And most days I achieve that, although lately I've been limiting myself to 1,000 words on weekends.

But how many bent words am I producing? I think that's an important consideration.

So, to the writing quote, this time from the British author and historian Gerald Brenan. And here's what he had to say about this:

It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer. Those who do not do this remain amateurs.

* (No disrespect meant to any of the lovely publishers and editors with whom I work. As far as I'm aware, none of them wears a hair net.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A writing quote III

I like pushing the form, over-reaching, going a little too far, just on the edge, sometimes getting your fingers burned. It's good to do that.

(Gay Talese)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A writing quote II

A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror.

(Mary Gordon)

Friday, May 1, 2009

A writing quote

A writer's knowledge of himself, realistic and unromantic, is like a store of energy on which he must draw for a lifetime; one volt of it properly directed will bring a character alive.

(Grahame Greene)