Monday, 5 September 2016

Out and about

Sunday morning session

I have been out and about at the Melbourne Writers Festival. My highlight was Hannah Kent interviewing Anna Funder on The Art of Fiction. This was a fascinating discussion about where the boundary lies between fact and fiction. There is a space to tell the emotional truth where events are not on the public record, are not available or have been destroyed. An alternative is to take what you know and put it in another context. The decisions a writer makes about how the material is perceived relate to the contract with the reader. Being clear about what is based on information and interviews, what is interpreted and what is imagined goes a long way to honouring the truth. I love that she used one of my favourite phrases – pieces of the puzzle – to discuss how the narrative comes together from a pile of research material.

All around the world
I also enjoyed Publishing Now with Henry Rosenbloom, the founder of Scribe, one of his authors, Cate Kennedy and Louise Ryan from Penguin Random House. It was an insightful conversation about the role and state of large and small publishing houses in Australia. Commercial realities influence all companies, but it was noted that a smaller house is more likely to publish a book that matters - they are often more willing to take a risk on something which doesn’t fit the mainstream. There was a heated discussion about the threat to remove copyright by allowing parallel importation. This is seen as a pebble in the shoe of economic rationalists who see it as a form of protectionism which needs to be eliminated. The reality is that exclusive copyright could be sacrificed on the altar of exchange rate fluctuations. There was frustration that decision-makers and readers don’t seem to understand or care.

Mix your ingredients
A couple of weeks ago I went to a Writers Victoria event called What Judges Want, hosted by Toni Jordan. My take-away was in a short piece consider deleting the first three paragraphs and in a long piece consider deleting the first three chapters. The rationale is that the writer has to write themselves into the piece, whereas the reader can simply drop straight in to where the action starts. I understood it intuitively for the long piece because I have struggled with how much of the back story to include in the early chapters. I was more sceptical of how true it would be for a short story where every word and sentence should already be working hard. As soon as I got home I found my most recent effort and applied a critical eye. I can certainly ditch the first two paragraphs but the third is a bit more of a line ball. It could be done, however I may need to recycle some of the content to support the later developments.

Part of the community
So with the whirlwind of events over, it is time to get back to the desk – to take all that I have absorbed and use it to improve my own writing. I may not be able to distil it to discreet ideas or to apply them directly or any time soon, but I do feel that I am part of a community of people who are all grappling with similar challenges  - getting characters and ideas onto paper and out to an audience. And it is a really very nice feeling of belonging.