// you’re reading...


Voices Plus – tips for writers

Speaking of travel, recently I took a drive up to the Sunshine Coast, about an hour's drive north of my home in Brisbane, to visit a small literary festival. Voices Plus was a one day literary festival at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. I picked up some good advice for people interested in writing, plus some good reading tips, of course.

Every time I drive north along the Bruce Highway to the Sunshine Coast, about once a year I suppose, it seems like there’s less and less bushland and farmland along the way, and more residential and other developments.
I liked the way the University of the Sunshine Coast was near bushland, and it was nice to glance out the window during one of the seminars at the festival and see a couple of kangaroos making themselves at home on the campus.
I gathered many tips about writing at this festival, and I’ll just lay a few of them out.
I managed to ask all the speakers I saw what their favorite books were, too, so their reading suggestions are in here as well. Here goes.
The first session I attended was called “Where Do Stories Come From?”
If you’re a budding novelist, your first instinct might be to write about your own life, but there are other options.
Nerida Newton wrote a historical novel called The Lambing Flat, which involved research into Lambing Flat riots, when European-Australian diggers (fossickers and miners on the gold fields) attacked Chinese miners in 1860-61.
This was on the South-West New South Wales gold fields at Lambing Flat (currently called Young).
Also Ms Newton traveled to a cattle property in Central Queensland where one of the characters lived in her novel. Traveling to Clermont, Central Queensland, was necessary because, as fellow speaker and author Richard Yaxley said, “There is no such thing as a little detail.”

Ms Newton said that once a reader realised a detail was wrong they stopped believing in the story.
The landscape at Clermont hadn’t changed much since the days of early European settlement, so this aided Ms Newton in writing about those times.
And Ms Newton did oral research, talking to many locals in the area and getting stories, for example about a flood in which a piano ended up in a tree and stayed there for many years.
To research the Lambing Flat, New South Wales, scenes Ms Newton read a lot of letters and diaries from witnesses to the massacre of the Chinese fossickers at Lambing Flat.

Ms Newton noted the difference between their descriptions of the purple Chinese corpses, and official reports which she said only mentioned the death of one man, a European.
Ms Newton said that from all this research she selected “kernels” that struck her in some way, and made scenes of them.
She wrote the scenes depending on how she felt that day, she said.
She wrote the end before she wrote the majority of the story.
The story was written in chunks.
Once you had worked out the motivation and the core emotion of characters the story worked itself out as it moved toward that final scene, she said.
The plot would suggest itself from the characters’ ideas.
“It’s really about emotion,” she said.

She didn’t set out to educate, but to write passionately about the story.
Nerida Newton liked the works of John Steinbeck and Raymond Carver; The Life of Pi, because there wasn’t enough philosophizing in novels these days; and Vernon God Little, because it had a very good narrator.

Richard Yaxley (The Rose Leopard) came up with stories by having a trigger in his life that started his imagination working.
For example, in his novel The Rose Leopard he had a character who cut her hand on some shears, which led to an infection and her death.
Mr Yaxley said this wasn’t from his own experience but from an emotion he felt when a friend died.
Then he researched things like infection and made up the story of the male protagonist struggling to find a way to deal with the death of his wife: the character comes up with the fable of the Rose Leopard to tell his children.
Other triggers for stories included things like a green toy from his home.
In Richard Yaxley’s short story, The Green Toy, he took a green toy as a starting point and developed it into a a symbol of a disintegrating marriage.
He agreed that if you had the final scene worked out in your mind, then you could find your way there and the plot would almost take care of itself. He said he’d been let down by books where there hadn’t been a good ending, and that having that final scene worked out from the beginning was important in his writing. “If you haven’t got the end in mind you haven’t got the story,” he said.
As far as favorite books went: “I loved and continue to love The Great Gatsby,” he said. He,also, liked Raymond Carver, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden because of the way the author captured the voice of the narrator with Aspergers Syndrome.