EXTRACTS FROM THE WRITER'S ROOM INTERVIEWS
ISSUE 6: CRAIG SHERBORNE
"Well, I thought that’s what writers did!
I’m not squeamish about exposing myself or
exposing others, providing I do so knowing what I’m talking about, and that I do so with style. I don’t like memoirs where there’s no attempt to bring some sort of graciousness or elegance and felicity of language and wit to it. Because you’re not there just to do an ordinary piece of documentary. You’re trying to lift it into some higher realm … art, or maybe theology.
On the first line
"Getting the first line is a great thrill. You wait for it and wait for it, and then it comes, and then you’re off, you’re completely off. With all the books I’ve written, the first line of the book is the first line published.
I never go back and change it. It’s all written in the order that the
sequences appear in the book. The first line is a great moment because you’ve caught the thought-wave and you’re coming down the face of it. It’s just wonderful. It’s about that pose, you’re realising you’re in the right garb and have the right stance to meet the world, it’s all there. You’re ready to begin the language part of what you’ve been thinking about for a whole period of time."
On men & writing
"I’ve had this very strong feeling all my life that in our culture men get
consigned to the mental and emotional ghettoes of sport or business, or, if they’re going to be a writer, write about footy, or a business book. Or military history — another book on Gallipoli, please, that’s
just what we need. It’s as if men aren’t considered any better than
that; that’s all men are any good for. They can’t understand the complicated intricate emotional psychological details of human life — that’s somehow women’s territory. It is such a shame, because I think men have fallen for that. I’ve known a lot of men with very complicated emotional lives but it never comes out, because they just keep it all in there, avoid it. We’re expected to keep it all in there. Then are criticised for doing that."
ISSUE 5: JANINE BURKE
"There’s a lot of risk in being a full-time writer. … a lot of the time it is kind of airy. It’s like there’s nothing underneath you. There’s nothing supporting you, your ideas and plans and so on. It belongs to the element of air as well – the element of imagination."
"I’m determined. Often if someone tells me no, then that will be the reason I will persist. I think, too, that creating your life as a writer, and creating your own income, you become quite resilient. That’s not to say you don’t get wounded and downcast by bad reviews. But it makes you resourceful."
On changing from fiction to non-fiction
"Suddenly, the aspects of art history I’d found tedious – the footnotes and the dates and all the minutiae – had a greater vitality, providing this stimulating, grounding context, and made more sense to me. And I could see that this writing was much better than the fiction I’d been working on … the quality of the writing, the energy, the capacity to
embrace a lot of different elements. It was a surprise to me. I didn’t
expect that to happen. When it did happen, it was a shock – and a delight, too, because this seam of new energy and ambition had
ISSUE 4: KIM SCOTT
"Most recently the routine was four to six hours at the beginning of the day. Quite often it’s good for me to do some exercise early on, to trim off some of the nervous energy and help me get a little bit more mellow, rather than all edgy. It makes it easier for me just to sit, and takes a bit of the edge off things. So there’s a set time, or sometimes it’s word count — I keep a bit of a tally — or number of pages, I just keep an eye on that, so I’m not getting too slack, not just spending six hours at the desk gnashing my teeth."
"I think it’s a small ego that’s required, but it’s such a complex thing. It’s cunning and slippery. I think of some people I know who’ve got big egos, and they want to be writers. They’ve written books that no one will publish, and I think it’s all ego driving them. They believe these are really good books even though everyone tells them they’re not, and they want you to read them, they insist that you read them — all that sort of thing. I haven’t got that sort of ego, and I don’t think that’s the sort that goes with actually doing the writing. I think the preparedness or the readiness to make yourself vulnerable, and move into areas that not a lot of people necessarily want to go — I think there’s a lack of ego in there, and I think there’s courage in there. I think when ego does come into it is in thinking, ‘I want to do this really well. I want to do a good job.’"
"There’s a writer I admire, though I haven’t read much of his stuff: Eduardo Galeano. There’s a line in one of his lovely essays, ‘In Defence of the Word’: ‘Mistrust applause; it may mean you’ve been rendered innocuous.’"
ISSUE 1: AMANDA LOHREY
"When I begin work I need to have nothing else I have to think about. Nothing. I remember when I was young I heard Elizabeth Jolley give a talk where she said, ‘You young feminists probably won’t understand this, but if there’s the slightest difficulty happening in the family I just can’t work.’ But we did understand. I think women are very porous; they are all the time taking in what’s around them. Perhaps even more than men they need to shut off and have that ruthless focus that, traditionally, they’ve not been permitted."
"I’m never inspired. You hear writers on panels saying, ‘Oh, the character just took me over and it just flowed through me,’ and I think, I have never, ever had that experience. Ever. Not for five minutes. Now, it might be because I’ve got a critical brain and have had a rigorous intellectual training. Maybe I’m overcritical, maybe I think too much, maybe I self-edit to a counterproductive degree — but, whatever, this ‘taking over’ process has never happened to me. Surprise developments, yes, but that’s different."
"For me it’s about tone and rhythm. In books on writing there is too much emphasis on plot and characterisation and not enough on the more intangible elements. The most important thing is to find the voice, find the tone, establish the inner rhythm, the momentum that carries the thing along. You know, you’re in a bookshop and you pick up a book and straightaway you know if you’re going to be able to read this writer. You don’t care what it’s about, it’s just coming at you and drawing you in. It can be hard to define why, but I think it’s tone and rhythm."
ISSUE 2: DAVID ROACH
"Being a surfer, I’ve always been a morning person. I find the best time for writing is often the best time for reading. And I’m a much better reader in the morning, I’m more efficient, I can absorb more. So if I am in the middle of a project I start work as early as possible—about six or seven. The time from sleep to writing should be as uninterrupted as possible. I try to protect that liminal state, when you are on the threshold—somewhere between being asleep and fully awake, before the world has had a chance to intrude — I try to extend it for as long as possible because it can be the most creative time of the day."
On ‘the single arena’
"For thousands of years, storytellers have looked for a unified or single arena in order to contain a story and keep the pressure on. I think about an ‘arena’ as like a city surrounded by a city wall. There are so many places you can travel to in a film that you tend to go there ... but when you do this, sometimes your story can end up feeling sort of dissipated and episodic. Creating a single arena of the story allows you to keep the pressure on that story — because every time you change the arena you dissipate the energy. You’ve got this new level of interest, but the energy of the story can fall away because you have to develop new relationships again — relationships of the characters to the landscape, to other characters. You are building from ground level again."
"Dialogue can be a double-edged sword, because you can get lost in it. You can look at a story that’s not quite working and you can spend days and weeks rewriting the dialogue, and it doesn’t make any difference to the story. It’s still not working, even though the dialogue is sparkling. And the reason it doesn't work is to do with a much deeper thing, which is structure. The most important thing of all in dialogue is not the text at all, but the subtext. That’s where the deeper meaning is conveyed."
On getting stuck
"Every single project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve got to a point where I think, ‘I can’t resolve this.’ Or, I’ve finished it, and I don’t like it. I’ve finished but I’m too embarrassed to show anybody. It just happens every single time. I don’t think there’s any project I’ve ever worked on where I haven’t at some point looked at it in despair, thinking, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to do. I have no idea how I’m going to resolve this.’ Eventually, of course, you do."
ISSUE 3: MARGO LANAGAN
On starting out
“I embarked on the huge Fantasy Brick… it’s an exercise in over-world-building. [laughs] I built this incredible series of cultures and histories and wars and communities and landscapes, and it just got to the point where I couldn’t move a story through it. I just couldn’t keep track of it. I worked on that for about three years, toiling away, going past my deadline year after year. In the end I threw up my hands and ran away to Clarion West, a six-week short-story workshop for science fiction and fantasy writers in America."
On breaking through
"And that’s when I decided, ‘This is never going to happen. I am obviously not ever going to make a living as a writer, so just stop thinking of it like that. Just write the stories that are demanding to be written, rather than thinking of an idea and then thinking: audience, okay how do I pitch this to them?’ I decided to just write the stuff that needed to be coughed up, vomited up …That was how the stories in Black Juice mainly got written—and they were the ones that really started working for people, because I was putting more of myself into them."
"No, not any more. I’m not fearful... When I got to the end of my draft, that was the only time I would let myself go back and reread. And then, rereading the whole thing, I couldn’t spot the days that had been so bad. I realised my feelings are completely unreliable when it comes to judging my own work at that level, from the middle of it. I just forge on, and then come back later and see the thing as a whole. I don’t really even bother now, thinking ‘I wrote terrible stuff, I wrote shit’."