LEARNING WRITING FROM AUTHOR INTERVIEWS
Author interviews can be a valuable resource for learning how to write well. The most informative ones are Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors and The Writer’s Room: Conversations about writing by Charlotte Wood. There have been others in the last few years, including Ramona Koval’s Speaking Volumes and John Freeman’s How to Read a Novelist, but both favour quantity of authors over depth, mostly focus on the authors’ respective latest books only, and have few, if any Australian authors. In contrast The Writer’s Room and Celebrating Australian Writing feature in-depth long form interviews with Australian authors. Both focus on the authors’ writing processes and methods, and are thus particularly useful to early career writers.
I haven’t read The Writer’s Room (photo courtesy of Allen&Unwin), but if you read Charlotte Wood’s recent article ‘The Writer’s Epiphany’ for The Guardian, you will discover what she learned for her own writing from the authors she interviewed. Seeing that an interview with Charlotte Wood conducted in 2010 is included in my book Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors, at the conclusion of which I informed her about my book in progress, you may find it as strange as I found it disingenuous, to imply in the first few lines that The Writer’s Room was inspired by ‘a magazine article, a conversation between two painters about the creative process.’
The Writer’s Room includes twelve interviews, with Tegan Bennett-Daylight, James Bradley, Malcolm Knox, Margo Lanagan, Amanda Lohrey, Joan London, Wayne Macauley, Emily Perkins, Kim Scott, Craig Sherbourne, Christos Tsiolkas, and New Zealand author Lloyd Jones. With the exception of Margo Lanagan, who writes fantasy, and Craig Sherbourne, who has also written memoir, the writers she interviewed are literary fiction authors.
Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors includes 21 interviews with Australian authors. These conversations focus not only on the writers’ writing process and methods, but also delve into the books and short stories they have written, central themes in their body of work, jobs associated with being a writer, such as judging competitions and awards, central tips they have for aspiring writers, and more.
Authors interviewed include not only renowned literary authors and poets (David Malouf, Cate Kennedy, Peter Goldsworthy), but also leading crime writers (Michael Robotham, Barry Maitland), well-known popular fiction authors (Di Morrissey, the late Bryce Courtenay), and narrative non-fiction authors (Robert Dessaix and Kate Howarth).
Readers encounter revelations ranging from Alex Miller on the pivotal role of the unconscious, Charlotte Wood on the ethics of ‘stealing’ stories, Robert Drewe on male confusion, Larissa Behrendt on the vexed issue of Anglo-Saxon authors writing on indigenous issues, Gregory Day about the music in language, and more. Other authors include Kristina Olsson, whose brilliant memoir Boy: Lost I lauded in my recent blog post Memoir, Social History, and Autobiography: What are the Differences?, and other authors of favourite books Georgia Blain, Debra Adelaide, Kevin Rabalais, Chris Womersley, Marele Day, and Jon Bauer.
Reading Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors allows you to learn from Australian experts in literary fiction, popular fiction, crime fiction, short fiction, and memoir about what defines good writing; the essence of a good short story; how to build structure and characters; how to write dialogue and whether to use vernacular; how to create a sense of place, voice, and rhythm; the benefits of using symbols; why they are attracted to certain themes in their work, and more. You will learn that some are planners and others prefer to write without a plan. The authors provide their central tip for new writers, discuss the value of writers’ groups and studying creative writing, explain and more. Debut novelists volunteer how they went about getting published. For me, the authors’ frankness and openness has been a revelation and the book a treasure trove of invaluable advice.
Reviews of Celebrating Australian Writing: Conversations with Australian Authors, including comments by creative writing teachers who use the book in their classes, the interview with Robert Drewe as a sample chapter, and information on where it is available can be found on my website here.
All profits from the sale of my book go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.