Cate Kennedy is the author of a range of highly acclaimed books. The most notable of these is her 2010 NSW Premier's Literary Awards People's Choice award winning The World Beneath, which was also shortlisted for The Age fiction prize 2010 and the ASA Barbara Jefferis Award in the same year.
Kennedy's most recent release is The Taste of River Water, a collection of poems. She has also authored a travel memoir Sing, and Don't Cry and several poetry collections. She is one of the three-judge panel for the annual Allen and Unwin Vogel Award for Australian Literature, and has edited several collections of short stories.
In this short podcast Cate unpacks the value of short stories, her tips on writing and reflections on poetry.
Georgia Blain is the author of six novels including Closed for Winter, Candelo, The Blind Eye,
Names For Nothingness and the young adult novel Darkwater. Her most recent novel Too Close to Home explores the clash between the personal and the political in the lives of several adults in Sydney's Marrickville at the time of Kevin Rudd's overthrow.
She was named
one of the Sydney Morning Herald's Best Young Novelists in 1998, and
has been shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Two of her
novels have been optioned for feature films, including Closed for
Winter, which was filmed as Elise in 2007.
She shares her reflections on searching yourself for your writing, researching your home suburb, on writing about modern day racism, parental responsibility and her advice for writers.
Phillipa Fioretti is the author of two books, The Book of Love (2010) and most recently The Fragment of Dreams. She is published by Hashette and writes romantic comedy.
The Fragment of Dreams follows Lily and William, the main characters from The Book of Love as they set up their new life together in Rome, only to be drastically interrupted by family members, accusations of murder and the fate of a valuable fragment of Roman frieze.
Phillipa shares how she became a writer, and her advice for new writers.
Toni Jordan is the author of Addition and Fall Girl, and is regarded as a hilarious and witty romantic comedy writer. Her latest book Fall Girl follows the story of Della Gilmore, a professional con woman pretending to be Dr Ella Canfield, as she tries to convince an attractive and irreverent Daniel Metcalfe, head of the Metcalfe Trust to fund a scientific project.
Toni shares her advice on writing romance, her inspirations and tips for new writers.
LA Larkin is the author of The Genesis Flaw, and the soon to be released Thirst. She writes edgy thrillers that tackle hot topic issues like climate change and genetic engineering. The Genesis Flaw is the story of Serena Swift, an advertising executive who takes on the world's most powerful biotech company. With hackers, hired killers and international chases, it's hard to put down.
As a lover of the thriller genre, she shares her favourite authors, an excerpt from her book and explains the tactics used to keep your reader engaged.
Kristin Cashore is the author of two fantasy books GRACELING and FIRE, and her third book Bitterblue is currently in the revisions stage of writing. GRACELING was nominated for the Andre Norton and William C. Morris award.
Cashore's books are set in the Seven Kingdoms world, and Cashore describes her stories as part of the medieval fantasy niche.
Cashore shares her advice on writing, the issues with using real life people as your characters inspiration, the different challenges of writing your second novel, and how her third book is developing.
Rick Gekoski has lived his life immersed in books; as an author, a rare book dealer who aspires to become a rare book collector "when he grows up" and literary guru. Rick has published a critical book on Joseph Conrad, The Bibliography of William Golding, Staying Up (about football), a collection of essays entitled Tolkien's Gown and Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books and Outside of a Dog: A Bibliomemoir.
He is also a regular broadcaster and reviewer of books. He has founded
two private presses, The Sixth Chamber Press and The Bridgewater Press,
which issue finely printed editions of leading contemporary novelists
and poets. In 2005 he was one of the judges for the Man Booker Prize,
and he is currently Chair of the judges for the Man Booker International
We talk to Rick about the impact of books on one's life, the judging process of the Man Booker prize, "Outside of a Dog" and the books that changed his life, and those he wished he still owned.
With his unrestrained and flowing grey hair AC Grayling might have been conducting a packed house in a frozen line dance, such were the number of heads cocked attentively to a talk that referenced Socrates, Aristotle, courtesans, Monty Python and Jim Carrey. And that was before he told us the meaning of life.
In The Good Book, Grayling explained, he has combined humanity’s wisest thinkers in a secular bible with only one commandment: “Think for yourself.”
Through compiling history’s best thinkers, Grayling aims to give everyone access to the tools they need to make up their own minds about right and wrong, and for them to negotiate with other people for a peaceful coexistence. He wants a world in which each person can live a good life — whatever that means to each of us — without harming anyone else or being forced to live according to anyone else’s morality.
The distinction, he argued, is between this humanistic way and the normative codes — produced by religions, totalitarians and moralists — that apply rules that everyone must follow without regard to their individual needs, talents and goals. “If we are not allowed to be individuals, our lives are distorted,” he said.
“Islam” means “submission” and “sin” means “disobedience”, he pointed out, referencing his competitors’s Good Books, which are based on a relationship of obedience between Man and some version of God. There is no chance for a person in that relationship to make his or her own decisions about how to live a good life.
“The diversity of human life should make it possible for each of us to find a good life commensurate to our talents,” he said. “We should be capacious in our understanding of human variety.”
In producing his own Good Book, Grayling modelled himself on the King James Bible, both in terms of layout — twin columns, chapter and verse — ease of reading, and the editorial process. Just as the Bible was written through a redactive process — taking documents from different sources and tailoring them to fit a single whole — Grayling has taken 30 years to bring together the best and most relevant thoughts of the best thinkers. Importantly, he does not attribute individual ideas to individual thinkers either through the text or footnotes.
“Knowing who the author of an idea is can come between you and the idea,” he said. He pointed to the tendency of readers to put greater weight on an observation because Socrates made it but dismiss it if it came from someone unknown. In a statement that might have chilled any copyright lawyers in the audience, he said, “Anything wise and true belongs to everybody, whether it was said by Aristotle or Joe Bloggs.”
“The meaning of life,” Grayling told the audience, “is what each one of us makes it through our choices and goals. There are lots of good meanings and each of us can make our own.”
The challenge, he said, was taking the time to decide what for each of us was the meaning of our lives. “Most people would rather die than think,” he quoted Bertrand Russell, “and most people do.”
If there is one person who could change that, AC Grayling with his humour, accessibility and inspirational mind could be Him.
There’s a real sense of excitement among those people rushing in to see Michael Cunningham in conversation with Caroline Baum at the Sydney Theatre. Even Melbourne lit blogger and tweeter, Angela Meyer (aka Literary Minded) admits via Twitter that she’s not taking notes during this one – she just wants to concentrate on everything Cunningham has to say.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Hours, and most recently By Nightfall, immediately charms the audience with a wonderful story about a reader called Helen. Helen was a woman he worked with many years ago in a bar in Laguna. She was in her forties, had four children, and her husband had just left her – he walked away from their kids and also left her with a lot of debts. So Helen was working three jobs to make ends meet. Despite what could reasonably be called a difficult life, she always found time to read. She spent just an hour before bed, every day, reading. Her favourite books were thriller novels and Cunningham gave her a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. She finished it in just three weeks.
Helen’s complete lack of pretension where reading was concerned had a huge impact on Cunningham’s writing. “I moved from writing literary art for abstract reasons to writing books for Helen.”
And so started a session so full of insight into the writer’s life my hand started cramping from all the note taking. Rather than attempt to condense all his wisdom in this one post, I’m going to choose just three of the topics covered by Baum, and give you his responses. (You should also check out Valerie Khoo’s interview with him here.)
On the moral message of his novels
Baum was interested to know what the underlying moral message was in his latest novel, By Nightfall. While Cunningham admits “writers exist to complicate the world”, he doesn’t believe any writer should use their work to push any particular agenda.
“Personally I don’t feel a novel’s primary purpose is to be moral or political. But there’s nothing like a novel to show you what it’s like to be a person other than yourself. Novels create empathy.”
He believes that citizens are responsible for activism, not novelists. They need to understand that everybody has a story, and their job is to portray the innerness of people. Morality just gets in the way of that process.
On the rhythm of writing
It’s well known that Cunningham’s prose is closely linked with music. He tells us that By Nightfall was written with the music of contemporary composers Philip Glass, Brian Eno and John Cale in mind. He says: “Language is about meaning but it’s equally about music. Any novel I admire is going to have a certain rhythm or beat.”
On planning a novel
Cunningham admits that he never knows where a novel is going. While he likes to deliver what he calls “the expected surprise” (or twist), he doesn’t plan extensively to deliver this. “I worry that if I plan a novel, the best it will do is just get there.”
He also admits that once he finishes a novel, it’s “never quite the cathedral of fire” he imagined it would be, but this drives him to always be better.
There was more. Much more. Cunningham is an incredibly generous and inspiring speaker, full of quotable quotes, like this one:
“Writing is something that feels like life, using only language and ink and paper. That’s wild.”
Video interview with Michael
We talk to Michael about the phenomenon that become "The Hours", the pressure of this success on his writing, how music plays an intrinsic part of his writing, his writing routine and much more.
Review of The Vagabonds session at Sydney Writers' Festival 2011
I'm sure many of the people in the audience for this session of Sydney Writers Festival are budding authors. Like me, they are keen to get the ink on the page and to see their idea turned into prose that will excite, intrigue, move and captivate their readers. I'm also pretty sure that after listening to David Mitchell and Daniel Swift everyone left with a new and deeper understanding of how important thorough research is to make their work really authentic.
Both David and Daniel’s most recent work are examples of how good research can make the difference between an ordinary book and a great one.
David’s most recent novelThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is about a young Dutch clerk and is set in Japan in the late eighteenth century. Daniel’s book Bomber County is a memorial to his grandfather and the part he played as a bomber pilot in the allied bombing campaigns of World War 2. They are very different books, but what links them is the solid research that went in to making them authentic, interesting and compelling.
From library to internet Admirably facilitated by Louise Adler - CEO and publisher-in-chief of Melbourne University Publishing - the session allowed David and Daniel to describe how they undertook extensive research on their subject. Both had spent a lot of time with their heads buried in books in the library or trawling through the internet. Daniel had also made a point of visiting the places and towns that were key to his story.
As David pointed out, "Readers know when you don't know stuff. It's a bit like an iceberg, nine tenths of your research is hidden and not immediately obvious to the reader, but without it your work would sink without trace."
However, part of the skill of a writer is knowing when enough is enough in research terms, and not overdoing it to show your reader you spent countless hours in the library or on the internet finding out details that make you sound like a bit of a smart-arse. "Don't do the background on the background," is David's advice.
Interviews and first hand experiences Daniel spent a lot of time travelling to the towns in Europe that had been bombed during the War and speaking to people who had been affected directly or indirectly by the role his grandfather played. Talking to people enabled him to bring the humanity aspect into the story. He did say that although people were generally very open and willing to talk to him, he was always aware that there may have been significant experiences that were too traumatic for people to tell and have been pushed to the very deep recesses of their memory.
That is where the art of the storyteller comes in. It's not an academic exercise you are undertaking, it is a work of fiction. The trick, or more likely the skill, is in being able to take that research and weave your story seamlessly around it.
Explore the unexpected One of David’s top tips is that you need to let your curiosity take you down paths you might not always have planned. "Let your research take you places you didn't expect, happenstance is a wonderful thing for an author."
Daniel’s top tip was to find the best archives in libraries, but wherever possible travel to the locations you have in your story and talk to people.
This was an entertaining and inspiring insight into how two great writers really understand their craft and the importance of good research. I will read their books, and every other book, with a new and better appreciation of the amount of work that has gone in to make them stand out from the crowd. I’m sure all the budding writers in the audience will now approach their research with renewed enthusiasm; it can make all the difference to a great story.