5 rules of writing

5 rules of writing

5 rules of writing

The Emerging Writers’ Festival came to Sydney this weekend. Although I bought a Golden Ticket and went to Melbourne for almost two weeks earlier this year, I decided to go to the one-day event, largely because I love hearing about other writers talk about their craft but also because I’m a NSW Writers’ Centre member and I can walk there from my place in Summer Hill.

The festival begins with The 5×5 Rules of Writing, where five writers share their five rules of writing, giving the audience 25 tips to take away (although I could swear in the past it was called ‘7 Enviable Lines’ and featured just three writers…). In the true spirit of Benjamin Law’s advice to Write. It. Down, on the walk home I started thinking about what my five rules would be and recorded the following on my mobile so I would remember them:

  1. Start projects. Ideas are no good until you do something with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s ugly; even the ugliest ducklings, with love, can become beautiful swans. The most important thing is to do the writing.
  2. Finish projects. A piece of work may never seem finished or perfect, but you have to know where to stop.
  3. Be aware that early success can curtail your writing. Never think of your achievements as the pinnacle, keep striving to better yourself. If you find that your past achievements are preventing you from moving forward, either because of the pressure in trying to live up to previous heights or because you feel you’ve already done your life’s work, put those achievements away and treat the next piece of work as if it were your first. You can always bring those past achievements out again when you’re looking for encouragement or reminders of what you’re capable of doing.
  4. Do something other than writing to improve your writing. Go for a walk, learn something new, play a game, pat a dog. This will either inform your writing in a new way or give your mind space away from your writing so you can look on it with new eyes.
  5. Remember why you write. Writing because it’s your job is a different mindset to writing because you need to write, or an idea won’t go away until you write it out, or you find writing is the only way you can truly express yourself. Find out why you write and keep that in mind when things get tough.

Review: Inheritance by Lisa Forrest (book)

Review: Inheritance by Lisa Forrest (book)

Inheritance by Lisa ForrestInheritance

By Lisa Forrest (HarperCollins, 2013)

I have spent the entire year thus far reading books featuring strong female protagonists on the speculative end of the spectrum (sci-fi/fantasy et al)—Veronica Roth, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Garth Nix, just to name a few authors—yet Inheritance is not a book I would ordinarily have bought and read due to seeming altogether too girly. Under the influence of a festival, however, I did purchase the book and even had it signed by the author while I was volunteering at a Sydney Writers’ Festival School Days event earlier this year. The thing that tipped me towards it was the concept of circus performers having magic powers. I friggin’ love the circus (so long as the participants are human), so add a dash of magic and I’m looking for a rollicking read.

I read Inheritance very quickly, usually a sign of a plot with momentum, though with this novel I was really racing to get to the juicy bits that didn’t come until the final climax, which was unfortunately fleeting and unsatisfactory. Protagonist Tallulah (Lu) spends 80% of the book being trained at a circus school while simultaneously trying to find out more about a special silver cuff she has inherited and the Cirkulatti, the supernatural circus troupe she is supposedly about to join. There’s plenty of tension as Lu works her way through the social politics of an established group and small climaxes throughout the narrative as she discovers her new powers.

Forrest is very careful to make Lu work hard for her gift, things don’t come easily as they do in similar ‘discovering magic’ books. The problem is that you can see the seams of this at work and it only seems to make the book longer than it needs to be at the front.

Similarly, Lu’s friendships are also hard-won and supporting characters are only sketched until Forrest needs them to be more acutely drawn. The most interesting character is Adelaide (Della), Lu’s initial rival and then friend, and from what we learn about Della it seems that she should probably be the protagonist but we are left with the goody-goody, indecisive yet powerful Lu, which I feel is a bit of a waste.

Fortunately Lu isn’t as pig-headed as Tris from the Divergent series, nor as rash as Katniss from The Hunger Games books, but having an overly cautious main character makes for a boring journey. Lu has cool powers and does interesting things with them, but she doesn’t engage with her discoveries emotionally or intellectually the way you hope a protagonist would. After all, as readers we see the world through the protagonist’s eyes and if fatigue, weird dreams and headaches are what her life is like, then we’re hardly going to see the wonder that is patently there if only Forrest could define it more clearly.

It’s also a shame that the antagonist is so obvious from the start (Saskia has an opposite trajectory to Della, starting as not exactly friendly but at least in league with Lu) but Forrest does play other characters’ relationships to Lu quite nicely, to the point where it isn’t clear who Lu can trust at various points.

The author also uses a historic event (the Neko riots) to good effect, reinterpreting it to fit the supernatural circus troupe story. The parallels between figures of the past, which Lu learns of through dream sequences, and the present is clearly evident, however, and leaves very little guessing who is supposed to be who reincarnated, which spoils the sense of mystery and intrigue the narrative tries so hard to instil throughout.

It turns out the book is off-balance because it is the first of a series, which I wish I’d been told prior to opening it (nope, still haven’t forgiven the two-year gap between Garth Nix’s Lirael and Abhorsen). This makes the weird pacing of the book a little more understandable and forgivable, and I do hope the sequel lets some of the other characters shine through a little more as well as highlights the features of what is clearly supposed to be a very cool place.

Will I read the sequel? Look, I don’t tend to discriminate against writing choices I disagree with (I have issues with the writing of Suzanne Collins, James Dashner, Roth and Clare but I still read their series) so I will certainly look out for the next book. The drive to find out what happens next is the strongest drive of all and I’m a complete sucker for it. Just don’t let me wait too long, HarperCollins, or I’ll never pick up the trail again (*looking at you Christopher Paolini*).

Book rating: 5/10

Enjoyment rating: 7/10

Hello Move-ember

Hello Move-ember
John Coutis

John Coutis // Australian Speakers Bureau

John Coutis is a man with no legs. Because he has no legs, John has endured a number of hardships in his life. On the plus side, dealing with his affliction has also enabled him to become a speaker on the international circuit.

I met John when I was interning at Pan Macmillan in my last year at uni. He was in Sydney to promote his book From the Ground Up and I was shadowing him and his publicist from interview to interview at various radio stations.

Though I’m not really fond of the hardship memoir genre I did read the book eventually, yet the thing that stuck with me about John is that he refused to call himself a motivational speaker. His motto? “Motivation lasts for ten minutes… inspiration lasts a lifetime.”

November marks the time of Movember, that month of hirsute upper lips grown to raise funds for men’s health, and also NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), a curse for those of us in the southern hemisphere who’ve just come into brilliant weather and party season.

Fundraising and creative pursuits have something in common: they need both motivation and inspiration to work.

I mulled over this while trekking around Sydney Harbour as part of the Seven Bridges Walk last week. It’s a 27-kilometre circuit traversing, yes, seven bridges of Sydney, designed as a fundraiser for the Cancer Council. In addition to paying the $30 entry fee, I raised the grand total of $61.50 (I’d like to thank Wendy Hanna and Dylan Johnstone who are the champs) and felt really terrible about it. I’m absolutely hopeless at raising money because I’m just not passionate enough about causes to turn my friends and acquaintances into donors.

What the Cancer Council does is worthy. We’ve all lost someone to cancer; I tallied several relatives and recently remembered that my high school captain died of leukaemia just a year after we graduated. And yet I just can’t get worked up about it enough to incite the kind of behaviour that gets people giving.

Finding the why

Last month I attended the Australian Institute of Project Management’s annual conference. The closing keynote was Dan Flynn from the Thankyou Group, which you may know has a range of products, including bottled thankyou water, that goes to projects in developing countries. Dan and his friends started a friggin’ business so he could fund projects to provide clean water to areas in the world where there was none. Having a business means the flow of money to these projects would be more sustainable than asking people to donate again and again. And despite all the knockbacks and the obstacles the group faced, it continues to achieve more and more because they focus on the ‘why’. Clean water saves lives. Everything else just pales in comparison.

Blood50On Friday I donated blood, which I’ve done regularly since I was 16. At the compulsory consultation prior (where a nurse tests your blood pressure and haemoglobin levels to ensure you’re not going to wane after donating) the nurse told me it was my 50th donation and for that I received a little Red Cross pin. In the waiting room I read a memoir by Glenn Orgias, one of the Australian Red Cross blood donation campaigners. Glenn was attacked by a shark while surfing some years ago and received 150 blood transfusions. Glenn realised it would take him a lifetime to give that blood back so he decided to use his profile to encourage others to donate, which would make more of an impact. Blood saves lives and you never know when you need it.

When I look back at my life, I realise I’ve been selfish all along. I spend so much of my efforts focusing on how I can help. I scrounge around for more money to give to charity or to my friends’ and family’s fundraisers, I volunteer my time to various organisations and once a quarter I get a big needle jabbed into my right arm so the Red Cross gets another pint of O positive. I should have, at least some of the time, been cultivating enough passion to generate motivational leverage to bring others along with me. I guess I was hoping all along that I could just lead by example but the number of actual people I’ve actually inspired into actual action is pitifully small.

Passionless moments

In film class we once watched a short film by Jane Campion called Passionless Moments, which is a series of vignettes about ordinary people doing quirky things or having whimsical thoughts but without motivation, inspiration, or passion behind them. This has been my life for some time now. Not in a bad way, mind. I’m not depressed and in some ways it’s good to cruise for a little while.

I’ve never been excitable or a drama queen: my emotional amplitude is quite steady and that’s the way I like it thank you very much. And yet, as I was combing through some old papers—letters and cards from friends, scraps of paper with ideas for stories scribbled on them, parts of novels, a romance serial I once wrote for a classmate, poems even—I realised that along the way I’d lost my creative writing mojo.

Writing is my job and I am happy that it is. What I do is easy and I’m good at it and I make a living. Past Adeline would be very pleased at how this has all turned out. But the amount of creative writing I’ve done in the past two years has trickled down to zero. Oh, you’ll have seen me at writers’ festivals soaking up creative wisdom every other month but my actual output, I am ashamed to admit, is zero. I haven’t even completed so much as a blog post since May, though there are about 8 drafts lurking in the background at the moment.

Sifting through that trove of paper has somehow re-energised me. The act has reminded me of who I am and what I am meant to be. If I am to be a writer it is not merely to earn money writing for others. It is to write things for myself because I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t (that’s love, right?), it is to write to understand the world, it is to write to get other people to see the world differently. I’m not yet good at creative writing. It will be challenging, but I should not be frightened of the work that is ahead.

Move it, move it

So here we are, November. After the hyperventilation that was October (did I mention moving house, National Young Writers’ Festival, sister’s wedding, AIPM conference, AISA conference?) you and I are going to be close. We are, in fact, going to get too close for comfort. You are going to nudge me out of my comfort zone and I am going to write my way into trouble and out of it.

Movember is mo-tivational November.

NaNoWriMo will remind me to be inspired, be creative.

Move-ember will be like the shunting of a reluctant train, painful but ultimately gets to its destination.

I now know my ‘destination’. It will be to move for the sake of moving so I remember how to move. Only then can I aim for somewhere to go.