TEXT review

Running into the fog: Australian writers speak

review by Helen Gildfind


Macintosh HD:Users:lindaweste:Desktop:Talking_writing_xoumsize-500x666.jpg

Kirsten Krauth (ed)
Talking Writing
New South Wales Writing Centre, Sydney, 2013
ISBN 9780957973510
Ebook 480pp  AUD9.99


Talking Writing [1] is an e-book presenting a digital archive of articles published in the New South Wales Writers’ Centre magazine, Newswrite. The book offers a huge range of contemporary Australian voices exploring the writer’s inner and outer journey from novice to published professional in a digital age.

The collection is divided into seven themed sections. The first section explores writers’ literary influences: Emily Maguire discusses how Graham Greene has mentored her fiction; Fiona McGregor claims no writer can survive without the ‘fundamental protein’ (10.3) of poetry (Anna Akhmatova taught her to write about ‘the skin of the earth’, 10.5); and Fiona Wright learns to see the extraordinary in the ordinary through Patrick White’s compassionate characterisations of suburbanites. Further contributions in this section testify to the diversity of writers’ literary influences: Sam Cooney pronounces David Foster Wallace the best writer in ‘forever years’ (12.5); Adrian Deans is captivated by Irvine Welsh’s formal experimentalism, ‘vicious honesty’ and ‘kaleidoscopic morality’ (16.8); and Jon Bauer applauds Ray Bradbury’s intolerance for tortured artists suffering ‘writer’s block’, reminding us that when it comes to the ‘loveable bastard’ (18.12) of writing, the means must be the end: writers must run into the ‘fog’ willingly (18.11), ‘with fascination and patience’ (18.11), and despite all doubts.

The theme of Talking Writing’s second section is ‘emerging writers’, a term that proves contentious. Twyford-Moore suggests that the phrase ‘emerging writer’ is best understood as meaning ‘coming into view’ (19.5), and Sullivan – a ‘late bloomer’ (27.3) – reminds us that writers emerge at all stages of life. Pip Smith and Adrian Deans maintain that rejection improves a writer’s craft. Deans wonders if online self-publishing is a good thing: without the ‘Destiny Police’ (i.e. publishers) who will ‘euthanise’ terrible writing (26.35). Van Badham and Jessica Au discuss the stresses and excitements of first publication and being professionally edited. Further responses to the theme ‘emerging writers’ include: Badham, who reminds us that the ‘final’ draft we submit to a publisher is their editors’ first draft; William Kostakis, Aleesah Darlison and Angie Schiavone, who discuss the Young Adult market; Ricky Macourt, who examines the ‘protocols and permissions’ (24.3) that uniquely influence and shape his writing as a young bi-cultural Aboriginal writer; and Kirsten Krauth, who reflects on how Three Novelettes has given voice to three exceptionally talented South-Western Sydney girls.

In the collection’s discussion of genre, John Safran gives novice writers for television a kick up the backside: ‘Here’s what’s wrong with you. You’re lazy and too in love with your one stupid idea’ (28.22). He warns writers against pride and sloth, and claims the latter can be overcome by working with someone else: ‘When being watched I have a Protestant work ethic, when I’m not being watched I have a bong smoker’s work ethic’ (28.19).  Rebecca Giggs discusses nature writing, noting how we live in a time where the boundary between ‘real’ weather and ‘its counterfeit’ (30.5) is being eroded as we become accustomed to the terrifying magical realism of unnatural disasters. Twyford-Moore interviews Oscar-winner Shaun Tan about the transition from illustrating books to animating films. Tan explains how stories help people confront the positive and negative bewilderments of change. Other writers in this section include Sonya Harnett on non-fiction and horror, Hilary Bell and Keith Thompson on screen and playwriting (a film, unlike a play, is ‘like an insect caught in amber’, 31.18) and Ian Meadows with Awek B Akech on collaborative playwriting aimed at countering xenophobia.

In ‘How to Get Your Manuscript Moving’, Charlotte Wood warns against succumbing to readers’ and publishers’ desire for likeable characters. She relates this impulse to a wider cultural trend of ‘diagnosing’ people in reductive ‘pseudo-psychological terms’ (41.10). Further responses in this section emanate from a range of practitioners: Kate Holden reminds writers tackling intimacy that sex is ‘a conversation’ and ‘a continuation of dialogue’ (42.15) between two people; Kirsten Tranter reflects on the pressures of writing a second novel; Mandy Brett discusses the anxiety of editing (‘an editor’s read is a mean, carping, joyless thing’, 44.5); and Judith Beveridge advises how to write a good love poem (quoting Wei T’ai: ‘be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling’, 48.56). Completing this section of Talking Writing are Krauth’s interview with Veronica Gleeson about screenwriting; Kathryn Lomer’s discussion of the short story with Cate Kennedy; and Patti Miller’s article on memoir.

In the collection’s section on digital media, Cooney notes how digital shorts (e-books of 8,000-15,000 words) can give short literary forms an infinite shelf life, James Bradley reflects on how blogging has engaged him in a democratic ‘strangely intimate online world’ (50.14) that has freed him of the desire to control everything, and Geordie Williamson and Angela Meyer discuss digital-era criticism (including the problem of writing gratis). Other responses in this section of Talking Writing include: Kim Powell, who discusses her blog The News with Nipples and the difficulty of using social media to criticise Australian news media (‘The irony would be delicious if it wasn’t so damaging’, 52.9); Linda Carroli, who outlines Vooks (video plus book) and crowd editing; Paul Callaghan, on interactive story telling; and Sophie Cunningham, on print journals’ relationship to online publishing (a literary journal, which, she notes, is like a platypus, ‘made of disparate parts [and] needing a very precise environment in which to survive’, 54.3).

In ‘How To Reach an Audience’, Alice Grundy appraises the development of Seizure magazine, Lisa Dempster encourages us to seek out the writing of globally marginalised women and to build online communities constituted by something more than Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter followers, and Bronwyn Mehan and Angela Meyer discuss Australia’s neglect of short fiction and Mehan’s new publishing company, Spineless Wonders. Other practitioners featuring in this section of Talking Writing include: Jen Breach, who considers how writers are expected to be public performers; Patrick Lenton, who spars with Adam Norris on the ‘Touchy Subject of Reviews’ (‘there should be a site that reviews other people’s reviews’ 63.10); and Mark Mordue, who argues for the importance of intelligent criticism in the digital age.  Mordue states that ‘a great critic can, and should, be a responsive poet’ (66.8), and that good criticism creates rather than destroys, and loves rather than hates. For those of us sick of hearing oldies condemn youngies as narcissistic, vacuous and digitally deformed, Lili Wilkinson emphasises our kids’ cultural worth, engagement and literacy. She notes that today’s teens ‘are the first generation of true writers’: text is ‘their primary mode of communication’ (68.5) as they construct identities across multiple digital mediums and engage in digitally-enabled, global activist organisations.

The closing section of Talking Writing examines the relationship between writing and healing. Arnold Zable shares how writing terrifying and surreal stories about Black Saturday has empowered many of its survivors. Twyford-Moore suggests that David Foster Wallace’s suicide made him look seriously at  his own depression, writing and relationships by forcing him to recognise how the writing process so often mimics ‘manic-depressive cycles’ (68.15). Quoting Roberto Bolaňo’s ‘Illness+Literature = Illness’ (Bolaňo 2013), Twyford-Moore’s article powerfully warns against romanticising depression as intrinsic to ‘creativity’ or valuing creative production over life itself (68.17). Keri Glastonbury’s brief survey of the growing genre of Medical Memoir reminds us that ‘life writing’ is ‘always-already peculiarly imbued with the aura of its other: mortality’ (69.12). This final section of Talking Writing shows how both the act and content of writing can, quite literally, be a matter of life and death.

Talking Writing offers a vast, accessible and engaging entry point into the diverse and complex world of contemporary Australian writing and publishing. Ultimately, the optimism and energy of this collection leaves its readers feeling confident that Australian writing can and will adapt to the money-strapped, digitised world we live in today.


Works cited
Bolaňo, Roberto 2013 [2003] ‘Illness+Literature = Illness’, The Insufferable Gaucho trans Chris Andrews, New Directions, New York return to text


Helen Gildfind lives in Melbourne. Her short stories, book reviews, essays and poetry have been published in Australia and overseas.


Return to Contents Page
Return to Home Page

Vol 17 No 2 October 2013
General editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo
Reviews editor: Linda Weste