Tag Archives: silence

Book Week: Hits & memories

When students ask about my ‘writing process’, I sometimes tell them about spending three months in a shed to finish the manuscript for Game as Ned. No Internet, no email, no music. Phone switched off. Very quiet. Very productive.

When I describe this regime, I see teen audience members recoil. ‘That must have been torture’, their frowns say to me. ‘Why would you put yourself through anything so gruelling?’ Social media deprivation would appear to be more dastardly than water-boarding.

Truth be told, many an author would beg shamelessly for regular access to a quiet space with minimal distractions and the chance to listen, uninterrupted, to the voices in their head. These moments are golden. Silence is when the imagination is best able to flex its muscles.

That’s why there’s an element of relief when the peak public speaking period of the year is over and normal writing routines can be resumed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had an excellent month sharing in Book Week and other literacy events. Getting out and talking about writing and the power of story is an important part of my job. But when I’m immersed in a manuscript and nearing the end, part of me just wants to lock myself away and get the job done.

Assuming the planets align, the cat is not having a bad fur day and those ninja assassins don’t uncover my whereabouts, my plan for tomorrow is to plunge back into my fictitious universe. That’s why I need to report back to you all now – before I return to the bunker.

Book Week (Month) throws up all sorts of incidents but I’ll leave you with three that made an impression on me:

1. I watched as a boy was suspended indefinitely from a school after being caught wielding a knife at another student. I didn’t see the incident, only the aftermath. But, studying the face of the alleged offender, I couldn’t help wondering what led to him taking a weapon to school. My gut feeling is that his back story would be very powerful indeed.

2. A student who had been studying Game as Ned¬†was asked to write an epilogue or extra chapter for classwork. She shared it with me after a writing workshop and it was fantastic. I was blown away by the life she’d given characters after the story I gave them ended. Kudos, big time.

3. Schools are complicated, sometimes chaotic places and the bane of the teacher and public speaker has to be the regular mid-class public announcements along the lines of, ‘Excuse me, staff and students, would George Thessaloniki please attend the office at recess because his mum has dropped off his cardigan’ or, ‘Would the following students attend the vice principal’s office immediately for post-camp tattoo removal.’

My favourite PA interjection of the month went as follows: “Attention staff and students! I apologise for the following interruption.”

And that was it. No news bulletin. No fire drill. Just a random, but polite, interruption. Job done. You’ve got to laugh.

Many thanks to all the librarians, English teachers and students who have hosted me, not just in the past month but throughout this year. I’ve had great fun.


In time, out of time and time out

Thanks to the filtering powers of Twitter, I enjoyed this post-Sydney Writers’ Festival piece from YA author Claire Zorn, as published in Overland recently.

I’d have responded to it earlier but … hey, not enough hours in the day and all that. I mean, as a parent, husband, author, freelancer, blogger, Twitterer, school councillor, cyclist, reader, writing workshopper… sigh. As someone wearing many hats, there’s a constant babble of demands, some more discretionary than others.

Ms Zorn reports on a SWF session entitled ‘Can Literature Survive the Digital Age?’, during which author Cate Kennedy re-spun the question as ‘Can writers survive the digital age despite all the tweeting distractions?’

It’s a valid question. I started blogging to promote my first book, then tweeting (initially) to plug my blog. Now Twitter helps me streamline my web-surfing. Rather than checking a long list of blogs and news sites, I can visit the big tree, see who is tweeting what, enter into the banter or move on. It’s a great way to ‘meet’ and interact with other authors, readers, reviewers and more.

So it can be a time-saver. But it can be a time-waster and, as it throbs with fresh tweets, a procrastinator’s worst enemy.

Ms Kennedy fleshes out her argument in Overland, suggesting that the constant distractions of social media such as Twitter and Facebook are an author’s enemy. She says the ideal mental state for writing involves welcoming emptiness and solitude and mastering your own restless boredom.

She’s right. It’s a constant battle for me. While it’s reassuring to know that other authors are struggling with edits, plot twists and finances (via Twitter, status updates and more,) my writing works best in silence.

I finished Game as Ned in a room above a friend’s garage without Internet, email or any distractions (apart from a table laden with Thomas the Tank Engine toys). Much of Five Parts Dead was written in another friend’s spare room, also disconnected from the wireless world.

I work better when I’ve had time to distance myself from the babble, savour the silence and let ideas grow. This is why I’m envious of the musician Bon Iver, who apparently went into the wilderness to heal himself and returned with an album that has won a cult following.

It’s also why my novels both germinated in periods of stillness and/or solitude – a summer landscaping at a Mt Macedon garden and a holiday at a remote lighthouse. Time slows down. The senses numbed by daily life are revitalised.

As I turn my mind back to Book 3, I’ll be seeking that silence once again.

Incidentally, Ms Zorn mentions catching a SWF session with author/cartoonist Josh Neufeld. Wish I’d got to that one. Mr Neufeld’s non-fiction comic A.D: New Orleans After the Deluge is a powerful, multimedia experience online. It hooked me, big-time and shows what a force cartooning can be.


One of the things I learned during my time as a daily journo is that everybody loves a list story. Whether it’s Top 10 Ways to Avoid Cancer or Top Five Films of the Year, people will read it. To all the web editors out there, it’s a guaranteed way to boost eyeball traffic, surpassed only by headlines such as Win Win Win…. (and other words that most firewalls will block.)

Being a sucker for a list story myself, I read all the Top Albums of 2008 stories and, following my hunches, purchased a couple of the most consistently critically acclaimed for my iPod. One of them strikes me as OK but not what I hoped for. The other got a lukewarm initial response but has subsequently sunk into my bloodstream. I’m starting every day with it. I like the album cover, love the title and am drawn to the story of the creative process.

Bon Iver’s ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ apparently flowed from from a band bust-up, romantic break-up and illness. Muso Justin Vernon headed off to a remote snowbound cabin for three-months’ R & R – but ended up recording an album in seclusion, playing all the instruments and doing all the harmonies himself. It’s raw. The lyrics are elusive. It’s folky and far from rocky. I really like it.

The author part of me is envious of the idea of three months locked away with nature. Silence is golden. It helps clear your head of the white noise of phones, traffic, television and other distractions. With patience and silence, creative ideas can germinate safely without being lost.

The dad part of me knows three months’s seclusion is highly unlikely.

The social part of me recalls that I once went solo wilderness camping for four days and was practically talking to trees in that short period. How would I cope with three months away?

I find myself wondering about the ‘Emma’ from the album title too. I wonder if she’s heard it and how she has responded. She’s apparently a past love of Justin Vernon’s and that gets me thinking of unrequited and lost love. It’s corny but I understand why so many poems and songs are written about loves that never eventuated. I guess it’s because the enticing, addictive possibility of true love will never be tarnished by actuality.

And I wonder about the scars we leave behind when relationships founder. ‘For Emma’ suggests Justin Vernon has collected a few.

Anyway, if you want to see Bon Iver doing their thing laid back and unplugged, check out these beautiful clips from Paris. Great stuff.