On Writing

Writers, editors, agents, publishers and more share their thoughts, experiences and stories.

About a decade ago, Writers Victoria held a little competition: ‘Send us two-hundred words of non-fiction and we’ll give the winner a book.’ At the time I’d been tootling around with a non-fiction project for a couple of years. I had young children and a day job, but every now and then, in the cracks of my life, I’d do some research, do some writing, then do some more research.

How does anything happen? A little over twenty years ago, a good friend of mine told me she'd always wanted to put out a book of her own writing but didn't think she could do it alone. She had heard, from a mutual friend of ours, that I had written some poetry, and suggested we could team up – weave our short poems and prose pieces together into a self-published book. I hadn't planned on making anything I wrote so public, but sure, why not? Maybe I, too, had things to say.

It was a Saturday night in Sydney, and twelve of us Asian playwrights were wandering around looking for a place to drink after the Lotus workshops, sponsored by Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Playwriting Australia. A drunk white man teetered between us. He looked in at one Chinese girl’s face and said, ‘You’re Asian.’ He then looked at the rest of us, ranging from a dark-skinned Singhalese to a pale-skinned Vietnamese to an Indonesian Muslim wearing the veil, and exclaimed, ‘You’re all sorts of Asian!’

Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton have their ‘Treehouse’, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the ‘Illuminae Files’. Heck, even father daughter writing duo Tom and Meg Keneally share ‘The Monsarrat’ series. There are so many famous creative collaborations in Australian publishing, and fine examples of how some of our best and most creative minds have melded together to build incredible bookish worlds. But collaboration in publishing goes so far beyond just co-authors, or authors and illustrators and the final partnering we see on the cover.

Collaboration – between marginalised creators and concerned publishing professionals – is at the heart of all grassroots movements that aim to eradicate the kinds of systemic biases that keep people from Indigenous and diverse backgrounds (including people of colour, people living with physical, physiological or neurological difference and people who identify as LGBTIQA) from telling their own stories, in their own words and pictures.

The first time I used the Internet, I was reluctant. So I could just type in any subject, and articles or photos would magically appear? A technophobe at heart, I hid my intimidation behind scorn. ‘Who would want that?’ I remember asking. ‘It won’t last.’

Back in July 2012 a group of disparate strangers gathered at Writers Victoria to start a six-month novel-writing course taught by award-winning author Carrie Tiffany. We were to varying degrees anxious and excited, waiting for the first words from our teacher. Carrie’s unhurried and considered teaching cultivated our skills and knowledge, inspiring us to develop something more meaningful.

As the daughter of a writer, I know all too well what a writing life is like – full of impressive highs and lows, years of determination and grit, the monotony of writing, writing, writing and the constant fear of failure. Readers’ letters inspire joy and make a writer remember why they do this job. Royalty payments! Short-listings! Awards! And then, bad reviews. Goodreads. Slow sales.

I was twelve when I first held in my shaking hands an envelope postmarked from a writing competition I had entered. I can still remember unfolding the letter to see those words I have coveted ever since:

Dear Kate,

Congratulations!

‘When another writer in another house is not free, no writer is free.’ – Orhan Pamuk