On Writing

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

I begin every talk I ever give – no matter what the subject – by telling people they need to have something worth selling. It applies to agents, publishers, and authors. The best description of something worth selling is: a good story, well told. This applies to fiction, narrative non-fiction and children’s books.

‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’ – Marcel Proust 

Indiana Jones burst onto screens when I was a young kid and the film changed the direction of my life forever. No longer was I satisfied with stories set in worlds I knew, I now longed to discover cultures and destinations that captured my imagination and came to life as if they were supporting characters in a story. History, legends, descriptions of aromas and food I’d never smelt or tasted, details of narrow backstreets in ancient cities, languages that rolled off the speaker’s tongue but were foreign to my ears. I wanted all of it.

The first time it happened, I was writing in my studio. I heard it a split second before I felt the roof shake: a low rumble from somewhere above me. I grabbed a pen – my weapon of choice, apparently – and stood up. Did Icelanders have an avalanche warning the way we had bushfire sirens back in Australia? And then a mass of snow rushed from the gutters and hit the ground below. 

1st September 2009

Dear A or ‘Bastard Darcy’,

A: Oh god! She’s written me a letter. Bitch, please! What does she think this is? A Jane Austen novel? I am by no means her Mr Darcy and she is no Elizabeth Bennett. Does she expect me to write back? Jesus, I hope not. Is there a return address? No? Good, I can just send a generic text message. Something like, ‘Hey girl, thanks for the letter. It was . . . descriptive.’ Good, that should do it.

‘Being on top of a branch of a tree,’ is a way of expressing how travellers conduct themselves whenever they land in a new environment. They always have to be cautious of their moves, otherwise they might easily fall down and hurt themselves. Watching their moves and steps would always help them hang safely, as long as they will wish to stay happily, on their preferable ‘branch of tree’. 

Where do you do your writing?

I have a studio at the Abbotsford Convent, where I do most of my writing. If I can’t get there, I will try and carve a chunk of time out of the day and write by hand in an exercise book or my general notebook. Usually this means an out-of-the-way cafe near work (I teach at RMIT). On my recent Asialink residency in Myanmar/ Burma (funded by Arts Victoria), I didn’t have a dedicated writing space, so I ended each day writing up my experiences in local internet cafes. 

Photo of Lee Kofman in bushland

Dictionary Definition:

1. Not as well-known as their female counterparts, the Literary Wives (LW). Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s ‘wife’, for example, is nowadays inseparable from Stein’s oeuvre; Stein even titled one of her books ‘The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas’, forever mythologising her helpmate’s role in the Stein legend.

Do you have a manuscript in your ‘bottom drawer’? One that you promised yourself that you would finish, polish, and get out to agents and/or publishers this year?

Now it’s October. . . The year is almost over and you’re keen to make good on that New Year’s resolution and get it onto someone’s desk before midnight this New Year’s Eve.


Could there be a better time to make your submission?

Who were the writers you admired when you first started writing?

I started writing when I was only six or seven and my favourite writers were people like Enid Blyton, CS Lewis and Eleanor Farjeon. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve always loved to read, and so the two have gone hand-in-hand ever since.