This article was originally published in August 2019 on our ‘Writers on Writers Vic’ page, for our 30th year of operating.
Anna Spargo-Ryan is the Melbourne-based author of The Gulf and The Paper House, and winner of the 2016 Horne Prize for her essay ‘The Suicide Gene’. Her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Island, Kill Your Darlings, Meanjin, Good Weekend, The Guardian, and many other places. She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at Deakin University and was awarded the 2017 Philip Brown History Award. Through Creative Victoria, Anna received a Creators Fund grant in 2018 to work on her third novel, which follows the true story of Rose Lattin, an inmate at the Adelaide Destitute Asylum in 1887 and 1890. Anna joined Writers Victoria in 2010 and her membership hasn’t lapsed since.
Tell us about your involvement with Writers Victoria.
I’ve been a member of Writers Victoria since 2010, when I signed up as a birthday present to myself. I didn’t know how to be a writer, but I figured they did things like join state writers’ centres and carry the membership cards in their (empty) wallets. Later I signed on to work with a mentor, Bethanie Blanchard, on a manuscript that would later become my novel The Paper House. I’ve taken part in events and online courses with Writers Victoria, too, but that mentorship was a turning point for me and my fledgling career.
What difference did this experience make to your writing?
Bethanie’s insight and encouragement was so affirming. Without her, I definitely would have just written ten pages and decided to do it ‘later’ (never). I also did a short story workshop/course with the extremely good Laurie Steed, which was great in all kinds of ways. I benefited from his feedback, other students’ feedback, my own close readings of their work, and having a reason to write.
What kind of support or resources are most helpful to you as a writer?
Camaraderie is vital in this business. I love that Writers Victoria is a hub for creativity. Melbourne is a bit like that. It’s a UNESCO City of Literature. It has the Wheeler Centre and the extraordinary State Library of Victoria. Having a way to find like-minded people is the most important thing. Once you’ve found them, you benefit from shared experience, ideas, brainstorming, biscuits, collaboration, feedback, networking, mutual admiration.
Most things I’ve learned about writing have been through other writers, directly or indirectly. Taking short courses, checking out events, sneaking into book launches and rocking out at festivals have all helped me to be a better writer.
Based on your own experience, what advice do you have for aspiring and emerging writers about engaging with their local writers’ centre?
First, I would wholeheartedly recommend it. But second, know what you want to get out of it. A centre like Writers Victoria has something to offer writers at all stages. If you’re an aspiring writer, consider starting with events and introductory courses. Use the centre to listen and engage, whether it’s through events or festivals or lectures or something else. Be open to different approaches and perspectives, and make a point of seeing writers who are not like you. Take the advice that resonates and go home and practice it. Write as much as you can. Write and listen and write and listen.