For Toni Jordan, writing is all about timing and empathy. WV intern Nicola Wetzel caught up with Toni ahead of her workshop on dialogue and character to talk about how to keep readers engaged, and why she’ll always be a hopeless romantic.
Love is central to most of your novels. Why is this?
I am a hopeless (hopeful?) romantic and always have been. There’s a line I’ve always loved, from 'Guys and Dolls', where Sarah tells Brother Arvide she’ll get over Sky Masterson, and he says: ' Why would anyone want to get over the one thing you hope for from the minute you're born and remember until the day you die?’ I suppose my answer is a version of that. Why doesn’t everyone want to write about the one thing you hope for from the minute you’re born and remember until the day you die?
Your latest novel ‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’ is a farcical twist on the romantic comedy novel. How do you keep the reader engaged in the story?
I think two things are important here: timing and empathy. 'Our Tiny, Useless Hearts' is a farce, so that means it needs to be fast-paced, with a sense of the ridiculous. Things need to happen very quickly. Also, there needs to be something a bit sad about all the characters. Empathy is an important part of engagement, I think.
What do you think are some of the most common traps for writers?
I think that frequently emerging writers over-explain things at the beginning. That’s natural. When you’re at the beginning of your career, you want to make sure you’re setting everything up solidly. Frequently, however, I think emerging writers underestimate their readers. Readers are very, very smart. You don’t need to explain every little thing—in fact, in my experience, readers love figuring stuff out. One of the ways to keep people reading—to make a book ‘unputdownable’—is to have a strong narrative question. Some things are better unexplained.
What’s one thing you wish you’d known before you published your first novel?
When you’re writing your first manuscript, you’re actually trying to do two things at the same time: teach yourself to write, as well as producing an object that people will want to read. I wish I’d been slightly more in command of my process.
Many writers have special writing rituals. Do you have any particular habits as a writer?
I like to read back over the previous day’s work at the beginning, but that’s about it. No rabbit’s foot, no lucky undies.
About Toni Jordan
Toni Jordan is the author of the international best-seller ‘Addition’, longlisted for the Miles Franklin award, ‘Fall Girl’ and ‘Nine Days’, which was awarded Best Fiction at the 2012 Indie Awards, shortlisted for the ABIA Best General Fiction award and named in Kirkus Review’s Top 10 Historical Novels of 2013. Her latest novel is ‘Our Tiny Useless Hearts’.
About Nicola Wetzel
Nicola Wetzel is a Writers Victoria Intern from Heidelberg, Germany. She studies Public Management at Hochschule Kehl and through this internship she wants to gain new experiences in what it’s like to work in a not-for-profit organisation.