Notes from the Bendigo Writer’s Festival.

I became a writer because… with speakers Jenny Valentish, Steven Amsterdam, and Libby Angel.

Key Point #1: Why do people become writers? Is it something innate, like a gift born within some people?

I heard about this amazing story a while ago. There’s a Korean film director, Kim Ki-duk, who had never seen a movie until he was in his 30s. After that he decided to pick up a camera and it turned out he had a gift, becoming one of the most renowned directors from his country, and winning prestigious awards overseas. OK, Kim isn’t a writer, but he is an artist, so what can we take from this? Of course, it hadn’t been a dream of his to become a movie director, but it seems he just had that particular gift, and fortunately he discovered it.

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Key Point #2: Deriding fiction, is fiction really fiction?

Writers are told to write about what they know. In the case of fiction titles, even if they’re writing a book with purely entertainment purposes in mind, there’s no reason they can’t draw upon some of their own personal experiences, and reflect upon them in the book in some way.
In one of my personal favorite books, Praise by Andrew McGahan, the main character Gordon isn’t really based on the writer, though he did throw elements in there, he and Gordon both grew up on a farm in rural Queensland and played cricket with the family during holiday’s; but much of Gordon is a fictionalized account I believe – he’s a self-destructive asthmatic who can’t stop smoking, drinking, or doing hard drugs. The book is basically about the emptiness of a certain generation of Australians.

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Also in many of Roald Dahl’s books, such as Danny the Champion of the World, while using plenty of fantasy elements, he also took experiences from his own life, for example there’s one chapter where Danny receives a caning from his brutish principle at school. I understand Dahl had a rough time of things at one of the schools he attended, too.

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Key Point #3: Do you intuitively sense when you’re in the groove?

Definitely. When an idea has just occurred to you, and you can’t wait to start putting it all down, and you begin and like you thought the words flow so easily because it seems like everything’s all mapped out in your head. On the other hand, when you’re less sure about the premise etc. the flow of words will be stop and start which frustrates you.

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Key Point #4: Keeping a diary over a long period and using it for your writing.

Well I often wish I had such a reference! A kind of book that I would sometimes like to write is basically summarizing my life until this point, but my memory is rather scatterbrained, partly I think because I’ve got epilepsy and seizures affect memory. But imagine if you start writing as a kid in primary school, about all the little things and big things that happen; you’d have so much material for future reference. Incidentally the Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgard wrote an epic 6-part series about his life called My Struggle that provoked a lot of controversy upon release as although he didn’t use their real names the author spoke candidly about family members, ex-girlfriends etc. Sometimes when I think about writing a book like that, I wonder – who’d be interested in reading about my life? In my first year at primary school, one of my only memories is wearing prescription glasses and feeling embarrassed to do so during class, so I’d repeatedly take them off, and my teacher would tell me off. I feel like the transplant would act as decent material, though.

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Key Point #5: The matter of euthanasia (Steven Amsterdam was at the session and he works in palliative care) and the morality of it all.

I would say that if a person is in so much pain and is in no condition to live life in a positive, happy frame of mind, and they themselves want nothing more than to want it all end, and are truly firm with that conviction, then they should have the right to make that choice. I see my father, who has Parkinson’s disease, and there are still things in life he enjoys – playing golf, singing hymns, spending time with his family, but of course, the Parkinson’s is only getting worse. In so many years time, when he can no longer enjoy these things – actually, scratch that. Parkinson’s is bad, but I don’t think my Dad will ever feel the need to be Euthanized… but anyway, if someone close to me was so sick that it did come to that, would my feelings change? I wouldn’t want to see them suffer, would I?

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