Thursday, September 10, 2009

Delving into History

As you may or may not know, I am currently working on a piece of historical fiction...a novel, no less...

In May I was lucky enough to win the Herb Thomas Memorial Trust Award and received a nice juicy cheque to spend on developing my writing career. Thanks to that money I have been able to afford a range of workshops and seminars at the Victorian Writers Centre, as well as a few choice events at both the Emerging Writers Festival and the Melbourne Writers Festival, which has just been and gone.

I thought it was about time I blogged about the two events I attended - a masterclass with John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas), and a seminar/lecture with Alexander Waugh (Fathers and Sons) and Glen David Gold (Sunnyside).

Both of these events were exciting for me. Just to break away from the monotony of my daily life as a mother and to escape my four walls and interact with other adults, specifically writers, is a treat.

John filled our day with readings from a wide array of historic novels, which proved somewhat difficult seeing as the titles and authors names were missing from many of the pages we had stapled together (there was a large amount of rustling). He also made us write and read what we had written aloud. No one missed out, we all had our turn in the spotlight or under it.

It's all in the details. That's one of the things I took away from this intensive day, along with the email address of a lady I'd like to stay in touch with (she's writing about her great-grandmother's immigration experience). It's the details that will bring to life any character in any time and any place. Specifics. Novelists should never generalise. Ever.

As for the other two writers, well I have to tell you that Alexander is a true and natural comedian. What surprising fun he was! He believes we should all, as writers, sit down and write 3000 words about each of our parents (more if we can - he certainly did). He says we'll be surprised at how little we actually know about them.

Glen's most helpful advice, at least to me, was that research needs an emotional context, that key emotions unlock scenes. He said that good (great) historical fiction needs three things - research, imagination and emotional continuity. Not all facts are interesting, he said, but the facts aren't what's important, it's whether they are interesting to the reader. It's how you dress it up.