Notes From the North

Guest Post by Penny Bell


Since 1998, the NT Writers’ Centre has presented the NT Writers’ Festival annually, alternating between 'Wordstorm – Darwin' and 'Eye of the Storm – Alice Springs', or other regional centres.

On May 5–8, the Wordstorm Festival, Darwin was home to an array of writing tips, ideas and culture for those lucky enough to enjoy it! Penny Bell was one of those lucky to check out what the festival had to offer – from tales of editing and the structure of writing to meeting the one and only Magda Szubanski. Check out what she had to say below!

NT Writers Festival

The Art of Renovating

Saturday was a big day at the festival. I attended a workshop on editing delivered by Beth Yahp from Sydney. Beth said that writing is like a building; the structure is the story, the bricks are the words, the mortar is grammar and the roof is the end. Just when you have finished building the house, the editor comes along and tells you to knock down walls, put in an extra window here and add a room there. Then repaint it. Being edited is like having to renovate when you have only just finished building.

I thought about my own experience as an academic support tutor. I advise students on their writing and encourage them to see me in the planning stage, before they go to all the trouble of ‘building’. However, Beth set me straight – in the cut-throat world of publishing, writers never have the luxury of consulting the editor until the end.

Beth said to be a writer you need to “cultivate radical attentiveness”, remembering that your experience is unique and that you “bring new details to the world”. The first draft is “where the energy lives – the wild side”. Beth reminded us that at this stage, in the words of Virginia Woolf, we must “murder the angel of the house” (the inner critic). While the first draft is written for the ideal reader, the second draft is written for general reader. The first draft suffers from “overpopulation”. In the second draft, some characters have to be killed off.

However, in the end, Beth moved away from the building analogy and left us with a different one: “writing is an act of seduction that says 'come with me'”.

Magda Szubanksi

An Aussie Legend

On Saturday evening I finally got to meet the author of the very weighty memoir I had been madly reading in preparation for this moment. “I bloody love Darwin!” announced Magda Szubanski to the two hundred or so packed into the biggest festival venue, the Anglican Cathedral. 

“Finding out who you are and the need to be your true self” is what drives memoir according to Magda. Then vulnerability becomes a powerful tool for connection. To demonstrate, Magda told us that even though she had known she was gay since she was four, because of the shame of being different, she only came out relatively recently. She explained that growing up in a very different “gayscape” to today silenced her through the fear of being different. Religion was the vehicle that drove that fear. “If you feel like a freak and never see yourself reflected, it is difficult” – a good incentive to write to give other “freaks” a voice.

Magda’s advice to anyone who wants to write memoir was: “Just do it.  Have faith that your story is worth telling and write regularly”. She said she loves the process of writing more than anything else she has done because it engages her in every way.

“It’s when you drill down through the specific to get to the motherboard of the universal.” 

While Darwin Writers’ Festival had its own top-end flavour, it was a reminder of the creative power of communication to connect us, at any place, any time with anyone. 

Don't forget, the Illawarra is home to its own Wollongong Writers Festival coming up in November this year!

Written by SCWC

Posted on May 13, 2016