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But You Said You Would go to the Perth Writers Festival

It was 40C on Saturday the second day of the Perth writer’s festival and I looked through the window at the shimmering heat, the melting bitumen, the prospect of parking football fields away from my destination and walking on concrete that thought it was a solar flare-, and I went, nah. What crazy person goes out in that? Who wants dangerously crispy skin?

But gnawing away inside is this voice, ‘it’s the Perth Writer’s Festival, you know, you told EVERYONE you were going.’ You blush guiltily in the house where the waft of refrigerated air on your arms has you blessing all engineers.

The Challenge

I was twisted with guilt because I LOVE the Writer’s Festival (I wait all year for it). I did go but not without a long sleeved shirt to shield me from the relentless laser-beams and I slithered along the edges of walls where the shade fell.

Why do I put up such a tantrum of fuss? When I do arrive, I’m always carried away by the thrill of a different lecture room full of largely unknown faces led by a new presenter.

Often it doesn’t matter what they say, I always come away with a few books to read, engage in a little brain gymnastics and have an opportunity to share and learn.

Have Notebook Will Try Not To Get Distracted

Okay, so there was a moment when I thought I wanted to glue leaves and gumnuts onto paper and turn odd scribbles into pictures to make a book, and my eyes did linger on an empty table, but you had to be under ten years of age to join that group.

I took my ticket and strode toward the serious writery workshop about Character.

Jacinta Halloran was an understated and quiet presenter, unlike someone I know. Within minutes we were under her spell, and most deliciously, the room was air-conditioned. The windows, where I was wont to cast a wayward eye, were protected by the penumbra of the leafy gum trees and the room was bathed in soft green light.

And I even had goodies to take away!

Take Aways from Saturday:

  • Is there a difference between commercial and literary fiction in how they work with characters? A literary writer will often, Jacinta offered, begin with deep vignettes about characters written in wonderful prose and then will synthesise these into the narrative momentum. Whereas, she suggests, commercial fiction is driven more by character motivation and this often propels the narrative momentum.
  • Many writers use character templates and they are worth considering and easily found online. I can’t wait to try one.
  • We explored advantages and disadvantages of likeable and unlikeable characters. Bland easy nice sweet characters are easily forgotten, characters should have edges, desirable and undesirable qualities, quirks, traits, mannerisms and essentially be reachable. You know, like you. The scrumptiousness of a truly unlikeable or remarkable character makes them unforgettable in the reader’s mind. This is gold for writers.
  • These characters should be MORE of what they are- intensify them and condense them, said Jacinta. If they are flamboyant or mild flesh them out by adding examples, dialogue and detail to enhance the reader experience.
  • Jacinta explained the seven essential basic plots in narrative (more details if you look these up) and linked them to known texts. For example, overcoming the monster, rags to riches, voyage and return, comedy, tragedy, re-birth, and so on.
  • Read your dialogue (and all text) aloud to hear whether it ‘reads’ well. The primary function of dialogue is to have purpose and to show something important in the narrative, not aimless banter. I’ll stop there.
  • Use other character’s reactions to a character to SHOW something about that character like their eccentricities, eg ‘Before we entered the room, she tugged at invisible tufts of thread from her tee shirt. Her body in constant motion as she shifted her weight by swinging back on one foot, her eyes cast down in mock fascination with her canvas shoes, before they settled back on Hugh, radiant with the thrill of being caught in her light today.’ Or elaborate on their physical characteristics, habits, the way they hold themselves, how their internal world reflects in their face or what they do.
  • We discussed the surprising increase in the use of an unreliable first person narrator in a lot of contemporary fiction. Who’d have thought?
  • Oh the joy when someone shares their treasure trove of must reads and most loved authors. Here are some literary delights Jacinta shared;
  1. The Night Guest by Fiona Mc Farlane
  2. Illywhacker by Peter Carey, The Tax Inspector by Peter Carey
  3. The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
  4. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (just a reminder about the joy of classics)
  5. Sue Woolfe and Kate Grenville wrote, Making Stories, How 10 Australian Novels were written
  6. The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
  7. Peter Corris as a popular literary crime writer
  8. The Spare Room by Helen Garner, The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner,
  9. Extinction by Josephine Wilson
  10. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

 

The Bit At The End

Yes and YES it was so worth getting out that front door. I was a happy little hobbit as I trotted briskly between the laser zaps of the big orb in the sky and into cooler environs. I hope my readers had a chance to enjoy something at the Perth International Arts Festival this year.

Annie J Ryan Perth Writers Festival 2

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