AL Kennedy: Ten rules for writing fiction
1 Have humility. Older/more experienced/more convincing writers may offer rules and varieties of advice. Consider what they say. However, don’t automatically give them charge of your brain, or anything else – they might be bitter, twisted, burned-out, manipulative, or just not very like you.
2 Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.
3 Defend others. You can, of course, steal stories and attributes from family and friends, fill in filecards after lovemaking and so forth. It might be better to celebrate those you love – and love itself – by writing in such a way that everyone keeps their privacy and dignity intact.
4 Defend your work. Organisations, institutions and individuals will often think they know best about your work – especially if they are paying you. When you genuinely believe their decisions would damage your work – walk away. Run away. The money doesn’t matter that much.
5 Defend yourself. Find out what keeps you happy, motivated and creative.
6 Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
7 Read. As much as you can. As deeply and widely and nourishingly and irritatingly as you can. And the good things will make you remember them, so you won’t need to take notes.
8 Be without fear. This is impossible, but let the small fears drive your rewriting and set aside the large ones until they behave – then use them, maybe even write them. Too much fear and all you’ll get is silence.
9 Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back.
10 Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on.
Late in the 18th century, men’s fashion took a turn for the worse. The prudish, sexually repressed Victorian age threw a wet blanket over the Dionysian debauchery of the 17th century. The reign in France of Louis XIV, with his gloriously powdered face and wig, silk stockings of cardinal red, heels, and fine plumage of velvet, ribbons, and lace, would mark the zenith of aristocratic fashion. By the time the republicans executed Louis XVI, the flush of colors, fabrics, and accoutrements had already begun giving way to a darker, more muted palette. The Industrial Revolution changed the way people dressed, as mass-produced three-piece suits became more accessible. The bourgeois class ushered in a new paradigm where men were to be defined by their commitment to industry and work, not the elaborateness of their dress. Their sobriety was a direct rebuke of the excesses of the French aristocracy.
Prominent British psychologist J.C. Flugel, in his book, The Psychology of Clothes, called this moment the “Great Masculine Renunciation,” when men “abandoned their claim to be considered beautiful” and “henceforth aimed at being only useful.” The gender divide in fashion became more pronounced. Men had very important things on their minds, and could no longer concern themselves with the frivolity of fashion. Women—bored, empty, and vain creatures that they were—could distract themselves with bustles and crinoline like kittens chasing a ball of yarn. Fashion was cast as a narcissistic, superficial, and ultimately, female pursuit. Men, the story goes, had opted out.— From Alex Jung’s wonderful essay on masculinity and menswear, “Come As You Are” (via TMN)
In an article first published in 1986, Susan Sheridan puts forward an account of the relationship between masculinity, genre, nation and literary worth that it seems to me might still be at play in judgements about women and literary value. She argues that during the 1890s, and in subsequent accounts that cemented this period’s position in [Australia’s] literary history, critical discourse tended to mobilise the following set of oppositions:
independent and original vs conventional and derivative egalitarian and democratic vs class-bound and ‘aristocratic’ Australian nationalist vs British colonial vigour and action vs emotion outside (the bush or the city) vs inside (the domestic, the home)
Most relevant to recent debates is an added set of terms that, Sheridan suggests, ‘were especially salient at the turn of the century but which have by now formed a scarcely noticeable sediment of common sense about what constitutes literary value’:
realism vs romance vernacular or folk vs popular or commercial.
Sheridan argues here that a set of ideas that came to define what it meant to be distinctively Australian were defined in opposition to a set of values that were identified with femininity and that ideas about what constitutes literary value in Australia are also gendered in favour of realism and the vernacular (à la Lawson and Rudd) as opposed to popular romance (à la Praed and Cambridge). These are, of course, false dichotomies but they have been compelling in discussions of Australian literature ever since the turn of the twentieth century.
[…] In reprising these arguments about the fate of women in the Australian literary tradition, I don’t want to suggest a deliberate project on the part of any of the judges of Australian literary prizes to occlude women’s writing. Rather, I want to pose the question of how far, in the difficult decisions about the relative merit of books in the running for such prizes, this older association between masculinity, nationhood and genre comes into play, especially in the case of a prize so explicitly bounded by the nation as the Miles Franklin Award.— Julieanne Lamon, “Stella vs Miles: Women Writers and Literary Value in Australia,” (via Meanjin).
Without any landmarks to orientate them people could not find their way to where their houses had once been. ‘The whole geography of the area had completely changed - the topography nearly had changed - so you got lost,’ Ray Wilkie said. There was no sewerage or water, electricity or phones, which led to the loss of another set of bearings, a peculiarly modern predicament. As Hedley Beare put it, ‘When you’re without telephone, post office and all of those things, you’re actually standing alone in the universe.’
Pets suffered, alongside their owners. The day after the cyclone Barbara James, a journalist, found her cat - alive - in the washing machine, where it had waited for the storm to pass. Because of fears that hungry and traumatised dogs would form packs, they were shot - often without warning and in front of their owners. Wilkie describes a recurring scene around Darwin: ‘one day an officer came around, and there was an old dog in our place - he was a nice old fellow - and the [policeman] said: “You got a dog there?” and I said: “Yes. He’s not hurting any one”… Out he came and bang, that was it.’ Lawrie, in contrast, managed to get her puppy evacuated and hid her Boxer bitch so she’d survive. Pets, she reasoned, were important to rebuilding a society.— From Sophie Cunningham’s essay “Disappeared,” on the effects of Cyclone Tracy (via Griffith REVIEW 35: Surviving).
[The] notion of household products as psychological furniture is, when you think about it, a radical idea. When we give an account of how we got to where we are, we’re inclined to credit the philosophical over the physical, and the products of art over the products of commerce. In the list of sixties social heroes, there are musicians and poets and civil-rights activists and sports figures. Herzog’s implication is that such a high-minded list is incomplete. What, say, of Vidal Sassoon? In the same period … Sassoon made individualization the hallmark of the haircut, liberating women’s hair from the hair styles of the times-from, as McCracken puts it, those “preposterous bits of rococo shrubbery that took their substance from permanents, their form from rollers, and their rigidity from hair spray.” In the Herzogian world view, the reasons we might give to dismiss Sassoon’s revolution-that all he was dispensing was a haircut, that it took just half an hour, that it affects only the way you look, that you will need another like it in a month-are the very reasons that Sassoon is important. If a revolution is not accessible, tangible, and replicable, how on earth can it be a revolution?
“Because I’m worth it” and “Does she or doesn’t she?” were powerful, then, precisely because they were commercials, for commercials come with products attached, and products offer something that songs and poems and political movements and radical ideologies do not, which is an immediate and affordable means of transformation.— Malcolm Gladwell, “True Colors: Hair dye and the hidden history of postwar America,” The New Yorker, 1999.
Sonnet” literally means “little song.” The sonnet is a heile Welt, an intact world where everything is in sync, from the stars down to the tiniest mite on a blade of grass. And if the “true” sonnet reflects the music of the spheres, it then follows that any variation from the strictly Petrarchan or Shakespearean forms represents a world gone awry.
Or does it? Can’t form also be a talisman against disintegration? The sonnet defends itself against the vicissitudes of fortune by its charmed structure, its beautiful bubble. All the while, though, chaos is lurking outside the gate.— Rita Dove, from the foreword to Mother Love (via W. W. Norton: An Intact World)
Travel writing | ABC Radio National Book Show | Ramona Koval is joined by travel writer and editor Tom Swick and travel historian Richard White
- Ramona Koval: Tom, in your piece from the Columbia Journalism Review, it's an old piece from 2001, 'The Roads Not Taken', you talk about the travel section in some kinds of journalism, but there's a funny bit about the typical travel piece. Can you remember what you said about the kinds of things you find in a piece? And you almost could say fill in the dots, it doesn't actually matter where it's going to be, it's about someone and their marvellous travelling companion usually, isn't it.
- Tom Swick: Right, it's the writer and the companion and they're basically the only people you meet in the piece, and they always have a very nice time and they always are in picturesque places and they stay in very comely hotels and they always vow to return someday. It's kind of like living happily ever after, and there's never anything terribly real about it. You don't get a sense that they really experience the place in an authentic way.
- Ramona Koval: And the land is always a land of contrasts...
- Tom Swick: Yes, that's one of the biggest clichés of travel writing.
When people ask me about studying writing in university, I always tell them don’t do it. … I’m not convinced that teaching creative writing at undergraduate level is a good idea. I think it works better at the post-grad. level. I like that idea of deliberate practice, clocking up your 10,000 hours. You become a writer by writing and getting work into the world. But undergraduate programs can sometimes be less about about learning and more about conferring an identity as a writer, or visual artist, or whatever.
Look, if you want to write, you’ll be reading and writing anyway. Studying history or biology or Spanish will give you material, ideas, and perspectives—and of course, it may also be the means to that all-important income stream.— Australian writer Noelle Janaczewska (via The Australian Theatre Writers Project)