Five minutes with Australia’s best writers: PM’s Literary Award recipient Charlotte Wood, and shortlisted authors Drusilla Modjeska and Danny Parker.

by |November 9, 2016

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Just last night the winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards were announced, with Charlotte Wood and Lisa Gorton both taking out the coveted Fiction Award. Sally Morgan and Meg McKinlay took out the Children’s Fiction and the Young Adult Fiction Awards respectively. Discover who won the Non-Fiction, Australian History and Poetry awards here.

Charlotte Wood, Drusilla Modjeska (who was shortlisted in the Non-Fiction category) and Danny Parker (who was shortlisted in the Children’s Fiction category) chat about their inspirations and how they deal with writer’s block.

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How do you start writing each day?

Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things:

Getting started is a mechanical matter – you just do it. Start anywhere, but start. As the American photorealist painter Chuck Close says, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work.’ That said, I find it helps to beat away the fear by going to the desk with a deliberate attitude of curious optimism. What will I discover today?

Drusilla Modjeska, author of Second Half First:

If the urge to write isn’t there, pushing at you, and if you haven’t been telling stories for years, then getting started can be a problem. But if you can’t not, you have to deal with the self-consciousness, and write and write until you have something there to consider. After that, getting started is one of reading, learning the craft, re-writing, thinking, and rewriting the next draft, and the next after that. It’s a long process, and it should be invigorating. If it’s not, don’t punish yourself. It may be better to try something else.

Danny Parker, author of Perfect:

Obvious as it sounds I don’t leave the page blank – I leave the MS on the desktop so it’s the first thing I see when I wake the machine!  I re-read, and that usually kicks me into self editing and off we go!

Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things

Charlotte Wood, author of The Natural Way of Things

How do you beat writer’s block?

CW: I’ll quote another writer, Colm Toibin. I once heard him say ‘There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s a well-known syndrome called writer’s laziness.’ The discipline and perseverance required to write a novel are far more important than ephemeral and uncontrollable things like talent or inspiration, and writer’s block could be a permanent state if I allowed it. So, I just push through: sit at the desk, push on. Sometimes it helps to go for a walk – get some oxygen to the brain, and a fresh perspective – or have a nap.

DM: Go for long walks. Read, think, read again, go for another long walk. Your unconscious needs time to catch up with you.

DP: For me, in the world of the picture book, I have learned that if I can’t make an idea speak properly (to me at least) then it isn’t ready and I move to another story. I have various things on the go all the time. Including that novel!

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Drusilla Modjeska, author of Second Half First.

Where do you find your inspiration?

CW: Inspiration comes when I’m doing the work, and rarely at other times. But I do find the work of other artists very inspiring – I turn to painters, dancers, music and other art forms to bring new air and light into my writing mind. And of course I read the work of fine writers – it’s my oxygen. Sometimes you just need to wait for a good sentence or scene to emerge, but that doesn’t mean you leave the desk, it just means you write crap until the good stuff comes. Sadly for me, inspiration only comes when I’ve earned it with hard work.

DM: Look around you. Read. Watch and listen.

DP: I try to write little stories about big things – so for me it’s about interrogation. I look for a simple thing and ask lots of questions. Is there a story in the rain? If so what? The words ‘what if’ are never far away.

Danny Parker, author of Perfect.

Danny Parker, author of Perfect.

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About the Contributor

Anastasia Hadjidemetri is the editor of The Booktopian and star of Booktopia's weekly YouTube show, Booked with Anastasia. A big reader and lover of books, Anastasia relishes the opportunity to bring you all the latest news from the world of books.

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