Tag Archives: Brisbane Writers Festival

A strong sense of place

During the recent Brisbane Writers Festival, I attended a workshop called Turning Where into Who: Character as Place. I found the session quite insightful and I thought you might be interested to hear what I learnt…

According to the workshop facilitator, Australian author Ashley Hay, a vividly realised location makes a dramatic difference to the power of your writing. Some stories are so steeped in their location, if feels as if they couldn’t be set anywhere else, and the location becomes a character in its own right. That is the kind of fiction I want to write. I want my locations to feel so real that my readers forget where they are and begin to see, hear and smell everything my characters do.

Crocodile Adelaide River

The subject of my dreams... (Click for image source)

Contemporary authors who do this well (in my opinion) include Bryce Courtenay (with Africa and outback Australia), and Belinda Jeffrey (with the Northern Territory). The mood of their locations filters into every scene and you feel as if you’re right there in the location with the characters. When I was reading Jeffrey’s coming-of-age novel Brown Skin Blue – about a boy who works on a crocodile-jumping cruise boat on the Adelaide River – I actually dreamt of rivers and crocodiles, such was the power of the book’s setting.

But obviously, it’s a lot easier to identify authors who do this well than it is to bring your own settings alive. One piece of advice from Ashley that I found particularly useful was this: remember that you’re not trying to document a place, you’re trying to capture it. So you needn’t feel obliged to catalogue everything your characters see or hear in order to convey place, just the telling details. And if you’re using a real location, you needn’t feel compelled to adhere strictly to reality. You should feel free to imagine real places. If a fictional touch brings a real place to life, then allow yourself to go with that.

And of course, there was the piece of advice that is age-old but oh-so-true: rely on your senses. Don’t just consider how a place looks, but also how it sounds and even how it smells and feels. According to Ashley, touch is one of the most under-utilised senses in fiction, and it can be amazing for capturing place.

As I edit my novel-in-progress Tangled, I want to scrutinise how well I’ve captured my settings (Brisbane and rural Queensland) and hopefully make these locations as important to the book as my characters.

I’m interested in your views on setting – does it make a big difference to your reading experience? Would you choose whether or not to read a book based on where it was set? Do you prefer real or imaginary settings? How do you rate your own skills at capturing place? What books/authors do you think do a fantastic job in this area? Please share. 🙂



Filed under Writing, Writing craft

Reflections from my first writers festival

For the past five days, I have been immersed in the wonderful world of writing and reading at the Brisbane Writers Festival. It was my first-ever writers festival, and I’m so glad I finally got my act together to dedicate time to the craft of writing. Here are my festival highlights.

Receiving feedback on my manuscript

As my regular readers know, I was fortunate enough to be selected for the 20 pages in 20 minutes session. In this session, I received personalised feedback on my YA manuscript Tangled (the first 20 pages and synopsis) from Farrin Jacobs, an editorial director of HarperCollins who focuses on contemporary teen fiction. Farrin gave me heaps of feedback, both positive and constructive, and I walked away overflowing with thoughts and ideas about how to improve my manuscript.

I’m not going to  share the specifics of Farrin’s feedback because I want to get feedback from my first group of beta readers before I make any major decisions about necessary changes and I don’t want to skew my readers’ judgement. But I will say that the session did a fantastic job of opening my eyes to how Tangled would/could be viewed from a commercial sense and that the feedback was simultaneously uplifting and challenging, not soul destroying. 🙂

Improving my industry knowledge 

On Friday, I attended a four-hour masterclass on the Australian writing marketplace, and on Saturday, I attended a three-hour masterclass on publishing in the young adult and children’s market. These sessions were chock-full of information about the Australian (and international) industry and included Q&As with multiple authors, agents, editors, publishers, publicists, ‘future of the book’ experts and publishing contract specialists.

Although much of what I heard in these sessions, I’d already learned from posts by my wonderful blogging friends, I also gained a lot of new information that I’m sure will help me when (not if! ;-)) I receive that first publishing offer. Rest assured, I’ll be blogging these hints and tips in the near future.

Meeting authors

One of the most inspiring parts of the festival was listening to authors speak about their journeys, their books and their writing processes. Some of the authors I heard from were Ann Patchett, Anita Shreve, Kate Morton, Christopher Currie, Ashley Hay, Emily Rodda, Kári Gíslason and  Linda Jaivin. There were a lot more writers at the festival including many others I would’ve loved to hear from, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend every single event on the schedule!

Some of the things I discovered (or re-discovered) from these talks were:

  • Every writer’s journey is different. In saying that, almost all authors I heard from were rejected at least once before they landed a publishing deal.
  • Every writer’s process is different. Emily Rodda hates detailed plotting and planning – she likes to tell herself the story as she writes. Kate Morton adores detailed plotting and planning, and she spends four to five months on researching and developing her stories before she writes chronologically from beginning to end.

Building relationships

Over the five days, I met so many wonderful people and made a number of connections that will hopefully one day help me succeed as a writer. I attended a networking event one night – alone. Daunting? Yes. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Although I had a few awkward moments of standing on the fringes wondering if I should just go home, I managed to strike up conversations with a few publishers, authors and fellow book lovers. I also managed to meet a few people who I’ve previously only known on Twitter – always nice to connect a real person to the Twitter account!

One of my most exciting connections took place before I even entered the networking tent. As I waited for the doors to open, I struck up a conversation with two women sitting beside me, assuming they were attending the event too. They were actually there to support their sons, who were part of the singing group Voices of Birralee – our entertainment for the evening.

It turned out their sons are both in year eleven or twelve and are avid readers. I now have two teenage male beta readers who will be providing me with a reality check for my teenage male protagonist – hooray! 🙂

(On a side note, the singing group’s performance was amazing, surprising, touching and beautiful. It added a wonderful dimension to the evening.)

Your turn

What have you been up to this week?


Filed under Brisbane Writers Festival, Competitions, Professional development, Publishing, Writers, Writing, YA fiction