I’ve been invited by Yvette Walker, author of the elegant Letters to the End of Love, to take part in a blog hop about my writing process. You can read Yvette’s post about her writing and what she’s working on next on her Facebook page.
What am I working on now?
As I write this, I’m in the middle of putting away my notes on my non-fiction book on 19th C Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud, and am taking out my manuscript for my third novel, The Sea Creatures. Arts Queensland very generously gave me a grant to write my Praed book, which has helped put food on my table for the last 6 months. However, I need to go to England to look up some more archives, so I’ve put it aside for a bit while I work on my novel.
The Australia Council also very generously gave me a grant from their new Artists with Disability Program to write The Sea Creatures. This is a book about, among other things, a mermaid that lives forever. I’m using the mermaid as a metaphor for myself, being someone who is neither part of the world of the hearing nor of the deaf, just as the mermaid is neither completely human nor animal, nor completely a part of the sea or the land (I have written about this in-between-ness and what it does for my creativity in New Scholar).
I had the idea for this novel when I wrote a short story in 1998 (which subsequently became ‘The Country of Boats’ published in Southerly in 2011). I wrote approximately 50,000 words of the novel last year and am giving myself two months to write another 50,000 words and do a crash course on oceans and their inhabitants. Then I’m going to a conference in Italy and to England to do my Praed research, which will give me a break from the novel as well as time to think about it, and I’ll do another draft once I’m home again. With luck, it will be ready to send to my agent in the first half of next year.
How does my work differ from other works in its genre?
I write literary fiction, but I try to write stories that haven’t been heard before. For example, my first novel, A Curious Intimacy, was about two women who fall in love in the bush in 19th century Western Australia. I wrote this story because I’d read of countless romances about men and women falling in the bush, but never two women, although lesbians undoubtedly existed (as they always have).
I haven’t done much reading for The Sea Creatures yet, but as far as I know, there haven’t been novels about Australian mermaids. I did, however, read about river mermaids in Meanjin in a story, ‘Freshwater Dreaming’, by Jane Jervis-Read, which was a splendid piece of work.
With my non-fiction, including my essays, I specifically try to write work that is accessible to a wide range of people. This comes from being deaf: it takes an awful lot of energy to concentrate and communicate in every day life, and I don’t want to have to struggle in my reading as well, and nor do I want other people to have to struggle. This is one of my main frustrations with academic writing – the writer’s concepts are often clouded by opaque language. To me, a good writer is one who can convey ideas in a clear and captivating way, and one of the ways I try to engage my readers is by including memoir or fiction alongside analyses of the ideas or research I’m presenting.
Why do I write about what I do?
As a person who is deaf, I have always been on the outside of groups, looking in and trying to piece together what’s going on, and this has made me more aware of and interested in the positions and experiences of other people who have been marginalised by Australian culture – such as gays and lesbians, Indigenous people, refugees or people with disabilities. I also love reading about and hearing the stories of people on the margins, because their perspectives are more interesting than those of the mainstream, and they enrich my life.
Also, as a deaf person who is fairly articulate, both verbally and in writing, I feel I have a responsibility to write about and increase awareness of deafness and people with disabilities. This is one of the reasons why I’m hunting for Maud Praed’s voice in her mother’s archives – I feel that Maud didn’t get the care that she deserved, and that she wasn’t listened to. If I can retrieve her presence, she might have some some way of speaking once more.
How does my writing process work?
It’s very organic (as with the backyard of my beloved Avid Reader), whether with my fiction or non-fiction. With my fiction, I start anywhere and write. I have a vague idea of the plot, but I usually only work things out as I go along, so I write whatever comes into my head – scenes, characters, conversations. When I have enough words, I start editing and cutting. With my first novel, I wrote 120,000 words, then scrapped the first two thirds and rewrote it twice in different voices, and eventually ended up with 70,000 words.
Once things are in better shape, I shuffle the material around until it flows. There is never any logic to this process – it’s intuitive. The only thing I can liken it to is when, as a girl, I did my piano practice. Being deaf, I couldn’t always tell when I played the wrong note, but my father could, and when he was listening to the television in the next room he’d shout, ‘Wrong note!’ (and sometimes this irritated me so intensely that I yelled back, ‘Shut up!’). With writing, I can sense when something is off, and I rewrite or move it until it works.
With my non-fiction, my approach is still piecemeal, but slightly more strategic. As I research, I can see patterns and themes forming, and I group my material under these themes. Writing non-fiction is more intellectually satisfying than writing fiction, but the latter is more like a drug, particularly when I’m in the thick of a novel and it gets to the point where I don’t even want to engage with the real world, because I’m so captivated by the one I’ve created.
I work best in blocks of time, as it takes me a long time to get into a work. This means all my annual leave is used for writing and I don’t really take any time off, which is bad. At the moment, however, the grant means that I can cut back my working hours, so I can have some semblance of a life!
I’m now tagging Nike Sulway, author of the fantastic, award-winning Rupetta, which I reviewed here and which I urge everyone to read – it’s brilliant. You can hop over to her blog, Perilous Adventures, to read about her writing process.