Authors and poets from Australia converged in Singapore for New Australian Writing; a panel that featured fresh faces of the Aussie publishing world at The Arts House, for the Singapore Writers Festival on Oct 24, which was peppered with writers’ tips and insights from their journey to getting published.
The journey was no smooth ride. Kate McCaffrey said, “In Australia, you have more chances of making the Olympic team, than… getting a book published.”
The Aussie Writers, from left to right, Omar Musa, Maree Dawes, Chris Pash and Kate McCaffery
Embrace your life experiences
Life experiences are good sources of inspiration for authors, so embrace them.
Omar Musa, a poet and rapper, who, while coming into contact with the impoverished conditions where Aborginals live, realised “that as artists, sometimes …you have to speak up, and you have to be political, and there are some things that just can’t be ignored.” Now he also writes, among other issues, about racial inequality in Australia. Such an example is the rap “Open Your Eyes”, which discusses stereotypes he encounters, such as airline staff thinking he is a threat because of his “Arabic sounding” name.
Similarly, Chris Pash, the author of The Last Whale, was introduced to the world of whaling at 19 as a rookie reporter at the Albany Advertiser. He later decided to return some 30 years later to chronicle the story of both whalers and activists. He explained that while “whaling stopped, … I felt some sort of obligation somehow, to have a conscious representative of the last whalers.”
Keep on the lookout for ideas everywhere. Kate McCaffery found her initial spark of inspiration through the TV programme Dr Phil, which features the celebrity psychologist as host of his own show, giving advice on a range of topics. They were talking to a girl who had been abused by text messaging and blog and email. Her interest was sparked off on how despite new technology and changing times, the act of bullying had not changed. The notes she took while watching the talk show eventually grew to become her first novel, Destroying Avalon.
Have a muse, and the researching and refining part of writing becomes less of a drag. The importance of this comes as writing a novel or collection of poems isn’t without its complications, and having a passion in your subject will certainly help the process.
Maree Dawes, who penned a collection of poetry called Women of Minotaur about wives and mistresses of Picasso, is such an example. She explained that while she started out penning a poem, fascination for the subject soon grew in her. She became intrigued by Broadway pieces and articles about the women’s lives in the 1800s and 1900s, learnt how Picasso painted, and even familiarised herself with crimes committed in that era.
Above all, persevere
However, good ideas alone aren’t enough to bring a book to completion. Many people give-up halfway, but with the goal in mind, you’ve got to press on. For instance, despite having a full-time job, Chris Pash would squeeze precious time to put his thoughts on paper while having dinner and before going to bed. Time doesn’t free itself up.
Omar Musa gave possibly the most important word of advice for aspiring authors.
As a rapper, he often writes his lyrics on the spot at the studio. However, he’s quick to make the distinction that it’s not just raw talent that allows him to write. To him, this is a common mistake that writers make, thinking they can “wait for the great moment, where they can save up all their ideas and write a masterpiece, without actually practising”. Instead, doing it frequently, which he likens to “push-ups”, is all-important to become a good writer.
He said, “a writer writes. You don’t wait … just constantly write. I always do sometime where I just write songs, and I never release these songs, but this is just so I can keep my game at top level”.