The Varuna Alumni Monthly Feature is prepared each month by Varuna's Alumni News Editor Diana Jenkins.
There are interviews and articles and we encourage you to express your views using the Comments form at the end of each Feature.
Please drop the News Desk a line if youâre so inclined â your feedback is ALWAYS welcome and very much appreciated.
For details on what format to send download this pdf.
There are many qualities distinguishing one writer from the next: vocabulary, command of syntax, a way with alliteration, an incurable addiction to puns (see Kathy Lette here), differences of wit, an obsession with a particular subject, and, in some cases, an idiosyncratic, unmistakable narrative voice.
At the height of 2009âs renewed parallel importation debate, one of Australiaâs broadsheet newspapers (Iâll leave you to guess which one) ran a cartoon I shall never forget. In it, two immaculately groomed glamour types zipped along a country road in a snazzy convertible, scarves flying as they laughed and they laughed and they laughed. The speech bubble said something along the lines of, âThat would be the end of the second Porsche, darling,â and the caption beneath said, âAuthors Discuss Lifting Parallel Import Restrictions.â
Iâll just leave that with you for a moment.
Notwithstanding a lifelong inability to see past my next mealtime, hereâs a few humble predictions from the News Desk:
One can just imagine W. Somerset Maugham grandly proclaiming, "Great writers create; writers of smaller gifts copy." Be that as it may, most writers accept that they are influenced by reality; real people, real conversations, real events all inform â to one degree or another â just about every mode of storytelling there is. Why is this so? Well, why wouldnât it be? Writers are in the business of trying to communicate something true about existence â even if itâs that we arenât constrained by its limits when we enter imaginary realms. But if thereâs a difference between drawing on reality without disclosing the real, and drawing on a pre-existing source â like, say, a written one â then itâs worth considering why and how that difference is delineated, and how you as a writer may elect to tackle it.
With her first novel verily whizzing off the shelves, Alumna Adrienne Ferreira graciously took time out from the demands of the modern day promotional trail to chat with us about the changing colours of her writing world.
Though the fantasy survives, long gone are the days of a generous benefactor keeping a favoured writer in a permanent room at the country pile; just about all of us will maintain a series of jobs throughout our writing lives to stay solvent while the rejection letters and/or piddling royalties roll in. But thereâs a difference between working to support oneâs writing and having a whole other previous career, with some writers enjoying full employment in other fields before turning to the quill. Itâs odd, really: so many scribes readily admit to âalways wanting to be a writer,â so why does it take some of us such a damned long time to sharpen our pencils?
The road to publication is as treacherous as the Pacific Highway, and by some measures, signing up for the writing life is even worse. For a start, there are no exits; writers are mostly lifers. Plus scarce few ever really âarrive,â meaning the vast majority of us are essentially on a road to nowhere (see the 7 Stages of Grief for help with this). At least the Pacific Highway is lined with lots of encouraging signs that youâre approaching some sort of final destination, and you get to stop at places like the Big Banana along the way, whereas for the average writer, most days it feels like no one is ever going to want your work, fiction or non-fiction, short or long, two doors or four, and youâre the glassy-eyed driver gripping the wheel of some smoking jalopy who feels as though they should have pulled over a long time ago â say, back at Taree. But here you are, foot to the floor, a potential hazard to yourself and others, and the whole question of your writingâs future feels like a car displaying P plates and veering across three lanes: best avoided. Finally, one of the deepest potholes â and I promise Iâm going to abandon this comparison any second now â that most aspirants hit at speed is the synopsis. Talk about an accident waiting to happen.
James Hoggâs 1824 novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, is regarded as a âphilo-psychological mystery,â a term that might easily be used to describe the writing life itself. Indeed, letâs borrow Hoggâs title and recast it as The Private Habits and Confessions of a Justified Procrastinator, for surely the single most prevalent ritual among writers is task avoidance. You may call it a âroutine,â the way you skirt the perimeter of your writing day as though trying to catch your manuscript in the act of writing itself, but really, letâs be honest. Your slavish devotion to your morning espresso (tamp, tamp â pause â tamp); your dedication to current affairs (âOh yes, I always read Al Jazeera online first thing; itâs the only way to stay on top of the Middle East situationâŚâ); your insistence on clearing the Inbox before settling in for the day; all those small, carefully observed daily duties are bound up in the writerâs peculiar ritual of evasion.
So okay, yes, the early arrival of your News Editorâs first child plainly exposed the underlying, entirely selfish motives behind this belated feature. You see, I was trying to prepare myself for the imminent (and now actual) loss of my office. Dizzy with self-interest, I had hoped to receive a flood of responses from alumni â soothing tales of how others have coped with such radical domestic rezoning, heartwarming assurances that the writing life would go on all but unchanged, ingenious suggestions for maximising the untold utility of any room with a closing doorâŚ but no. By some unspoken cosmic law of initiation, it was almost as if you could smell my desperation, and collectively you averted your gaze with the wisdom that knows one must pass through this valley alone: kiss your office goodbye, sweetie, itâs gone and it ainât coming back. Thank you. No, really. I think Iâm up to speed now.