Writing a novel is something on a lot of people’s bucket lists – but is something many of us struggle to even start. One local author is hosting workshops this weekend to help you realise starting – and finishing – that elusive book is easier than you think! We caught up with Jennifer Barrett ahead of her three The Write Year workshops to find out what to expect.
Tell us about The Write Year! Where did this idea come from?
I often think about how people always say they’ll write a book one day – so I thought that this year could be The Write Year to do that! The name was meant to be a prompt for people to do something they wanted to do. Years ago I had a year where I said ‘Yes’ to everything (as long as it wasn’t dangerous) and it was a great year that exposed me to a lot of new things and now I’d like other people to think of this opportunity the same way.
What should participants expect?
I’ve planned the morning session to be two hours about how to write and to show new writers that they have the basic skill sets and how to move on from that. There will be lots of opportunities to write and the group will also brainstorm a plot to show how easy it can be. There’ll be lots of discussion about words and how to put them together to tell the best story as well as the usual examination of character, point of view and dialogue.
The afternoon session will be about how to be a writer – and yes, there is a difference and I have made a deliberate distinction here. In the afternoon we’ll talk about how to train our muses, routines, procrastination, what technology can and can’t do for us as writers and how to survive being a writer.
Sessions are split into the beginning, middle and end, and people can go to one or all – do you find different people struggle with different parts of their stories?
Some people will be at different stages in their writing journey and may not need to come to the first session because they know the basics, while others may be struggling for other reasons. Most people stop writing their books at about the one third mark – they’ve run out of inspiration and it’s become hard work so The Middle is probably the time when people need the most help actually. They need a cheer squad and someone who understands what they’re going through as well as some tips and tricks for how to keep going. A lot of people start their first book with a single idea but don’t know how to get to the end because they haven’t plotted the story, or don’t know how to. It’s OK to get waist-deep in story and then work to plot a way out. And there’s a thing writers and editors call the sagging middle – lots of words, not a lot happening and no tension. It’s good to be able to know how to fix that as well.
If a writer gets to The End that’s brilliant, but it’s also where all the hard work actually starts. And it’s good to know what to do when you’re ready to send your manuscript off to agents or publishers so in the last session I will cover a lot about editing your manuscript so it’s good enough to go out into the cold cruel world.
For those who aren’t sure if this workshop is for them – how much of a story should they have before arriving?
Actually they don’t have to have a story at all! There will be lots of prompts throughout the workshop so it is possible to start a story on Saturday. It’s also alright if people turn up with a story started – especially for The Middle and The End workshops, that’s probably the best time to come with work but again, anyone can come along and learn what they need to learn at each session. If someone wants to come along having never written before and want to get started then they should definitely come to the first workshop and go from there.
I would also like to encourage anyone who may have a different story to tell to come along. By different story I mean that they may have lived somewhere else, they may have done different things in different parts of Australia – the Outback for instance – or they may have had an experience that they want to share.
What are you working on at the moment – can we expect new work from you to be released this year?
I am madly editing a manuscript that took me about 5 years to write about two sisters in Townsville during WW2. The research was amazing and I discovered a lot about Townsville that I didn’t know – while I’ve been here for over 30 years now I’m not a local. The people I interviewed were also very generous and shared interesting things about their lives during that time. Unfortunately some of them have since passed on but I definitely couldn’t have done it without them – it was the tiny, domestic things that helped, like what the backyard bomb shelters were like, how to get the biggest tip from a US serviceman, about the Z-tree at Pallarenda, stealing watermelons from the Chinese gardens and sitting up a mango tree throwing mangoes at the US soldiers as they walked past (‘we just did, because we were kids’ was the reason I was given when I asked why).
An agent and publisher are interested in the manuscript when I’ve finished editing it so there is a bit of urgency there but even if a contract was signed tomorrow sadly it would still be up to two years before the book was on the shelves. I am also starting to organise for a few of my winning short stories to be made into audio books and will be working with a local voice actor to do that. I’m looking forward to getting that done as well.