Sunday, August 30, 2009

No group hugs please

Saw M.J. Hyland at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Friday. She's the author of three novels - This is How, Carry Me Down, and How the Light Gets In. She also lectures in creative writing in Manchester where she lives now. She's not an Aussie though she has Australian connections having, studied English and law at the University of Melbourne.


I'd only read How the Light Gets In which I won't go into now because I am meant to be writing about craft and Australia's indigenous population for the huge double issue of GC we're putting together. Suffice to say it was an amazing debut novel, very original and worth getting your hands on. You'll loan out your daughters to worthy causes before they grow into teenagers after meeting the central character in this book.

Anyhoo, M.J. (we're on first name basis now) was talking about trying to instruct her students on good writing and how hard it is now that they all have blogs and access to amateur publishing websites and the like. Argggh, the ongoing blog bashing that feeds my paranoia. (I am thinking this while rushing through writing this post hee hee.) I took some notes but not direct quotes. Suffice to say she felt they were publishing what I believe she termed as "shoddy shit" and receiving group hugs from family, friends and cyberspace pals in response and they were shocked when her slightly more biting critiques were put forward.

Her message here was that good writing cannot be produced in half an hour and that many of the students spin words like fairy floss, and just as quickly, for the Net but that revision and rewriting is the cornerstone of the real deal.

She tooks three years to write This is How (a copy of which I picked up in Readings special MWF bookshop at Fed Square) so she is clearly not one to be rushed. She also received a nomination for the Man Booker prize in 2006 for only her second novel so - yeah - Mrs Underhill will give her words some thoughts.

I don't normally write notes from a one hour talk like this one but, as a character in a project I am tentatively working on is a writer and a festival regular, I thought MJ's real life reactions would come in handy for dialogue. As I started this project almost a year ago and am only five chapters in I am already doing well on any three year plans I might have and can definitely NOT be accused of rushing.

PS: Hosting the Hyland talk at MWF was Michael Williams, Head of Programming at Melbourne's new Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas. He was bloody funny!