Conflux 12 wrap up – Part II

conflux12headerrgbThis year at Conflux we decided to do something a bit different with the writing workshops and run them throughout the weekend instead of all on the first day (Friday), which is how we’ve done it previously. One thing I found is – probably due to the interactive nature of workshops – these are a really good forum to hook up with other people at the convention. I managed to get in three workshops. (Although one was in two parts and probably counts as two.)

I’d asked Alan Baxter to run a version of his Write the Fight Right workshop, mostly because I’d never done it and I really wanted to. (A perk of being in charge of programming!) It’s usually a whole day, so he did a condensed version of it over two hours. It’s great, I highly recommend it and I’d love to do the full version one day. It covers stuff like what it feels like to be punched in the face, the physiological effects of fighting (far more complex than you’d expect), how to use space and even some handy first aid advice. As you’d expect he provides plenty of anecdotes and stories from his own life experience and even pointed us at a few clips of fights to give us a sense of the difference between cinematic show and what a real fight might look like. Hint: the fight between Darcy (Colin Firth) and Cleaver (Hugh Grant) in Bridget Jones’ Diary is more realistic than you might think (quintessential smashing-through-shop-window scene notwithstanding).

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I did a two part workshop conducted by Kaaron Warren and Nick Evans called Spray and Wipe. This involved a trip to the Green Shed (a store that sells recycled items donated through Canberra’s tips), where we had to choose an item from the shop as an inspiration point for a story. Kaaron then took us around to the Green Shed Underground (a separate store run by the Green Shed where they sell all their donated books and clothing) and made us choose an outfit for one of our characters and dress in it to write the story.

I decided to have a stab at generating an idea for something for my suite of colour-themed stories I want to begin work on soon, and picked out a very orange biscuit tin to start with. This got coupled with a really terrible orange mumu-style shirt and some fairly tacky orange jewellery. It was when I happened upon some great 1970s cookbooks with predominantly orange covers, however, that my story brain kicked in and an idea really came together.

After that, it was back to the con venue and in the afternoon Nick Evans, a journalist by trade, put us through a fairly brutal regime of cutting, rewriting and reworking the 400 odd words we’d got down in the morning with Kaaron. I was completely exhausted at the end of it, but I definitely have the beginning of a story and I’m pretty sure I know where this one is headed!

Finally, on Monday, I did a workshop with life coach Kenny Snable on overcoming negative thoughts to increase writing productivity. This one was great. She took us through the relationship between thoughts, behaviours and emotions and gave us a bunch of strategies to manage the negative ones, and some exercises to help identify and articulate what the actual issue is that is causing us grief.

And this is only a small selection of the smorgasbord of professional development that was on offer this year!

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HARDCOPY 2016 – the first installment

On the weekend starting Friday 27 May I attended the first workshop for the 2016 HARDCOPY program at the ACT Writers Centre. I confess this post is overdue, but it’s taken me this long to write it out because, wow, that weekend was intense.

2016_HARDCOPY+tag_ColourWhere do I start? Let me set the scene. I was one of 30 Australian writers from all over the country, selected from something like 100 applications to the program. There were people writing in a range of genres, from literary fiction, crime, young adult realism, young adult fantasy, adult fantasy and science fiction, even a verse novel. There were writers creating everything from fun stuff to read (I place myself at this end of the spectrum) all the way through to people making serious Art. It was simultaneously terrifying, inspiring, intimidating and affirming.

It was utterly intimidating to realise just how talented the other people in the room were, and, to a certain extent, what my work is competing against in the broader market. On the other hand, it was quietly affirming to understand that the assessors had reviewed my submission and thought I belonged in that room, too.

It was absolutely terrifying working through the various aspects of our manuscripts over that weekend and realising just how much hard work lies ahead. (And I haven’t even finished the first draft of this particular novel project!) But the flip side was having the golden opportunity to spend 3 days immersed in my writing, and coming out with a clear sense of purpose and a fresh set of ideas.

I’m pretty sure all the writing workshops I’ve done to date have been with authors, and there’s nothing more valuable than learning from someone who is doing what you want to do, and doing it well. By contrast, however, Nadine Davidoff, who ran this year’s HARDCOPY intensive manuscript masterclass, is a highly respected freelance editor. It gave me a different perspective being led through the masterclass by someone whose job it is not to do the beautiful writing, but to pick apart the writing and understand when and why it’s not working and suggest ways of making it better. Nadine turned a razor-sharp, critical eye on every facet of what makes up a novel, and encouraged us to apply our own critical thinking to these things as well.

Then, of course, there was the simple pleasure of sitting down at the end of the day with a bunch of other people who share my passion for words and stories, who’ve been thinking deeply on the things my mind has been occupied with, and just yakking away over drinks and dinner about anything and everything to do with writing. That never gets old.

Most of the time, when you read a book, you only get to see the finished product. Hopefully you’ve chosen a Really Good Book, so you’re holding in your hands a near-perfect balance of intriguing ideas, compelling characters, immersive world building, plot tension, authentic emotion and beautiful turns of phrase. What you don’t get to see – even if you’re beta-reading an early draft for a writer friend – are the long silences when the ideas and words don’t come. Or the tangled, mangled words that don’t mean the thing you want them to mean. Or the acres of grey fog between brightly shining key plot points. Or the hours of (figuratively) smacking your skull to try to beat some tiny, misshapen, vague blobs of something into coherent ideas you can’t even begin to hone with words until you can see them clearly.

Sometimes it’s really hard to keep going.

The most valuable thing I got out of HARDCOPY was that all this is part of pretty much every writer’s journey. (You hear it a lot, but it can be hard to know.) Being in a room with 30 other people, some of whom are pretty far along the road to publication, and hearing that we’ve all had the same struggles; hearing from Nadine, who gave us plenty of examples of successful, nameable writers who have slogged through the same word-tangles and plot-fogs; that was gold. What I got from all that was that I am on the right track. Sometimes I don’t have a map or I’ve wandered into a briar-patch or stepped in a puddle and I can’t feel my feet they’re so cold, but these are the same briar-patches and mud puddles and vague wandering paths that have been trekked by countless writers before me.

This gig is a confidence game, and at its core you’ve gotta be the one to decide whether or not you can cut it. But it’s a long, long windy road to producing literature, and having the opportunity to participate in programs like HARDCOPY can give an emerging writer just exactly the boost they need to stay on the path.

Achievement unlocked!

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I had some exciting news this week: I’ve been accepted into the ACT Writers Centre 2016 HARDCOPY professional development program for Australian writers! This is the third year they’ve run the program, and the second year they’ve focussed on fiction authors (2015 was a non-fiction year). Applying for HARDCOPY involves a competitive selection process, which included submitting a synopsis and the first 30-50 pages of the manuscript, so being offered a place is definitely an achievement in itself.

Even better, my good friend and writing buddy Robert Porteous has also been accepted into the program, so I know I’ll be in very fine company.