I’m fortunate to have been a guest at several writers’ festivals now, but Saturday’s New Fiction panel with Toni Jordan and Meg Mundell chaired by Nadine Davidoff goes down as one of my most enjoyable.
For a start, we all genuinely liked each other’s books and before we’d even left the Bishop’s Parlour aka The Green Room, we were asking each other questions about our work. Does the fact that Meg is not from Melbourne give her an edge when it comes to evoking the city as she does so effectively in her wonderful debut novel Black Glass? –Meg thought yes, and also that it was easier for her to paint the city in a dark light because it holds no childhood memories for her. Toni isn’t from Melbourne either but she loves the place, which is reflected in her novels. My novels are set in Thailand: I write about place as an outsider, too. Already we’d found something in common.
Over the course of more than an hour, with Nadine doing a great job as chair, we found despite our vastly different experiences, we had a few other things in common. Turns out we are all great walkers. We walk to think, to reflect, to case possible settings for our work.
We also share a common approach to our craft. Toni suggested that when it comes to writing methods, at one end of the spectrum there are ‘planners’ and at the other there are ‘pants-ers’, those who fly by the seat of their pants. All of us sit — or fly — closer to the ‘pantser’ end of the spectrum.
All three of us professed deepest respect and gratitude for our editors. We talked about how affirming and privileged it feels to have someone devote their time, attention and skills to our respective manuscripts. We talked about what we’d learned from our editors and how they helped us to write better books. Someone in the audience asked whether editors should be named alongside authors in the books they work on. Toni and I felt that the work is still the author’s because a good editor will highlight problems and pose challenges but not offer solutions. Nadine, herself an award-winning editor, weighed in and said for her part that one of the most satisfying aspects of her job is when she identifies a problem with a manuscript and the author comes up with a solution beyond what she could have imagined. Asked if she aspired to write a book, Nadine said no, she’d seen how hard it was.
We talked about how authors are sometimes mistaken for their characters. I’ve had several people tell me they were confronted by what happens to the mother and child characters in my latest novel The Half-Child ‘but in the end agreed with you.’ I want to make it clear that just because my heroine Jayne Keeney and I have the same dark curly hair, it doesn’t mean I share all her opinions. If it was up to me and not Jayne, the outcome of the story would have been very different.
The lead character in Toni’s novel Addition, Grace Vandenburg, is obsessed with numbers and particularly the number 10. Toni spoke of going to give talks at libraries and having the librarians ask in all sincerity if she was okay with them having eight seats in each row.
And speaking of seats in rows, that was another aspect of what made yesterday’s panel so enjoyable: we had a great audience. At the risk of sounding like Grace, I counted over 50 people in the crowd. And even as I was leaving the convent grounds to go home, I had people telling me how much they had enjoyed the session. ‘How lucky to have three such entertaining writers on one panel,’ one of them said, putting a spring in my step.
Still, we didn’t pull quite the same crowds as Bettina Arndt, with whom we shared a book signing table after our panel. She was signing her latest book, What Men Want in Bed. Guaranteed sales with a snappy title like that. Why didn’t I think of it?
Stay tuned for a review of Black Glass around its release date of 28 February.