WQ is proud to present a series of interviews with writers from across Queensland. We have approached novelists, playwrights, freelancers, memoirists, short fiction writers, songwriters, game writers, poets, debuts, old hats, traditionally published authors and self-publishers, and asked each of them the same eleven questions. Read individually, each writer’s answers reveals their unique approach to their craft. Read as a group, broad patterns begin to emerge. All of it to answer the simple question: what is the Queensland Writer’s Life?
New Queensland Writer’s Life interviews will be posted to writingqueensland.com.au on a weekly basis.
Why do you write? What drives you to do this?
I’d always had a fascination with books and writers, with writing movements like the Bloomsbury Group for instance. I like the sense of creation and imagination and the opening of worlds and promise for readers. I think Le Chateau started a bit as a challenge, a dare, could I do it? Would I last the distance? Did I have ‘a book in me’?
How did you come to writing?
My professional background was University and Government PR which involved writing. Although I was working in environmental areas I loved, the chop and change of politics and its negative impact on crucial issues was dispiriting. I started to think about writing the book I’d always wanted to rather than another press release, interview, annual report, ministerial or policy document. It was a gradual evolution that didn’t start seriously until I’d lived in France a couple of years. But the niggle commenced when I was writing as a PR professional.
What were your greatest obstacles starting out? How did you overcome them?
Probably writing in isolation in France where I started to write ‘Le Chateau’. I was writing while my children were at school and kindergarten and I knew no writers. I went out and found some fellow travelers pretty fast. You need to talk to other writers for friendship, advice, support, and comfort. I joined an expat writers group in a nearby village and the weekly meetings became very important, sacred, to all of us. It made me brave enough to start the novel.
How do you keep yourself motivated and disciplined?
I try to stay focused and plan. Writing a book is a huge undertaking and sometimes it seems daunting. It’s necessary for me to break it down and also to set goals for different stages.
How do you manage your writing time with everything else you do? How has that changed from when you were starting out?
I fit writing into my life and until I became published it was the first casualty when other demands encroached. Now I’m published I feel more confident saying ‘no, I have to write now. I’ll do that later.’ But still in a family space because of the income differentials my work is the one to slide when the pressure is on. I wish Australia was like Finland and had a wage for authors. Stories of a people and culture are important in so many ways and the Scandinavian’s understand this. Look at how Nordic noir has revitalised their cultural output and tourism. It’s probably one of their biggest cultural exports and it started with writers – not miners, not accountants or engineers – writers.
Where do you write? How do you arrange your working space?
I’m lucky to have ‘A Room of One’s Own’ basically. I have a separate space and a standing table. I can take over the space and use it as I like. I use it differently according to the writing stage. Sometimes it’s very messy and has index cards of scene summaries ordered on the floor and other times there are charts on the walls and piles of research books in the corner. It also has a lovely view of trees, houses and the big blue Brisbane sky.
What are your essential writing tools?
I use a mix of old and new school mediums. I like writing and planning with pen and paper and I have various completed foolscap pads for different projects and drafts. I write and edit the main document though on a computer and I’m doing my current WIP on Scrivener. For ‘Le Chateau’ I used Pages as I work in Mac environment. This was a little problematic when editors and publishers were working in Word. Sometimes formatting and other things go awry when converting large documents such as novels from one to the other. If you are buying a new Mac make sure it has Word installed on it. That’s definitely the dominate software and you’ll save yourself a fair bit of stressful faffing about.
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you were starting out as a writer?
How hard it is. It’s definitely the hardest career I’ve ever had. You need to be strong, resilient and determined to break through the rejections. That’s without even mentioning talent and ability. Don’t even start if you don’t have those qualities. Also, write because you love it, not to be published. It’s very difficult to be published and there are many variables outside of your control such as luck and the zeitgeist.
What do you read and how do you read as a writer?
When I was primarily a reader I admired the masters past and present but now I’m a writer I admire anyone who writes – published or unpublished – because I know how hard and challenging it is. It’s an endurance race. Respect to all writers! Kudos.
As a writer you have to read closely, look at every word and understand why it was chosen. This is slow work but very rewarding. Best done with writers like James Joyce.
How do you overcome ‘writer’s block’?
It’s hard. The best thing though is to start. I plan a little and break it up into manageable chunks and then do the sections that will get me into character fastest to understand them better and conjure the mood of the work. I then start from the beginning and build if I can. But some days when it just won’t come and there’s no chance of a flow, go and do something else. Don’t waste a lovely day staring at a computer screen or on social media!
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Apply for competitions like QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program and others that promise connections with editors, publishers and agents. I’m sure selection was a huge help in my journey to publication. It’s hard to get a foot in the door of publishing. Selection for such prestigious programs is noticed and understood in the industry. It gives you a better chance and that’s what we all need.♦
Sarah Ridout’s Le Chateau was selected for the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program. Sarah appeared at the BWF2016 and her book was released in September 2016 by Echo Publishing, an imprint of Bonnier Publishing Australia. It is available Australia wide through bookstores and Booktopia and internationally through The Book Depository. Sarah has a Masters in Creative Writing from UCD Dublin (First Class Honours) and Le Chateau is her first novel. For more information: www.sarahridout.com.au.
Published May 4, 2017
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