Australian writer of books for younger readers, young adults, verse novels and poetry.

Continuum Convention 13 – the first course.

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I attended the very first Continuum held in Melbourne and loved the immersion into a completely different world. I went because I was writing a dystopian novel at the time, The Airdancer of Glass, and it was professional development for me. I thought. Instead it was this wild ride into different worlds – some familiar (Ursula le Guin? Check.) Others – no clue. (Dyson Sphere?) I had not felt so weirdly out of place since I gatecrashed weddings as the wedding singer’s girlfriend. The whole weekend was made far less lonely by the presence of a fellow poet. Earl Livings and by the fact that my son, who was just a kid, loved the opportunity to mix with the big kids and build some kind of spacecraft.

I think I missed Continuum 2 – I was moving house, probably. But both kids and I lobbed into Continuum 3 which featured Neil Gaiman, Poppy Z Brite, Richard Harland and Robin Hobb – I had a TAFE student at the time who had put me onto the Farseer Trilogy. I still remember – and quote – the world building advice Hobb gave.  I remember this Continuum for that, Neil Gaiman – of course – and the queue to his book signings, knitting in the audience – thank you Trudi Canavan! – and the fact that it was the first time I ever reverse parked – we were running late and necessity is the mother of the reverse park.

This is not a review of past Continuums. It’s more of a gathering together of bits and pieces I’ve heard at this convention – Continuum 13. Seanan McGuire was the Guest of Honour and she was funny, generous and wise. She not only writes urban fantasy, but also horror, under a pseudonym and is also a singer and a wildlife carer. I have no idea how she has the time, let alone the energy to do as many things as she does!

She talked a little about her writing process – she’s lucky to be a full-time writer and commits to a daily word count. However, she refused – quite rightly – to divulge the word count. She recommended that writers find their ‘comfortable cruising speed’. She also suggested if you are one of those people who complain about not being able to find time to right, to try blocking out ten days and plan to write just 100 words each day. Anyone who has attempted NaNoWriMo (who has small children!) will know that even ten minutes can be used – you don’t need to have three hour blocks of time in which to write. It’s always good to be reminded of this. It’s also useful to be reminded that comparing yourself to other writers can be harmful to your mental health.

I’ve been really conscious of this in my own life – if I start down that path, I end up hurting myself and develop a potentially toxic relationship to my own work. But it’s so easy to slide into anxiety and self-doubt. Everyone needs to develop workable strategies to deal with these so they don’t become crippling. I was cheered up to hear Ian Rankin admit at his recent appearance in Melbourne that the new novel always scares him. It happens to us all. It is part of our working lives. Just don’t let it stop you writing and don’t let it suck the joy out of writing.

One of the ways to keep being joyful is to build your own writing resources – Cat Sparks in her Speculative  Short Fiction writing workshop recommended keeping a large notebook you fill with all your writing ideas – titles for short stories, first lines,  character sketches and names, snatches of dialogue, descriptions of things, environments and people.

One of the ways she suggested to discover more about a character is to take them for a walk – learn where they walk, what they notice, how they walk. (Write it down in your resource book – this is writing ‘off the page’ – the scaffolding of a story that you can eventually strip away when you know the story.

She also said that the best stories achieve a thematic resonance by using the same theme in a micro and a macro way. It’s important for new writers to remember this. Cat Sparks also had a great hint for writing a synopsis – replace the ‘and’ with ‘but’. This will help you check that your story is being driven forward. And she added ‘fermenter’ to the mix of plotter versus pantser. I was delighted by that. It perfectly describes my own method of writing!

Another valuable tip was to edit on an e-reader. Now, of course, most e-readers won’t let you actually edit – which is helpful. You have to physically write down the location of what you want to edit – that whole process slows you down and makes you read something quite carefully. I also think reading on an e-reader makes you feel the work is somehow published – so that gives you some distance from it and helps your objective editor rise above the subjective creator.

Cat Sparks’s debut novel, Lotus Blue, was launched at Continuum – it’s a post-apocalyptic story set in an Australian landscape. Read the New York Times review here.

There was more – of course there was more! Continuum Conventions happen over three packed days. Consider this your small entree. More helpings coming!

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