TUMBY BAY - Some people like messing about in boats but writing fiction has always been a passion of mine.
Unfortunately it’s very hard to make a living out of writing books in Australia and I’ve had to resort to other means of subsistence.
That’s why reaching retirement age is such a blessing.
Being on a pension means that I can indulge my passion in a leisurely fashion without worrying too much about not having enough money to pay the bills.
And, as Paul Oates has observed, for us oldies writing is good for the soul. And probably our mental health too.
Nowadays there’s no pressure, no deadlines, no demanding emails or telephone calls. When and how I finish whatever I’m writing is entirely up to me. A week or a year, it doesn’t matter.
Writing has always been a necessary and core skill in all the jobs I’ve had over the years, but it has required a certain amount of adaption to fit the circumstances.
One of the biggest challenges occurred after I left the public service. Shedding the jargon, verbosity and density of the bureaucratic writing style required real effort.
The bureaucratic style, much like academic writing, was definitely not conducive to the clarity required when I went out on my own as a consultant.
There are several cardinal rules I learnt writing fiction. They include brevity, simplicity of style and avoiding the temptation to preach.
These are important because you want the reader to keep reading, stay with you and think about what you have written.
Giving away too much detail is a sure fire way to deaden the suspense you need in a work of fiction.
Back in the days when very few people travelled widely and had limited access to sources of information, it was necessary to include lots of details in a work of fiction.
If you don’t believe me try reading the Victorian-era writers.
Nowadays, instead of several long descriptive paragraphs, a simple word or two will conjure the necessary image in a reader’s mind.
I had stuff published in a whole range of magazines, from New Idea to Penthouse. The only magazine I couldn’t crack was Reader’s Digest. Achieving the blandness they required was simply beyond me.
Nowadays the buzz comes almost entirely from my books and seeing my stuff appear on blogs like PNG Attitude.
If writers come with an inbuilt ego, as many critics contend, then I have to plead guilty.
One thing I discovered is that swapping between fiction and non-fiction requires certain adjustments and it’s still something I occasionally find difficult.
This is where editors like Keith Jackson come in handy.
As a journalist of long standing he’s attuned to the needs of different readers and can add just the right amount of detail to articles to make them comprehensible to his reading audience.
Writers in places like Australia, New Zealand, the smaller Pacific nations and Papua New Guinea are forced by circumstance to be adaptive.
To maintain a satisfying writing life it’s necessary to command as many styles as possible.
Indeed, many of them are recognised solely for their unchanging writing style.
When you’re on to a good thing, stick to it is their motto.
Which probably puts agile Aussie, Kiwi, Pasifika and Niugini writers in their own class.
Isn’t that a nice thought?