Monday, June 01, 2009

More on the obsession of writing - and personal obsession

In The Screwed Up Life Of A Writer: A Response To Jim Belshaw Kanani responded to my post Sunday Essay - further musings on writing.

I thought that this was a rather wonderful response. Leave aside the nice things that Kanani said about me (blush, my ego has been stroked). Look, instead, at the obsessive elements. I think that's true. My immediate family encouraged me to write. Now they have to pay the price.

I do not think that you can write, or try to write, something major without being either obsessive or at least very organised. I am not really organised, so I have to rely on obsession.

You know, Neil my old blogging friend, I blame you a bit. It was our broad on-line conversations that actually started the rot, shifting my writing from the largely professional to the more personal. If I ever get published I think that I will dedicate the book to you along with some of our blogging colleagues.

Yesterday and today I was reading Serving the Country, a history of the Country Press Association of NSW.

I know or know of over half the people mentioned in the book. In many ways it is a very sad book to me because it traces the decline of an institution I have known.

Those who read this column will know that I now write a weekly column for the Armidale Express. You may not know that my grandfather became a director of the Armidale Newspaper Company Limited in, from memory, 1926. When what became Rural Press took over the paper in the 1970s I tried to organise a shareholder revolt against the takeover.

There is an even bigger irony here.

Rural Press began as the Land, the journal of the NSW Farmers and Settlers Association, the populist wing of NSW farm politics. My grandfather was a former President of the FSA. The family had shares in the Land. So what was a cooperative vehicle became heart of a press combine.

1926 to 2009. That's a long time to maintain a connection.

Had New England gained self-government when the first agitation stated, it would have been the third largest Australian colony by population. Had we gained self government during the 1920s push, we would have been the fourth largest Australian state.

I am writing about an area who for much of its history has had a population larger than Tasmania, South Australia or Western Australia. This is actually not small stuff in Australian terms.

The rise and fall of New England mirrors many elements in Australian history.

This is a world that you will not find in conventional Australian history books. Many of the things that I write about do not exist there or, if they did, have been written out.

NSW history is essentially dominated by Sydney doings. This ignores the rest of a state that used to exceed Sydney in population and even now has a larger population than most Australian states. The problem gets worse as you move to broad regional areas within NSW.

I accept my biases. My challenge in writing is to convince the reader that the story I have to tell is both important and interesting.


Kanani said...

Well, unfortunately, I'm not organized either. Which is why whenever I tried to "plan" what I was writing it all got blown to smithereens as my delved deeper into my subject matter.

When I started writing my book, I became obsessed with an area I grew up in but had little real knowledge about. So I became the weird "Delta" lady, reading books about waterways, engineering, marshlands. And later, contacting groups like the wetlands conservancies, and asking them to take me out on boats and such. It was all rather crazy and culminated with me in a truck with a farmer who owned 10,000 acre island farm and told me I was crazy to have ever left.

But still, even the research became a dodge for writing. Soon, I had to figure out what when in, and what stayed out. And in fiction, there's a very fine line between using the information to flesh out a story line, or just reiterating it so that the reader knows you know. Much of it was left out --all the science stuff, but slipped in here in there in one sentence fragments.

No doubt, your personal history fuels the obsession. Keep going. You'll figure out what to put in, what to leave out --it's all part of the puzzle.

Kanani said...

Oh, and Jim....
Right now my bed is littered with books on Afghanistan, the military and my MilSpouse blog is going well.

I believe I've found the first indication of what my next book will be about --whether it's going to be fiction or nonfiction I have not a clue.

Either way, it's annoying.

Jim Belshaw said...

I loved these comments, Kanani, and really laughed at the Delta story. You capture it so well. And on the book, let it evolve, just obsessively!