by Rob Carrick
Christmas is here, and that means it's twelve months since I found myself at a Christmas event chatting to a woman in a wide-brimmed hat, a former beekeeper. She asked me how I managed during the lockdown of 2020, and I proudly replied that I had used the extra time to write a 300-page book of articles, lyrics, and anecdotes with a musical theme. As it had been surprisingly well-received, particularly in my mother’s retirement village, I'd decided to write a novel. The wise woman quizzed me as to what the book would be about. I didn’t really know at the time, but I told her it would not include any violence. She said that if there was no violence, I'd better be able to write a ‘bloody good sex scene’ and went on to ask if I was planning to write the next Fifty Shades of Grey.
I realised I was going to need help.
My friend Tim who plays bass in my band suggested engaging a book coach and a quick Google search turned up the Sydney School of Arts & Humanities. The school seemed to have an endorsement from the City of Sydney, so I signed up and soon had a call back from the director, Christine Williams.
Christine asked me what writing experience I had so I told her about my first book. I could tell she took a dim view of this kind of ‘vanity publishing’. Next, she asked for the ‘elevator pitch’ for my novel. That too was clearly underwhelming so she suggested four coaching sessions and then joining a writing class. I wasn’t convinced about writing class, but I leapt at the opportunity to do the coaching sessions.
I was intrigued from the very first moment. It quickly became apparent that writing fiction is unlike any other genre. Christine turned a spotlight on the flaws in my writing, and the way forward was quickly revealed. I learnt how to start a new scene, a new character, and a new piece of dialogue on a new line. How to draw on the five senses. The art of showing and not telling the reader about emotions. The perils of adverbs and the pleasures in developing characters.
I remembered what the bee lady said, and in my final session I had a go at a sex scene. It was a disaster. Christine said it sounded typical of a sex scene written by a man. I still had much to learn.
Reluctantly, I decided to try writing class and was instantly hooked.
I tell my friends it's far better than watching a podcast. In each Zoom session, a regular audience turns up, listens intently, and provides constructive feedback. What’s more, the range of subjects canvassed by the group ranges from zombies' genre, detective thrillers, memoir and fantasy to Australian fiction and history. I was enthralled and started doing two sessions a week. I'm pleased to say that my second attempt at a sex scene fared much better than the first.
My favourite part of the class is the ‘prompt’. At school, I found I could create a composition if I was given a prompt, and I've now rediscovered this lost art of letting my imagination run free.
I don’t know if my novel will ever be published or read, but when, after 85,000 words, I finally wrote the last word on the last page of the first draft, I felt all my Christmases had come at once.
To Christine, and to all who took part in the SSOA writing class in 2021, I will be forever grateful to you for enabling me to discover the joy of writing fiction in what would otherwise have been a difficult COVID year.
I wish you a Merry Christmas.
In response, my grateful thanks to Rob for the enthusiasm and commitment he brings to his writing.