The Right Questions

Most aspiring writers ask the right questions. I worry that my last post, which is an echo of many earlier posts, gives a different impression, so I feel the need to say it loud and clear: the vast majority of aspiring writers who contact me ask smart, sensible, interesting questions. It’s really only the ones who are more in love with the idea of being a writer than with actually, you know, writing who ask the wrong questions. Mercifully, they are massively outnumbered by the people who love writing.

During my events at the Melbourne Writers Festival I wasn’t asked any wrong questions. My audiences were smart and full of excellent questions. The encounter I blogged about was with an adult aspiring writer who button holed me after one of my events, not during, which makes me think they were aware of just how wrong their questions were.

That was my lowlight of the Festival, the highlight also happened after one of my events.

Isobelle Carmody invited me to have a coffee1 with her and some of her fans. They were a lovely group2 some of whom had been reading Isobel’s work for more than 20 years and know it better than she does. They run a couple of Carmody fan sites. At least two of them were aspiring writers. They were full of the right questions. Smart, technical, writing questions. Questions about rewriting, about juggling characters, about how Isobelle and I manage our writing schedules, about Isobelle’s books, about how we’re all fans, about publishing madnesses (of which there are so many). It was fun and intense and I came away deeply impressed by both Isobelle and her fans and feeling joyous about what we YA writers do and the effects it can have on our readers, including turning them into us.3 I was very sorry when I had to leave.

  1. Or in my case, water, because coffee tastes like death. []
  2. Whose names I have forgotten because I have the memory of a crushed gnat. Sorry! []
  3. One of us! One of us! One of us! []


  1. Steph on #

    I wish I could have come along to one of your events. My questions probably would have been pretty irrational, though (zombies would be referenced, definitely).

    I think everyone is always more likely to blog about something that has bothered them, or something that they feel should be improved, then about how gloriously wonderful everythign was, if that makes sense? A blog just saying, ‘everything was fantastic’ isn’t as good as a blog that talks about someone’s experience, and talks about something they feel people should know to do (like in your case, the questions aspiring authors should ask.)

    Because that’s what you intended, right? Just to put across a point, maybe put the right idea in someone’s head. All of your blog posts, even the slightly-critical ones, I find helpful, or enlightening.

    Hopefully that made a little sense.

  2. Justine on #

    Steph: It’s true: a stone in your shoe is much more likely to get you talking about it than perfectly comfortable stone-less shoes. Which is why it’s important to talk about the comfortable shoes every so often.

  3. sarahhazelton on #

    I am very jealous of your coffee with Isobelle Carmody, as I am a HUGE fan. In fact, for a couple of years I was a member of that fansite linked above. The Obernewtyn Chronicles was (is) one of my formative reading experiences, and she’s one of the three authors responsible for me working in publishing — because I couldn’t think of anything more awesome than working on books like hers.

    Re the other parts of your post: I was also asked some wrong questions earlier this week, but the questioner was so young and sincere that the questions weren’t as wrong as they would have been if someone else had been asking. Context is everything.

  4. Rhiannon Hart on #

    I was at the Rules of Invention session and thought it was fantastic. I’m an aspiring writer and it was so good to hear you and Carmody talk about your work. Thanks for signing my book, too 🙂

  5. Justine on #

    Sarah: Seems that almost every Aussie woman I know between the ages of 18 and 40 had a formative Isobelle Carmody reading experience.

    Rhiannon: My pleasure. The Rules of Invention session was the best one I did of the festival. Twas much fun.

  6. Kristen on #

    This is probably a random question, but was the “One of us! One of us!” at the end of your post a reference to Tod Browning’s movie Freaks?

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