It was recently the Melbourne Writers Festival between 25 August and 3 September, and I decided to go along! This was my first time going and I choice three of the events. Even if you didn’t go or live in Melbourne, there were many things I learned that could be interesting to you.
This session was a Young Adult Ask Me Anything event with Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Danielle Binks (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology) and Melissa Keil (Life in Outer Space) on the panel. I had only heard of Angie Thomas because earlier in the year I read The Hate U Give. It was really great to listen to her talk, but I only wish that I had brought along my copy of her book because I had the opportunity to get it signed.
Things I Learned
- To help yourself get the courage to show your writing to other people, you could join a critique group. Angie improved her workshopping skills by doing a creative writing course at university. I agree with this because I’m also doing a writing course and I wouldn’t have critiquing skills without studying! But if that’s not an option, then you can join groups.
- Young Adult novels are about writing what you believe in and connect with, so it is okay to write things that you enjoy writing. Young Adult books have a bad reputation, but it is important that you have a passion for what you are writing and not doing it just because you think it will get you a lot of money.
- Angie does not read reviews but Adam Silvera does.
- John Green emailed Angie to let her know he also gets writers block.
- The movie for The Hate U Give has been cast!
- The word ‘gangbang’ means something different in America and in Australia/UK. If you don’t know what I mean then do not google it. But anyway, I was SO confused when I was reading The Hate U Give because I thought ‘gangbang’ meant something else, which is much worse than what the word means in the book. In The Hate U Give, it means to be a part of a gang (I think?).
- Most authors are young white females, so some diversity would be nice.
Angie Thomas: YA Activism
Unfortunately the second session I wanted to go to was too full to get into, so my day was filled with Angie Thomas (not a bad thing). This session was a key note speech and she also answered some questions. She talked about her book and the issues that comes along with writing diverse characters.
Things I Learned
- Angie Thomas is from Mississippi and lived in a similar neighbourhood to Starr. She lived in a black community, but went to private, mostly white high school.
- Her friend was killed in a drive-by when he was eight, which is similar to what happened in the book, though she did not witness it. She wanted to put in both black crime and police brutally to show both sides.
- You are allowed to include diverse characters even though you are not a part of their group. However, you need to do the research and make the characters sound realistic and genuine.
- Her next book is about a girl who has a connection with hip hop. Angie had to do many drafts because she’s had trouble coming up with a plot. More information coming later this year.
- Having an understanding of the world is good and putting political ideas into your writing could help connect with the reader.
- She told us a little about the movie that is shooting next month. The thing with Starr’s uncle gets explained more to help audiences know what his opinions in the end were.
- She said that some people would come up to her and say, ‘Wow thanks, I used to think Black Lives Matter people were terrorists and now my views have changed.’
Seminar: Writing Another
This seminar had writers Anosh Irani (The Parcel) and Kevin Kwan (Rich People Problems) speak and answer questions about their books. This event had a focus on writing about diverse characters. It was hosted at the University of Melbourne and I’d never been there before, and I had no idea the place was like an old-fashioned maze. Unfortunately I did not even think about reading their novels, but I came out of the session thinking they sounded very interesting.
Anosh Irani’s book is about a transgender woman working in the red-light district of Bombay. He talked about his research process behind the book, which was interesting to learn about because he was so connected to the red-light district. He grew up surrounded by sex workers, and although he wasn’t a part of it, he was interested in learning their stories.
Kevin Kwan’s book is the third book in a trilogy about rich people in Singapore. He talked about how he grew up in Singapore and then moved to the United States, which was a big culture change. He wrote this book because there are not many books that portray Asia in a contemporary environment.
Things I Learned
- Anosh described the red light district as a “chaotic mess”, and things are much worse there then you would think.
- Character development is done chapter by chapter. Characters are inspired by real people. Writers are observers.
- Kevin does not write a plan before he begins, as he has a photographic memory. Anosh does have a plan.
- Kevin does not make edits on the same day. Anosh writes his first draft all in one, and does not read it until it is done. To help combat writer’s block when a scene is getting difficult to write, abandon it or come back to it.
- There is humour in both texts. In the darkest places, you will still find humour. Even though sex workers are struggling, it is their normal life, and they still laugh about things. They go through warm moments too.
- You are allowed to change character traits far into your draft. Just rewrite previous scenes.
- Every character has a secret in fiction.
- When dealing with diverse characters, ask yourself, “Am I intruding into this person’s life?” Understand the character’s pain. What is their wound?
- Characters sometimes steer you in a different direction.
- You don’t need to go looking for a subject matter. Find something small that matters to you. Research is important.
Something specific I learned from this session is that you do not need to look too hard in order to write about a diverse character. Choose something that is relevant to your own life, as you already have that sort of experience to make the work powerful.
- I really enjoyed going to these events! I don’t go to them very much, but I think I will try to more in the future.
- Do you like going to book events?