For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Discovering our Themes

'Theme is not the same as plot. It is a broader term. The theme illustrates whatever universal idea the story puts forward, while plot has to do, instead with the literal events that occur in the characters lives'.
Laurie Henry, Fiction Dictionary

I've been trying to understand the themes I'll be working with in this new novel, tentatively titled Between Worlds. Theme is a fundamental part of story. In a sense it's the central idea, a point the writer wishes to make. It generally explores human nature in some way, perhaps the relationship between mothers and daughters or between humanity and nature. Perhaps the legacy of injustice or the power of forgiveness. Sometimes moral statements, proverbs such as 'crime does not pay' or 'honesty is the best policy'.  And often dualistic elements such as good versus evil or madness versus sanity. With theme we search the depths of our stories, exploring the endless shades of grey between the black and whites of life.

Theme helps to give a story a satisfying shape, depth and purpose. It communicates a kind of truth about the way human beings act and think or feel, in a way that is sometimes universal, reaching beyond difference to what is essential within all of us. Of course, theme is closely linked to human emotion, and the themes we choose, either consciously or unconsciously, are generally linked to issues or passions within our own lives. If we distinguish (as I do) between factual and emotional truths, then it is theme that sometimes makes a work of fiction more 'true' than a memoir (more on this in a future post).   

Often a theme is only found in retrospect, when examining a completed story. Sometimes it is found during the process of writing and sometimes it can be the seed of an idea from which a story grows. When we are looking for our themes we can sometimes find them in the title of a story or in its opening pages, and nearly always in the inner journey of our main character/s. What they learn (if anything), suffer or experience is key to the theme.

In Dear Writer, Carmel Bird, speaks of the importance of writing about what we care about. This of course doesn't mean that we have to write solemn, politically correct stories. It means that we need to write about what moves us. Sometimes we need to find out what that is by asking ourselves what themes resonate with us. What makes me angry? What can't I bear? What do I love? What do I believe in? What makes me laugh? In the answers to these questions lies a novel, or in my case, two novels and the seeds of a third.
Like many writers, I explore similar themes in all my work, though there has been a clear development of these themes in my writing to date. I imagine this will continue as my writing develops and as I evolve as an individual. My novel, Gathering Storm is a work of fiction, but many of its themes are ones that are close to my own heart. Storm is haunted by the secrets and lies that fill her childhood as well as events that occurred well before her birth. In Gathering Storm, I explored identity and dislocation in a personal sense, through family history and genetic inheritance, but also from a broader cultural perspective, in relation to nationhood and citizenship. Gathering Storm is very much about place and belonging. It also explores the nature of truth, the power of lies and the damage they leave in their wake. But probably, most importantly, it's about identifying and breaking free of negative patterns by turning around and facing the monsters in ones life and taking the journey from anger to forgiveness and compassion.

Flight, is also about belonging and identity and like Gathering Storm, it documents the journey to become oneself and live ones life in relation to that, instead of through the wounds that can be inherited from ones ancestors, from ones culture, and created through the experience of living. In it, I again set out to explore memory in a personal way:  pre-verbal memory, as well as those memories which remain hidden in the unconscious. But this time I have taken it even further, venturing into the realms of mysticism by exploring the idea of carrying memory from past lives, wounds that inhabit the deepest parts of ourselves and cause us to shut down. Two stories are woven through this novel, the title itself reflecting a double meaning, one of running away from something, the other of ascension. The outer journey is the one described in the synopsis and a metaphor for the inner journey towards self and the healing of old wounds.

In many ways Flight is about innocence, exploring the archetype of the victim. In contrast, Between Worlds will be about guilt, about facing the monstrous within oneself. It will be at once a metaphysical thriller and a celebration of the magic of everyday living. And its developing themes will once again reflect my own, sometimes hazardous journey through life.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finding Our Stories

'You are your stories. You are the product of all the stories you have heard and lived – and of many that you have never heard. They have shaped how you see yourself, the world, and your place in it.'
Daniel Taylor, Tell Me A Story

Since ancient times we have told stories. We sit around camp fires watching the flickering flames and exchanging tales, or curl up in bed with our books, or gather in front of a screen. We read newspapers, listen to the radio and browse the internet. We make up stories for our children, or meet friends for coffee and swap anecdotes. When we sit down at the dinner table and talk to our family, we construct stories from the events of the day, shaping our ideas into a satisfying structure with a beginning, middle and end, creating a narrative flow, an atmosphere, tensions, hooks and characters.

Stories are a natural part of us, deeply embedded in our psyche yet sometimes people tell me they have no stories to tell. For many years I had this same concern. I could write polished prose passages but I couldn't shape a story. I couldn't make characters move or events happen, I couldn't find endings, and more importantly, I couldn't find beginnings. I used to envy people who had real stories to tell, who grew up in families steeped in story, families whose lives had crossed continents, whose houses were filled with music and books and whose meals were accompanied by passionate conversation. My childhood was empty of these things. I was an adopted child, growing up in bland suburb with a family who were strict Baptists. Rabidly anti-iconic they rejected the exciting imaginative elements of religion and simply kept the rules, creating a regimented and sterile environment – without artworks, or music (aside from hymns), or dance, or even books. . .

When I discovered the library, books became both my escape from life and my way of exploring the world and myself. Then later, when I wanted to craft my own stories, I realised that the only stories I knew were from books. Where, I wondered, could I find stories in a bland suburban family like mine? But over time I began to realise that even bland suburbia was full of stories. I was full of stories. I just had to learn how to access them and to stop assuming they weren't interesting enough to share. In the end I discovered that it wasn't a lack of stories that was paralysing me, it was that there were too many stories to choose from.

'How to choose your story then?' asks Catherine Anne Jones in The Way of Story. 'Simple. Choose the one you feel emotionally connected with.' More often than not the stories we write are drawn from our own lives. These are the stories that are written with our hearts not our heads. Even when the plot is fictional, the themes are usually our own and hence we have an emotional connection with them. The short stories I have written have usually been about defining moments in my life, such as Impotence, a fiction story about the abrupt end of a childhood and the complex nature of a child's love for his mother. Or they're about small moments that symbolise something more universal, such as my non-fiction story, Passing Time which was inspired by my youngest child slipping into bed with me on a cold winter's morning and discussing the universe and time. My novels and the story or stories they contain are a blend of fiction and non-fiction, my memories handed over to a fictional character whose journey is to resolve them and/or to seek the universal within them. Sometimes these memories are replayed in my stories and sometimes they are transformed, reemerging as themes that mark and guide the lives of my characters.

We go inwards to find our stories, delving into the unconscious to find what has long been hidden; using our memory to rediscover it and our imagination to transform it. To write a story is to descend into the underworld or step into the labyrinth, with only a few clues and no guarantee of a way back out again. It is to step beyond our limitation, embarking on a journey with no known destination and often no ticket. These journeys are not always comfortable but they're generally rewarding. And in the process we feel truly alive.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Seeds of an Idea

'Stories pretty much make themselves. The job of a writer is to give them a place to grow.'
Stephen King, On Writing

It's early days yet and aside from a few notes, I haven't yet put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I'm still walking around the fringes of my new novel, testing its boundaries and understanding its depths. It isn't plot I'm exploring, it's theme, because for me theme and character are the backbone on which the plot will be built. I need to know what my story is really about. What exploration I will be making this time around. And all the time that I'm musing and reading, making notes and dreaming, something is forming. I receive flickers of story elements, tantalising hints that I hope will eventually become a novel.

Flannery O'Connor spoke of writing 'as an act of discovery' and for me that is certainly the case. People write in different ways, according to their character and preference. Some write haphazardly with no story in mind, then cut and paste, creating links between sections until a story emerges. Some plan everything before sitting down to actually write a story, mapping out chapters and scenes, character traits and biographies. Others plan very little and simply trust the process.
There are dangers and rewards in each of these approaches. Too much knowledge of a story can set the boundaries so tightly its natural growth becomes restricted. Too little and the story might never be found.

For me writing is an act of faith. Not in God but in the creative process. This is where the magic lies. A story will come and I must allow it. I don't plan before I write, instead I start with an image that haunts me and a theme or two, then see what emerges. When I wrote Gathering Storm I had an image in my head of a small child abandoned on the Stuart Highway. It became the central point in the story which grew around it, a hidden memory which needed to be unmasked.

When I began the writing of Flight I did not know what it would be about and wasn't certain if it would become a novel or even a story. I did have a title and I knew that the story would somehow revolve around the double meaning inherent in the word flight; one of running away from something, the other of ascension. Aside from this, the only clue I had was an image of a young woman called Fern (meaning wing in old English), who had locked herself in her bedroom, an attic in a terrace house in inner city Sydney.

Stephen King describes writing as an archaeological dig, a process of rediscovery, which suggests that the story is there all along, just waiting for its fragments to be found and pieced back together. Perhaps stories inhabit the vast realms of a collective unconscious and it is our imaginations that must take the necessary journeys, in order to discover them. In Writing as a Sacred Path, Jill Jepson describes it as 'a realm of myth, memory, imagery, trope, and dream'. It is here that we 'find' our story. In the writing of Flight, giving my imagination permission to enter this realm was an act of faith in the creative process, and like most acts of faith it was sometimes fraught with doubt. I had already written over 70,000 words before I dared describe Flight as a novel. Despite the doubt, it was an exciting process, filled with dangers and punctuated with miracles. From a single word and an image, a novel grew, slowly and mysteriously, and it is the mystery of that process, along with the pure joy that it brings, that draws me back to story again and again.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why Write?

From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows? Ernest Hemingway

Each time I am about to embark on a new novel, I find myself considering my reasons for writing. It helps me to reaffirm my motivations at a time when I'm struggling with the idea of committing to a new project. It also reminds me that writing is my path in life and it's futile resisting it.

There are other reasons for considering why we wish to write. It helps us to discover the kind of writing we want to do, the themes we wish to work with and even if writing is for us. If your reason for writing is publication and celebrity status, if you don't love reading, if you don't feel irresistibly drawn to express yourself in this form, then perhaps writing is not for you. Fewer than 1% of writers get published and of these, very few have financial success. If you don't mind not being able to afford a dentist or a new car, not having annual holidays or sick pay. If you don't mind having no guarantees of success and putting up with friends and relatives dismissing your writing; the raised eyebrows and the hopeful questions – 'Not published yet?' If you can enjoy the process and not wish it away by hankering after the finished product. If you can weather hundreds of rejection slips and put aside your ego long enough to stomach criticism, then writing might be for you.

'To record the world as it is. . . To satisfy my desire for revenge. . . To produce order out of chaos. . . To defend the human spirit and human integrity and honour. . . To make money so my children could have shoes. . . To make money so I could sneer at those who formerly sneered at me. . . To justify my failures in school. . . To thwart my parents. . . To make myself appear more interesting than I actually was. . .Because an angel dictated to me. . .To amuse and please the reader . . . Because I was possessed. . . To subvert the Establishment. . . To celebrate life in all its complexity'. . . These are just a few of the motivations for writing that Margaret Atwood compiled in her book, Negotiating With the Dead.

Atwood came to the conclusion that it is fruitless to search for common motives, while George Orwell came up with his own motivations in his wonderful essay, Why I Write. 'Putting aside the need to earn a living, I think there are four great motives for writing, at any rate for writing prose: sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. They exist in different degrees in every writer, and in any one writer the proportions will vary from time to time, according to the atmosphere in which he is living.' Orwell goes on to say that 'all writers are vain, selfish and lazy and at the bottom of their motives lies a mystery'.

I would like to say that I write because I love it, and I do. I love stories. I love the process of writing. The act of faith it entails. The magic of it. And its mystery. In writing stories, in the forming of sentences and plots it's possible to rediscover magic, to cast spells with words and to bewitch our readers. I love both the art and the craft of writing. I love the fact that learning the craft is a lifelong apprenticeship, that there are always challenges and there is always something more to learn. And I am hugely grateful that I have something to say and a medium through which to say it.

However, sometimes my relationship with writing is a love/hate one. The process of writing can be an uncomfortable one, very frustrating at times but also incredibly rewarding. There are good days and bad days, sometimes good months and bad months. In the end I write because I need to. A need that one of my favourite authors, Franz Kafka expressed in a letter to his friend, Max Brod, 'A non writing writer is a monster inviting madness. . . the existence of the writer is truly dependent on his desk and if he wants to keep madness at bay he must never go far from his desk, he must hold on to it with his teeth.'

There are times when I question myself and my writing, times when it crawls along at an excruciatingly slow pace and times when I can't write at all. In order to deal with the ups and downs of writing I have had to understand my own rhythms and begin to respect them. Sometimes I walk away from the desk for days at a time but now I know that I will eventually return and the words will flow again.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In the Beginning

The heralding of a new novel begins with a feeling. A new book is coming; far off yet, but I know it's there. This is a beautiful sensation, something akin to the way a woman feels knowing there is a new life growing inside her. There's a satisfaction associated with it, as well as a great sense of mystery. It's a succumbing to a power and a process that is beyond oneself. The enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa reminds me of this sense; an inner knowing, a looking within. This is what happens when the seed of a novel begins to grow. After that there is an inevitability to the process, in that it is growing towards something and instinctively knows its own way. But of course there are many factors that will help or hinder it on its journey. As a writer, I must gently nurture the tiny seed of an idea until that moment when it struggles out of the darkness seeking the sun.

During this nurturing time, nothing has yet been written but there are flashes of images in my mind, unformulated ideas that hover in the background awaiting their moment. Then there's the synchronicity; a series of clues I must trust and follow in order to find my story: a plot point here, a character trait there, some background research, a theme or simply a glimmer of understanding about what I am writing and why I must write it. . . . The clues appear random and yet they're linked in some way. I pick up a second hand book at a market stall, then another in a book shop, while at a dinner party someone mentions a subject that leads me in a new direction. . . I am being led through a maze of ideas.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website: