NICHOLA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Unless you are writing something very generic, like a Mills and Boon and purely for money, don’t think about money. Think about getting it right. Likewise don’t think about getting famous or get overexcited about being an author. Think about getting it right. The manuscript takes precedence over your ego at all times. Also, when you think you have finished – you have probably just completed phase one of your mss.
Nichola Hunter grew up Victoria, Australia and moved to Western Australia in her early twenties, where she studied Film and Television and Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology. She has worked as a freelance travel writer and has published short stories, poems, travel articles and one novella, Ramadan Sky. She has travelled and worked extensively in South East Asia. She currently lives in Fremantle, Western Australia where she teaches adult migrants, works as a freelance writer and is writing another novel.
Why do you write? First of all, it’s about communication. I think writing is a way of creating an intimate relationship with a lot of strangers. I think if you write something really well you become an investigator – you have to slow down and watch what you are perceiving and then try to understand and describe its quality exactly. So in a way, writing is really very careful listening. Sometimes people will hear or see something but don’t have time to notice that they have seen it until they read it as someone else’s observation. When somebody reads what you have written and recognises or “gets it”, that’s very enjoyable.
Also some things are just so beautiful or so sad or so funny or so unfair, that they have to be observed and told. The lives of the poor in South East Asia fit all of the categories above for me. SE Asia with its dramatic, weather and its volatile politics, whose people seem to live beneath a mask of impassivity, is largely unexplored in Australian writing, which surprises me, considering our geography.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Well I’m doing a lot of things besides writing now. I am a keen photographer and would probably give this more focus if I weren’t writing. Also I would like to make a documentary one day.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? First, the book is a novella, and many publishers won’t accept novellas from debut authors. Also simply being a first time author with no contacts in the industry. That’s why I posted my book on HarperCollins’ website, authonomy, where it was noticed by the editor.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to share the exact quality of a perception – to describe something so that someone else “gets it” and to stop and notice for enough time so that you can put your finger on something precisely. I also enjoy the act of creating something from a blank – going from the terror of an empty screen to creating a story, novel or even a blog post. The words emerge like invisible ink becoming visible. Sometimes it feels like someone else is moving those keys.
—the worst? As Hemingway says: There’s nothing to writing. You sit down at the keyboard and you bleed. In order to write well I think you have to be looking for the truth and the truth hurts like hell sometimes.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would write to a plan. With Ramadan Sky I just started writing and then wrote some more and added bits and pieces and joined them up at the end. There are three narrators and the story takes place over twelve months. In the editing phase, I had to untangle the story lines and time lines for these three narrators. There were moments of acute brain freeze while doing this and the phrase “never again” almost became a mantra. Next time a clear plan at the beginning. And one narrative voice.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been pushed to produce more. At university they had us writing short stories, which was very good training, but there isn’t much of a market for short stories. I wish we’d learned more about how to extend an idea into a bigger one and how to maintain pace in a longer work. Keep going—that’s it, I guess, in a nutshell.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? The first is “Write like every word is worth a million bucks.” By far the most prevalent mistake that I see on the authonomy website, which has thousands of aspiring authors, is that the writing is overly descriptive—too many adjectives, too many adverbs and too much information in general. This happens to everyone when they are writing. The trick is to keep a sharp knife handy and cut them out as you go along. I liken it to a haircut. Each piece you cut contributes to the overall shape you are making.
Along the same lines is this tip from John Fowles: Edit when you are feeling sick and tired of your manuscript. Mistakes jump out more, and you are more likely to be necessarily ruthless when you are a bit sick of it.