AMANDA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be a reader as well as a writer, and read widely. Much of what we know about storytelling—structure, pace, characterisation—and about the way words are used and sentences are put together is absorbed almost unconsciously through reading. I think that’s why often when I used to read books about writing, books that break down and analyse the elements of prose, I would have aha! moments, where I’d realise that someone had just articulated something I instinctively knew. Reading also keeps you learning as a writer, keeps you humble, keeps you striving.
Amanda Curtin is the author of two novels, Elemental (2013) and The Sinkings (2008), and a short story collection, Inherited (2011), all published by UWA Publishing. She has also worked as a freelance book editor for most of her adult life, and occasionally lectures and presents master classes and workshops for writers. She has a PhD in Writing, is an Accredited Editor (AE) with the Institute of Professional Editors, and is an Adjunct Lecturer at Edith Cowan University.
She has been awarded writing residencies at OMI International Arts Center’s Ledig House in New York State; the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland; Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers at Lasswade, Scotland; and the Tasmanian Writers Centre, Hobart. She has won the University of Canberra National Short Story Award, the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to Westerly, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award, and the Golden Key Honour Society Award for Excellence in Fiction (Asia-Pacific).
Amanda lives in an old house in an old suburb of Perth, Western Australia, and is currently working on a novella project. Visit her website at http://www.amandacurtin.com
Why do you write? It’s a great question, an intriguing one for any writer to ask themselves. I feel it’s what I’m meant to be doing, who I am at this point in my life. I don’t write because there are things I want to say but because there are things I want to explore, try to understand. It’s the grey areas I am interested in. That’s the short version! I wrote a longish post on this last year: http://amandacurtin.com/2013/09/25/writers-ask-writers-why-i-write/
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve been a freelance book editor for close to 30 years, and still work as an editor, though far less frequently. But if writing (and editing, and occasional teaching) didn’t occupy most of my time, I think I would study photography.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Lack of confidence. Three things helped me there. First, the encouragement of writers in my writing groups (initially, Annabel Smith, Donna Mazza, Danielle Wood, Carmel Macdonald Grahame; later, Robyn Mundy and Annabel Smith) and my academic supervisor, Richard Rossiter. Second, being fortunate enough to win a couple of awards. Third, being accepted into a PhD writing program.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I feel privileged, and lucky, to be able to do what I’m doing generally. And even more so when my work takes me to other worlds—either literally, through travel, or virtually, through desktop research. Beyond that, it’s immensely rewarding when readers go out of their way to make contact to tell me what they loved and why, or that they were immersed in the world I created, or that it connected with something in their own lives.
—the worst? Self-doubt is always the dark to the light, and I suspect it’s the same in any area of the arts.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t have an agent. Having now observed what a good agent can do—working with a publisher, helping with marketing and promotion, etc.—I might have persisted in searching for one willing to take me on. However, it has to be acknowledged that it can be as hard, if not harder, to find an agent than it is to find a publisher. And I’ve also observed that there seems little benefit in having an agent who is not wholly enthusiastic and active on your behalf.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I didn’t realise how necessary, and how time-consuming, the marketing side would be. I’m not complaining, just acknowledging that I wasn’t prepared for it!
What’s the best advice you were ever given? A wonderful piece of advice that I try to put into practice is this: leave something unfinished at the end of a writing day, so that when you return to it you’re plunged immediately into the writing itself, rather than the thinking process that precedes it.
Elemental by Amanda Curtin
Nearing the end of her life, Meggie Tulloch takes up her pen to write a story for her granddaughter. It begins in the first years of the twentieth century, in a place where howling winds spin salt and sleet sucked up from icefloes. A place where lives are ruled by men, and men by the witchy sea. A place where the only thing lower than a girl in the order of things is a clever girl with accursed red hair. A place schooled in keeping secrets.
Moving from the north-east of Scotland to the Shetland Isles to Fremantle, Australia, Elemental is a novel about the life you make from the life you are given.
Available from: http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/books-and-authors/book/elemental/