Don’t aspire; just write. Don’t think of yourself as “aspiring”; think of yourself as writing. And read widely, and/or deeply, because that goes with writing. Tracy Ryan
Tracy Ryan was born and grew up in Western Australia, where she now lives in the wheatbelt, but has also lived overseas in the UK, USA and Ireland. She has worked in libraries, bookselling, editing, community journalism and teaching. As well as five novels, she has published nine collections of poetry.
Why do you write? I have always written, since I could first read, so it’s a habit of thinking, a way of processing experience.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t imagine that. I’ve also taught a lot, so I’d probably be teaching, but I don’t see it as either/or. Writing would be as well as, no matter what else was involved. This is true for many other writers too. Sometimes people put writing on hold while they do other things, but even then they’ve often been jotting things down in their spare time. What we see that gets published is usually only a small portion of what people have been writing across their lifetimes.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I don’t think in terms of obstacles. I was brought up with love, I was well-fed and looked-after in my family of origin, and I have a supportive family now. For some people life is much harder, so I’m not saying obstacles are nonsense, just that I don’t focus on them for myself. If you focus too much on them it’s discouraging. There’s always someone who has it worse, and someone who has it apparently easier. You just keep trying. If opportunities seem to elude you, you try to create them.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? My publishers have been great about this, in that we always end up discussing the choices for covers. I’m not a designer, though, nor a particularly visual person, so I defer to those who are. Nonetheless, it’s good to have that discussion, to clarify where writer, publisher, designer and marketing people are coming from. With regard to the content, I’ve always had terrific editors too, from whom I’ve learned heaps.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When a book is finished.
—the worst? The feeling of being stuck – grinding to a halt – which is actually a normal part of the process. It’s a stop-start thing, and sometimes there are many stops and starts!
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? The internet did not exist when I was starting out; people didn’t even have home computers. So it’s crazy for me to try to picture how it would be to start out now. I think, though, that the basic principles of commitment to your work (to the value of imaginative writing in general too) and of persistence, self-belief, have not changed.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That it was an OK choice. My parents thought so, but I can remember a guidance counsellor at school who said basically, “That’s not a job.” Fortunately, to counterbalance that, I had some teachers who were great encouragers. I ignored the guidance counsellor. (Most writers probably do.)
What’s the best advice you were ever given? “Everything comes at a cost, so if you can’t see the cost of something, look harder.”
It was said at school, in a then-Social Studies class, but has applied to so many things in life I can’t count how often I’ve recalled and quoted it. It applies to the writing and publishing life: if anything looks suspiciously easy, or suspiciously obvious, reconsider. It makes me sound paranoid, or sceptical, I suppose. But it’s a helpful principle when making decisions.
There’s logic at work there, whether it’s in new technologies that appear to make life better but come at too great an ecological price – or some sort of deal you are offered that seems too good to be true. Or that someone somewhere is paying for a benefit you enjoy. It stretches to so many examples…
How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not on social media, other than a blog I share with the writer John Kinsella, who is my life-partner (but I don’t post frequently). Our shared blog is at: http://poetsvegananarchistpacifist.blogspot.com.au/
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, lots – that’s the “being stuck” I mentioned above. I overcome it by recognising that it’s part of the writing process (not opposed to it) and eventually it goes into abeyance. Also I mess around with translations or other ways of working with language – journal entries, whatever – so as to keep connected while letting go of the problem. So far, it hasn’t been fatal. I think it’s quite common.
How do you deal with rejection? Get over it. Like writer’s block, it’s part of the deal. A certain degree of stubbornness is necessary to do this work. It can sting, as for anyone else, but if you let it stop you, you might as well try some other kind of work. People see the big successes that writers have, and don’t understand that they had lots of rejections too. Persistence is a key writerly trait, even if sometimes a piece of writing really is no good, and does deserve rejection. You go back and say to yourself, “How could I do it better?” or “Where else could I send it?”
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Questions, ruminations, excavations.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Probably the French author Stendhal (real name Marie-Henri Beyle), 1783-1842. He was known to be very witty and his books are breathtaking. His writing is quirky, lively, intelligent, full of passion and compassion, and he felt he was writing for readers well into the future. Especially women! I’d love to hear his take on being a writer now, and as his biggest fame came posthumously, I’m sure he’d have something pithy and facetious to say about that. He’s a serious novelist who also makes you laugh; a great combination.
Kurt Stocker’s Swiss childhood is dominated by strict and God-fearing parents. He enters a seminary with the intent of becoming a priest and making his parents proud of him, but struggles to adapt. Leaving this vocation behind, he marries Liesl and they eventually emigrate to Australia.
Decades later in small town Australia, Terry Riley feels drawn to convent life, despite her parents’ objections. At the convent she is haunted by a strange sickness and knows in time that she must return to a more conventional life. It is then she begins a relationship with the now divorced Kurt, who was once her high school teacher.This is the story of an odd couple, of an older man and a younger woman in love with one another, but so damaged by their past lives that even a regular sexual relationship seems impossible. Beautiful in its frankness but disturbing in its examination of faith and human existence, this is a novel that is affectionate, haunting and ultimately unforgettable.
The book is available from https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/we-are-not-most-people/