Advice from Karl Ove Knausgaard

When writing my recent memoir, I often asked myself: Where on the line do you stand between honoring the truth and capitulating to satisfy the terms of someone you love? What are you prepared to sacrifice in order to tell your story? Karl Ove Knausgaard answers these questions and more, in an intimate master class at the University of Auckland.

This article was originally published in NZ Author magazine, Issue 315, Spring 2018. Thanks to the NZSA and editor Tina Shaw.

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5 Tips on Writing a Kick-Ass Writing Residency Application

After a week of judging dozens of paid writing residency applications for Aotearoa New Zealand’s national writers centre, Michael King Writers Centre (I’m on the board – sign up to our newsletter here: http://www.writerscentre.org.nz), I wanted to share my secret tips for putting together your next kick-ass application.

  1. Follow the rules. If you’re asked to supply three documents, supply those three documents. And just those three documents.
  2. Your CV: IMPORTANT: Include a paragraph at the top that summarises you as a writer and citizen of the literary world. Paint a picture of who you are and what you’ve done. Zoom out before you zoom in to the  detail. Always list your publications, but if there are many, group them in a way that makes it easy for us to review. For example, by genre. Always include the publisher and date published. If you’re self-published give us some numbers – how many copies have you sold? Top ten on Amazon? If the project you’re planning to work on during the residency isn’t a genre you’ve previously published in, convince us you’ll be successful by listing blogs, articles—anything you can think of—in that genre.
  3. Synopsis or project outline: This was the one applicants had the most trouble with. I need to be able to picture, in one quick reading, exactly what your project is. I need to know the plot, the genre, who your audience is, an outline of what happens, any structural or narrative things of importance, voice, point of view. Be clear. We’re judging your writing here, too.
  4. Writing sample: To give your application the best chance, give us a writing sample from the project you plan to work on at the residency. Especially if you haven’t been published in that genre before. I know you love that piece that was published by the Huffington Post, but we want to see that you’re already deep in the project we’re funding you to write.
  5.  Proof. Spell-check. Proof again. Really.

 

When You’ve Been Away From Writing So Long It Feels Impossible To Return

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I had a recent stint of five weeks, knee-deep in a work contract, where I didn’t have (or make) time to work on my book.

And here’s what I discovered: the longer I stayed away, the harder it became to return. It started to feel impossible; that I’d never again be able to open the document and feel as though inside it. That feeling paired with a sense of loss, a heartache for the work. I wanted to write but no longer trusted I still “had it”, or knew what I was trying to say.

This occurred around the same time I was considering giving up cello lessons (I’m a complete beginner—I’ve been learning for 9 months and playing from Suzuki Cello Volume 2). My wonderful teacher sat me down, opened the first page of Volume 1 to the most simple of pieces. She told me to allow myself to return to the physicality of the experience.

‘Feel the cello between your knees,’ she said. ‘Feel the bow hair tugging against the strings. Breathe.’

Slowly, gently, I’ve reaquainted myself with my instrument and have returned to daily practice. It’s taking time to build confidence and technique again, so I’m still working on the simple pieces, finding enjoyment in the process.

The same day of the cello lesson I returned to my desk and, for the first time in five weeks, opened the manuscript. I stared at the words on the first page, then scrolled down and then up the entire document, black words on white pages flashing past. I swallowed, closed my eyes for a second. I couldn’t even remember where I was up to! Breathe, I reminded myself, just breathe.

So, instead of trying to write, I printed off a few chapters, took them to the couch and started reading, getting to know the work again, making pencil marks as I went. Now, a week later, I’m able to write, enjoying the sensation of fingers on keys; feeling my way back to the book, rediscovering what it is I am trying to say.

 

Louise Maich on The Psychology of a Second Draft

We don’t often have the privilege to get inside another writer’s mind to see how they fared throughout the arduous process of beginning writing, then finishing, a book. Louise Maich wrote this wonderful letter after reading my post The Psychology of a Second Draft. She has agreed for me to publish it here. Thank you, Louise.

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Dear Caroline,

Firstly, congratulations on winning the Lilian Ida Smith Award. I was shortlisted into the final six, and that has given me a huge boost of confidence to continue on and see this manuscript through to publication. As for this next draft, your post, The Psychology of a Second Draft, caught my attention.

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The Psychology of a Second Draft

As I begin the second draft of my first novel, a strange sense of ending and beginning intertwines. I feel both a mourning for the old manuscript—battered and scribbled on, dog-eared and well-thumbed—and something else I haven’t felt for a long time: hope. I feel hopeful once again that this book of mine might yet live to see a library shelf or to lie bookmarked on someone’s bedside table.

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NZ Author Magazine: Summer 2015: Creating Fictional Worlds

I originally wrote this piece for an Auckland University post-graduate research speech competition—the first creative writing masters student ever to enter. Many of my competitors were scientists, medical students and engineers and I wanted to demonstrate that research has a serious place in creative writing—along with imagination and serendipity.

The resulting article was published in NZ Author, the magazine the NZ Society of Authors distributes to its members—a brilliant read for those interested in the New Zealand and international writing scenes. Some libraries have subscriptions or you can subscribe to the magazine here.

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Book Review: The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (2015)

Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks is a master storyteller, whose obsession with her subject matter gleams from the pages of her latest novel, The Secret Chord, like the golden Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps it is her previous life as a war correspondent, but she has a way of observing setting and walking in the shoes of her characters that I swear she must have been there with David, listening to him compose his mourning song for Yonatan, or watching Bathsheva ladle scented water over her body on the rooftop.

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Image copyright Caroline Barron, 2015.

I saw Brooks at an Auckland Writers Festival event at the Maidment Theatre last month and was captivated by her immense love of research, her vast knowledge of varied subjects, and her ability to recreate a world. In The Secret Chord, as in Caleb’s Crossing (2011) [read my review here] and in Years of Wonder (2001) [which I am part way through—yes I’m having a Brooks-fest], she takes an historic time, layers it with real-life characters and imagines the rest: their thoughts, their dialogue, their every day. Of course this is a tried and true narrative method (my article on ‘Creating Fictional Worlds’ appears in the Summer 2015 issue of NZ Author magazine), but some people—Brooks—do it a hell of a lot better than others. I’ll give an example passage shortly. But first, to the structure.

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What I Learned About Life from a 1947 Interior Design Book

'Ugly Inefficient Table vs Simple Efficient Table' from D. E. Barry's Martin's Modern Decoration and Furnishing (1947, Reed NZ)

‘Ugly Inefficient Table vs Simple Efficient Table’ from D. E. Barry’s Martin’s Modern Decoration and Furnishing (1947, Reed NZ, page 32)

Throughout the journey of researching and writing my novel, I have been fascinated, countless times, by the life lessons I uncover—or that uncover themselves to me—in the unlikeliest of places. My latest is the bizarre and fabulous advice of New Zealand’s 1940s design and style guru, architect D. E. Barry Martin (I discovered him while trying to figure out what the inside of Evelyn’s home would have looked like). Hiding within the pages of his quaint tome Modern Decoration and Furnishing: Complete Guide to Planning and Buying for All Interiors (1947, Reed NZ) are the answers to creating a peaceful New Age.

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U.S. Soldiers’ Camp at Auckland’s Victoria Park, 1944

U.S. Camp, Victoria Park (approx. 1944). From the Ministry of Works WWII report, held at Auckland Museum.

One of the only two photos I have ever seen of the U.S. Camp at Victoria Park (approx. 1944). From the Ministry of Works WWII report, held at Auckland Museum.

One of the settings in my book is Victoria Park (Auckland, New Zealand) during World War II. Now a peaceful green-space for Aucklanders to enjoy, back in 1942 it was developed for the U.S. Marines who had arrived to protect us from a possible Japanese invasion (and for R & R after the terror of Pacific battles e.g. Guadalcanal). Towards the end of the U.S. presence in New Zealand (most U.S troops had departed by mid-1944), the camp was taken over by the U.S. Army.  Continue reading