I was recently invited to talk about literary friendships, alongside my writing friend Hannah van Didden, for our friend Rashida Murphy’s writing blog Rashidawritenow. But I’ll come back to that in a minute or two, and you’ll find the link at the end of this post.
Writing friendships are, I think, an essential part of the writing life, and I can attest that it took me some time to find mine. Too much time you could probably argue. When I think back to graduating from my Graduate Diploma course in Professional Writing, I took work opportunities that engaged with the professional writing side of my degree. A local government authority offered me a contract to research and write information panels for a community history museum. I love history and research so it was a win-win for me. Then I moved on to a not-for-profit organisation in the disability sector, writing content for their website, media releases, article content, and researching and applying for grants. I was using all the professional writing skills I’d learnt during my degree, but there came a time when I wanted to explore the creative side.
A friend gave me the opportunity to create a musical theatre script for an annual, children’s performing arts concert with a cast of nearly 200 performers. Lisa placed so much faith and trust in me that I would deliver, even though it was something I’d never done before. The script had to have a space theme, and be a cohesive story that would weave through the acting, dance and singing performances. But there was more. It had to be suitable for children from toddlers through to 16 to 17 year old’s. No inappropriate words or themes, no selection of songs with swearing or risqué lyrics. Fortunately, the final responsibility for song choices fell to the dance and singing teachers, but I made suggestions on songs that would fit with the flow of the script.
At times, I doubted the script would ever be finished, let alone performed. But with so much riding on it as a fundraising event, failure or giving up was not an option. I had a deadline to write to, and nothing drives you more than the days on a calendar disappearing. The resultant script is called Plenoch’s Puzzle, with the sub-title: Solve the puzzle to save the universe. The story is set in a futuristic world where the qualities that make us human have long been forgotten: courage, hope, compassion, loyalty, faith and love. Qualities dormant in the six teenage Keepers of the Memories (KOTM), who are called upon to be the saviours of the universe after they find a mysterious pentagem.
The script has an eclectic cast of characters: Aleana, a dying sun; Tergon, a dark presence who is extinguishing all light and hope; and an all-knowing Time Seer, who guides the KOTM but can’t influence the outcome. There are Miming Mumblers, Jimmity Jammers, Wandering Wuffles, Zototrons, and a cast of other weird and wondrous characters either helping, or thwarting, the Keepers of the Memories in their quest to unlock the secret of the gem and defeat Tergon. I think I just about drove Lisa, the Performing Arts School Director, and Olivia, the Concert Director, to nervous breakdowns getting sets and costumes done in time for the performance. And apparently, one costume supplier commented that it sounded like I was the next JK Rowling – in my dreams! It was a real buzz to see my script performed, and rather emotional to witness the children bringing it to life in costumes that encapsulated the characters I’d created.
I must have done an okay job because Lisa and Olivia remain friends today, and I was invited back to write another script two years’ later for the annual concert. This time, creating a contemporary musical theatre script Allie’s Amazing Adventures, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. I still remember one of the mother’s stopping me on the way into the concert to congratulate me on the quality of the script. It was a small gesture on her part, but it meant so much to me. I felt encouraged that maybe I had something to say after all.
Then everything came to a halt. A few health issues arose, and the writing life was shunted to the side for a while. I continued reading books assigned by my book club, and faithfully attended the Perth Writers’ Festival every year, taking copious notes on every word that came out of the writers’ mouths – something I continue to do! But I was doing a fraction of the three things all established and successful writers recommend if you want to be a writer. You must read, read, read widely and read some more. Join a writers’ centre and go to writers’ festivals and workshops to learn from experienced writers. And most importantly, write, write, and write some more.
I finally took the step to join my local writers’ centre in the hope of meeting some like-minded writers. I embraced volunteering for two years as the centre’s Publicist and Grant Writer, and as the Convenor of a monthly Women’s Writing Group. I’m an organiser and a people person, and I thrived on that side of the writing life. I went to numerous writing workshops to learn and develop as a writer. And in all that busyness, I was back in my comfort zone doing professional writing tasks, meeting lots of other writers, but not much creative writing was happening. Something had to change.
The turning point came when I summoned the courage to apply for a year-long writing course at our writers’ centre. And this is where I bring you back to the opening lines of this blog post. That course was the start of some wonderful writing friendships that continue to sustain and nourish my creative writing life today. I would be lost without them. They are my compass and cheer squad as I go down the rabbit hole in writing the first draft of my novel, and send my shorter pieces out into the world.
You’ll find my thoughts on the importance of writing friendships, alongside Hannah’s, at Rashida Murphy’s writing blog Rashidawritenow. My thanks to Rashida for the invitation.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on writing friendships and what they mean to you.