Rosie Scott is an internationally published, award-winning novelist. Her latest novel, Faith Singer, was included in an international list of ’50 Essential Reads by living writers’ compiled by the Guardian, Orange Prize Committee and the Hay Literary Festival. Rosie is also course director of Getting Started, a three-month course at Faber Academy at Allen & Unwin. We asked Rosie to reflect on her writing craft for Killings.
I’d been writing and publishing short stories for several years before I started my first novel – it was like an informal apprenticeship. So by the time I started Glory Days, the story of a painter and part-time singer living amongst the underclass of Auckland, I was ready to go. It took me two years and though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing (and this has never changed!) it was a really exciting ride for me. It was the easiest and most exhilarating to write of my novels. I still use the techniques I discovered for myself then. A critic once described me as a ‘method’ writer and it’s true that I live and breathe the characters I’m writing about.
I come from a writing family and have mostly writer friends, but I never show anyone my work or even discuss it while it’s in progress. I prefer to follow my own leads and muddle along by myself, though once I’ve finished I show it to a few trusted friends for honest feedback.
Finding my voice also came from earlier experiences. From the age of ten I kept a diary, basically because I had an urgent need to make sense of things. There was an unselfconsciousness and directness about the writing because I knew no one would read it. This allowed me to develop my own voice in my own time. As a young girl I borrowed heavily from whatever writer I was reading at the time and this also helped me to experiment and find my own boundaries as a writer.
I’m particularly interested in writing about the outsiders of society, people way outside my own experience – Glory; Adan, the 15-year-old boy who takes to the road in Movie Dreams; most of the characters in Feral City and Angel in Faith Singer – just to name a few. This can involve a nightmare of false leads and endless rewriting but it’s all worth it to be able to enter their world and see through their eyes.
Being able to edit your own work is essential for a writer – in the end, as Janet Frame wrote, a writer must stand on the rock of herself. To achieve this I think you need to be clear about what you really want to say and have a strong sense of what ‘sounds’ right. One way of doing this is by listening to your own characters and being absolutely truthful to them.
On a practical level I always read over what I’ve written the day before – this 24-hour break allows me to see what’s working. I write lots of drafts as well – for Movie Dreams in particular I had to go through many thousands of words to ‘get’ what I wanted.
Writing fiction to me is about this accuracy of expression and in particular finding my characters. It demands everything you have (and more) – intelligence, imagination, humour, honesty, knowledge, your life experience, observation skills, passion (both political and personal) and love of language. All these qualities feed into your writing and help it to be vivid, true, alive and authentic, allowing readers to recognise what you are trying to say and genuinely connect with it.
For all writers there are dark days of writer’s block, crises in confidence, rejections and general despair, but for me there is no more satisfying occupation.
See the Faber Academy’s website for details on courses in Sydney and Melbourne.