History, Mystery and Magic at the Sydney Writer’s Centre with Kate Forsyth

Two weeks ago I had the privilege to attend a very intimate writing course with Kate Forsyth and about sixteen other people. I enrolled in the course to gain a better understanding of writing, and research for writing, and an added bonus was meeting one of my favourite authors. 

The course covered conventions of writing and the conventions employed across a variety of genres on the first day, something that I found very interesting and have been trying to apply this to my own writing, though this I am finding a challenge to do consciously mid project, so have decided to write my project’s first draft and then adjust what needs to be adjusted in the editing stages so I can focus on getting my story down. 

We learnt about the structure of a novel, the peaks and troughs, and the journey from the inciting incident to the climax and to the calm resolution, the return to normal life signified by a case solved, a curse lifted, a journey’s end, or a life saved. All this knowledge was useful in understanding how my own writing should be formed yet formed in a way that it flows naturally for the reader. 

The second day was given over to research, focussing primarily on research for historical fiction. Historical fiction is probably one of the genres that needs the most research, or at least the most intensive research. Starting broad is a good idea, then you can narrow down. Kate Forsyth said she takes a year to research a historical fiction novel and perhaps another year writing it – so to anyone out there who says to someone trying to write a novel to “get on with writing and get published”, it takes a good two to three years to complete a manuscript and then perhaps even longer to find someone to publish it if you are a first time author. However, ALL genres require research. Even fantasy. It will always depend on the story you are writing as to what you research and how much you do. There is no telling how much you will need but you can over-research and there is a fine line. Personally, I’ve always charged into my stories first with basic research into a few areas that need it, then when editing, I can mark what I need to check and research, go back, check it and if I need to change it. It might be a little more work, but for me, I have a need to get my story out, and then go back and check. Writing fiction is different to essay writing. When writing an essay, I would have to have all my research around me. Writing a novel, I may do the same thing but I can always make a note to double check something when I edit if I need to, and I don’t need to make endless amounts of footnotes. 

This course has made me look at my writing very differently, and perhaps one day my process will change if I try a historical fiction when my dates need to be exact. Writing historical fiction could be a journey that will be interesting as history is a love of mine; it’s just deciding which historical period to set a novel in that is tricky for me because there are so many interesting ones! 

I am very glad to have met Kate, to have learnt with her and spoken with her about my writing and what I struggle with, and she helped me through it, helped me to find the courage to write a section I have been struggling with for at least six weeks, if not more. Talking about it with her and in a room of other writers certainly made me feel that yes, I can do it. It is hard but the scene worked, and I hope to be able to expand on the feeling in it in the next edit. 

If anyone is interested in writing, or History, Mystery and Magic, look up the Australian Writer’s Centre, go to the Sydney/New South Wales link and check out when the next Sydney course is available. It is money and time well spent. 

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