Review : An Isolating Endeavour

Press Room blogger, Jarryd Luke reviews Friday’s panel, An Isolating Endeavour.

Jessie Cole, author of Darkness on the Edge of Town, an uncompromising portrayal of her hometown in northern New South Wales, has had the ‘I read your book’ conversation many times. That’s the whole conversation. In small communities, she says, there’s more of a chance you’ll offend someone with the way you write about them (or their town).

Jessie Cole, Summer Land and Lachlan Brown are all familiar with the ‘strange isolation’ of writing from the periphery. The chair of this panel, Alysha Herrmann, says the populations of their hometowns are 600, 12,000 and 70,000 respectively.

Can this kind of isolation be conducive to productivity? Summer Land, author of the memoir Summerlandish, discusses the ‘surprising isolation’ of moving from the US to Wollongong to Mudgee. But the move was also motivating, freeing her from distractions and procrastination.

Brown, a poet and academic, describes himself as ‘an observer and a participant’ when writing about his hometown of Macquarie Fields. His poetry was inspired by, and partly written during, the long train ride between his home and Sydney University. He felt so isolated he began to picture the trees on the edge of Redfern Station as fingers warning him to stay away. But distance became a major theme in his poetry, which is inspired by the ‘fleeting camaraderie of the carriage,’ by moments of glimpsed intimacy with strangers on the train.

Cole has never left the one-pub town she grew up in. Her parents built a home in a valley in the rainforest, with no mobile coverage or TV reception. She says she began writing because ‘I had to find some way to speak, and I didn’t really have anyone to speak to, so I spoke to myself.’ Her writing ‘sprang from the sense of aloneness’, but at the same time she felt grounded and committed to the beauty of the place where she’d lived her whole life.

She only got the internet a few years ago, and when she did it was so amazingly distracting she didn’t write anything for two and a half years. Although she also admits she probably would have written a blog instead of a novel if she’d known what a blog was.

So how does the excitement of the city factor into the writing process? One of Henry Miller’s rules for writing is: ‘Keep human! See people; go places, drink if you feel like it.’ Brown suggests it’s important to find a balance between the stimulus of urban centres and contemplation in a quiet place.

Summer and Jess also discuss the importance of going to writers festivals, applying for residencies and seeking out arts organisations. And all of the writers agree that writers groups are a valuable tool for regional writers.

Brown, who was once awarded a poetry prize in a small shopping mall full of confused shoppers who had no idea what was happening, found encouragement in a writers group in Bankstown. They ‘wrote in isolation together’, encouraging and evaluating each other’s work. ‘It’s exciting, challenging and scary all in one,’ he says.

Jarryd Luke was supported to attend the National Young Writers Festival by the Australian Government’s Creative Young Stars Program.