‘Is writing, your family trade?’ was a recent question at a literary festival. I hadn’t thought of authorship that way before, the answer probably is ‘yes.’ My family has done the ‘word’ apprenticeship voluntarily, reluctantly or been conscripted.
The family of a writer can’t help involvement in books, either reading them, inspiring or being captured as characters or caricatures in them. Even the dog or bird may get a role. Pets real or imaginary do feature. Bonuses include interesting dinner visitors, autographed copies (by other authors) and behind-the- scenes on oil rigs, TV studios, ship engine rooms, outback bush camps or researching in hot air balloons.
And then there are the tours; festivals or family visits to international Booktowns like Australia’s Clunes. Even our avid 14-year-old reader thought that a country town full of secondhand books was a ‘cool’ place to visit for a three generational family weekend.
Family has to help ‘carry’ the bag of books on wheels, answer a phone politely and host strangers with different food or cultural customs. And become travellers, not tourists.
Whether family become the ‘raw material’ is more an ethical issue, as well as time management.
A frequent author question is: ‘Do you put your family in your books?’
‘No, that’s literary terrorism, just putting the author’s version or interpretation of relationships.’
However, I have used family holiday settings including French canal barges or Asian street markets as background for fact or fiction. Or activities like playing hockey, soccer or orienteering have been given as hobbies to characters or provided authentic clues.
Living with the child or adolescent age group for whom you are writing, is instant and unavoidable research into current trends. So is exposure to the latest technology and sports rules.
Having a mother or grandparent who writes professionally, means a bit of ghost-writing occurs. But no pinching of ideas.
I remember my then 8-year-old grandson writing a terrific story from the viewpoint of A.Virus. Although the spelling needed a bit of work, the concept was original.
Much better than I could do. I resisted ‘pinching’ that idea (despite mentioning it now as a relevant example).
Family anecdotes are re-used. All families have funny stories of when things went wrong. But author’s tales are a little more public and around for longer.
An incident involving a 4 year old may be captured in a book and that’s available years later, when he’s a man. Probably by the time he’s parent age, that’s fine. Adolescents are ALWAYS embarrassed by their family whether in print, in person or on screen.
Basically, something has to go wrong for a story to have dramatic interest. Authors tend to exaggerate ‘real’ mishaps and that’s embarrassing if your family ‘mess ups’ are translated for international readerships. And made to sound much worse.
Like getting on the wrong bus in the USA and ending up in Plymouth Massachusetts instead of Plymouth, New Hampshire. Much depends upon the tone of the ‘telling’ and whether it is laughing ‘with’ or at. Self deprecation is better.
The age of the family matters. At certain stages, they are ‘proud’ of a book by MUM. In teen years they are embarrassed by anything public.
As children, my offspring used to give my stories the ‘yawn test’ and turn face down on the page which became boring. Ruthless. Candid. Honest. Effective. I always re-wrote after failing the yawn test. Or at least scrapped the first chapter which was only introducing, and began at the dramatic bit.
‘Did you write for children because it was easier?’
No. It was harder, BUT shorter.
Did I write for children because I had them as captive readers within the family? Partly, it was a time-management decision.
Living with the appropriately aged children meant instant research of legs in plaster, forgetful Tooth Fairies with the wrong change /overpayment in $10 notes or current language such as ‘Sick’ meaning the opposite.
Writing adult satire and writing for children is similar in process. Both are deceptively simple, and short, but there’s sub text of more complex ideas beneath and word placement is vital. So you can plot in your head, while changing nappies or cooking spaghetti (not simultaneously) and then write the ideas paragraphs which physically take little time to key.
Each turns on unexpected viewpoint, like the view of the flea on the dog on the Titanic. Or thinking through the logic of what a rooftop, cake-eating hippo might do which is consistent with the fantasy.
While young family life was most demanding, I wrote ‘short’ in snatched quarter hours, in the car during family pick-ups. With the first couple of books, my husband was an excellent proof reader because as a slow and thoughtful reader, he checked efficiently. I skim read and see what I expect to be there, not what is, so I am a BAD proof reader.
And I also prefer to move onto the next project. After a couple of books, the novelty wore off, and he left proof reading to me. Except for the time I was beset in the Antarctic polar ice with 34 blokes and 4 other women, and he proof read the current project as it looked like I might be in Antarctica for the whole year.
My generation of females has lived through interesting times sociologically. And reading biographies of women has sustained me through difficult times. Participant-observation is a technique I’ve used, but in ‘Trail Magic’, my son did all the THRU walking. And daughter is my marketing manager.
Collaboration. The family trade continues.
With over 200 books published, Hazel runs non-boring writing workshops and mentors aspiring writers online. An enthusiastic Reading Ambassador, Hazel has a comprehensive range of resources for teachers and children to encourage reading and writing within the classroom. Hazel’s online store also offers e-books including a downloadable literacy mystery series for independent readers, and ‘Authorpreneurship: the Business of Creativity’
Visit Hazel Edwards’ website www.hazeledwards.com.