26 September 2023

So, you want to write a book? These people would like to help

| John Thistleton
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Founders of the Goulburn branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers

Founders of the Goulburn branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Jean Piggott, Janice Jensen and Graeme Neil are encouraging newcomers to come along and read aloud some of their work. Photo: John Thistleton.

Most people have thought about writing a book. In Goulburn a group of mainly retired people are turning their minds to writing their memoirs, or poetry, or short stories. One has a more ambitious project underway, a series of books which he hopes to publish.

They all belong to the Goulburn branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers which was conceived by three people with a mutual interest in writing – Janice Jansen, Graeme Neil and Jean Piggott.

They meet on the third Wednesday of the month at the Goulburn Library. Branch facilitator Janice said an influx of newcomers had been invited to share some of their writing.

“I try to draw them out, find out what they want from the group and how we can help each other and if they are going to join our fellowship,” she said.

“I am a retired general nurse. I am so used to doing succinct, factual contemporaneous writing for reports and wondered when I retired did I have an imagination and could I put it on paper?” she said. “That was kind of my little struggle.”

Advice she has read indicated to start with her childhood stories and work her way up, although being a facilitator these days leaves little time for her own writing. The other advice was copious reading and writing.

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Everyone is given the opportunity to read aloud something they have written.

“What I say to the older people – and this is my nursing background – just the fact you are reading out aloud is actually good for your brain, it’s good for your prefrontal cortex, it’s good for your memory. So even if you stumble over the words, or however you want to do that, reading out aloud is very good for you.”

The members are there to support one another with constructive criticism and offer guidance like considering their proposed book’s target audience.

The branch’s president Graeme Neil said members who had written short stories, read them out loud and others commented on them. They also do writing exercises and games to sharpen their skills with words.

“We will be given a subject, and everyone has to write half a page on it. That’s intended to get people to think creatively,” he said.

One of the branch’s aims is to offer a workshop for people wanting to learn the art of writing.

Graeme said stories should be set out with some structure. “Most people don’t realise there is an actual format to writing stories, known as Aristotle’s Incline which you need to conform to, and the reason is, that’s how humans see stories,” he said.

He said that after students of the Greek philosopher had asked him how to write stories, Aristotle attended stage plays of the day and worked out the incline method, which has three parts. The first part introduces all the characters, and the second part is half the story which has a climax in the middle where the antagonist defeats the protagonist.

“The third and final part is the protagonist defeats the antagonist at the halfway mark and then you wrap up the story,” Graeme said. “If you are writing a series of books like I am, you have to make sure that the overall concept applies to the entire series.”

A communications engineer, Graeme and his wife came to Goulburn in 2010, drawn by the city’s affordable housing and proximity to Canberra. He hoped to apply for contracts in Canberra related to his work and be close by.

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His interest in writing began many years before moving into semi-retirement and ultimately retirement. Born in Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island he was educated at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch and lived at College House, Christchurch. It was also the Anglican Theological College from where his interest in religious mythology began.

Religious mythology is at the heart of his first book, Novice Champion which is targeted at the young adult market and will be part of a series. He has already drafted books two, three and four. Now he is turning his mind to getting the books published.

He does not plan each book’s outline beforehand. “That’s not me. I just pick up the pen and start writing,” he said. “Using that method, you definitely have to go back and review and rewrite sections of a book.”

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