I have a very unwriterly reason for having a soft spot for Peter Carey: my godmother was a fervent fan of his.
I remember a wonderful visit with her years ago in her little house (oh how I loved her royal blue bathtub and loo), listening to her talk in great excitement over tea and cake about “this marvelous new Australian writer” and his newly published first novel “Oscar and Lucinda.”
So when I heard the two-time Booker Prize winner was coming to Montreal to discuss “the writing of inspiration” with Globe and Mail’s Arts Editor Jared Bland at Concordia University, how could I not go? Especially as they were to be joined by Booker short-listed author Josip Novakovich, the master, I discovered last year, of the art of hilarious-but-serious anecdotes.
How to begin
PC – Give a list of ideas, thoughts, questions to yourself…I set up something I don’t know how to do. I like taking a risk. I know I’m going to be pathetically anxious… it will keep me alive…you have to stretch to find something you don’t know.
Planning the story
PC – If I know the story, I would be bored. …you know the line of the story… that he has to go up the ridge, but you don’t know what’s going to happen on the way… It’s a messy business.
PC – It’s magical to invent characters. They’re real to me.
Hating your character
PC – if you hate your character, it stops your reader understanding them
JN – “stranger’s eye”: things that look normal – if you look at them, they become strange. Be a “perpetual foreigner.” As a stranger you see things you wouldn’t see [if you lived there and were used to them]. See the strangeness of things.
Become a magpie
PC – Be a magpie. Pick up something…use it in a different way
JN – Robert Rauschenberg – a sock dropped on the floor becomes something else
Focus on detail
JN – Stay with sentences and scenes, stay in meditative state. Detail. Detail. Observation.
Making a living
PC – Making a living has nothing to do with writing. Nothing is going to stop people wanting to tell stories.
PC – I sit and work. I keep on going in the belief I’ll find my way through inertia.
JN – You start on something and suddenly have ideas.
JN – One [story] out of ten might be finished. “Not all of them deserve to live”
Asked how they used their creativity in everyday life: “I don’t,” said Peter Carey right off the bat. Then he relented. Creativity, he said, is a touchstone in every part of our lives. “You can do it in a grocery list.”
I so liked the idea of a “creative grocery list” that as soon as I got home, I wrote one.
Do try it. Don’t worry about a story. Just write a creative grocery list!
The Thinking Out Loud conversation series “The Creative Process” was organized by Concordia University and The Globe and Mail. You can listen to the conversation here.