Filling The Well

Filling the Well, creating visual images to draw on, sounds, tastes, touch to stimulate and enrich your writing. Or just because it’s fun and inspiring and gets you away from the desk.

The Art Gallery of NSW is one my favourite places. An imposing sandstone edifice edging The Domain and the Botanic Gardens. Inside you can wander through galleries of classic and contemporary European, Asian, Australian and  Indigenous art. You can linger in front of a Rupert Bunny portrait full of elegance and swagger or an intricate Indigenous dot  painting  by Fred Ward Tjungurrayi. There is good food and coffee and always fascinating people, wearing wonderfully eccentric couture.

Yesterday I visited the new Contemporary Galleries opened last weekend and they’re spectacular.

Inspired by Ugo Rondinone

Peering into the room Sol LeWitt painted for John Kaldor

Riding the shadow train. Paul Chan from The 7 lights - 2005-07

Bronze Liars (minus1 to minus 16) - Mike Parr

Cy Twombly - Three Studies from the Temeraire with Rachel Whiteread's sculpture, Untitled in


The Sydney Writers Festival is a well-filler. It’s inspiring on many levels. To see so many people cherishing the opportunity to hear their favourite writers, to listen to ideas, to ask questions or just sit in the glorious Autumn sunshine on the Pier by Sydney Harbour. It’s a great spot to watch and observe, to listen to the way people speak as well as what they say. And to scribble it all down.

This morning I chatted to Toni Jordan, author of Addition and Fall Girl, who was wonderfully encouraging and gave me some great advice. I hadn’t read her work, but she was so entertaining during the Girls Wanna? panel and her reading was really engaging that I bought  a copy of Fall Girl. And yes, had it signed.


Coming home from dinner in Paddington, I saw these fantastic skirts in the window of a shop called The Mix. What better way to use a tea towel?

The Tea Towel as Skirt

It’s full of wonderfully quirky, interesting bits for the home, like these fabulous retro pouffes. Great word pouffes, I immediately think of cubes of coon cheese and pineapple skewered through with a cocktail stick, fondue and macrame pot plant holders. And velour.

The Retro Pouffe

And I love this little guy.

Spotlight on the Alien

The Mix – cnr Paddington and Elizabeth Sts. Paddington

The Code Cracked (The Sub-editor’s sub-text)

It had been an entertaining session at the Sydney Writer’s Festival.  Tom Mayer, editor at  W.W. Norton & Co. and Bill Scott-Kerr,  the only editor to acquire all of Dan Brown’s books and now publisher at Transworld Publishing, talked editing. No salacious gossip about difficult writers, unfortunately, but I did learn a thing or two.

I learnt that John Le Carre is very sensitive to any suggestions of change, but Len Deighton will happily oblige. So, if his editor points out that a character who was killed off on page 37, attends a party on page 118, Deighton recognises this as a problem and will make the necessary changes. The character is now ‘almost’ killed off on page 37. Apparently, when the line ‘this book needed a good editor’ appears in a review, that actually means it had a good editor, but the author wasn’t listening.

When reading a not so good manuscript, foreboding sets in at page 10, despair by page 100, imminent disaster by page 200 and fatalism by page 300. Also, using ‘suddenly’ 159 times in the one novel is perhaps showing an excessive attachment to the word ‘suddenly’. And Bill Scott-Kerr really dislikes the word ‘chuckles.’

Best not send a manuscript where anybody ‘suddenly chuckles’. And probably best not to ask Bill Scott-Kerr why such a badly written book as the Da Vinci Code was ever published. Although, one brave woman did. It went something like this.

‘I’m an ex sub-editor, now writer,’ she began, setting herself up very nicely. ‘When The Da Vinci Code was published in Australia there were several reports on Australian Television about the poor sentence construction and sentences that were just incorrect.’ Note the way she tried to deflect attention away from herself – it’s not me, blame it on TV. ‘And I’m just wondering how a book so badly written was ever published? Not that I’m trying to be critical.’

‘Yeah, not much,’ responded Scott-Kerr, shuffling forward in his chair.

I could see the woman’s profile clearly. She didn’t seem to notice that the people on either side of her had leant as far away as possible, or that the pin-dropping silence was not one of admiration, more ‘Holy Crap, did she just say that?’

’85 million copies,’ Scott- Kerr continued.

The woman started to twitch, I think she was just realising that the answer to  what had seemed like an insightful, intelligent question, was not going to pan out quite the way she thought.

‘Dan Brown works closely with his American editor and we used the American settings,’ Bill Scott-Kerr explained, in what was a polite, but that’s-all-you’re-going-to-get-from-me-on-the-subject, manner.

The ex sub-editor and writer looked confused, a little deflated. I could  see her thinking, ‘But everyone knows it badly written.’ Yes, but if you ask a guest for dinner and they bring dessert, you don’t go on about how horrible it tasted. And she could’ve asked the same question in a more constructive way. Maybe, ‘what was it about The Da Vinci Code that set it apart from all the other manuscripts ?’

Because isn’t that what you want to know as a writer? How do you get the agent/editor to notice your manuscript?  Well, they answered that too. It’s the combination of story and writing.

And the potential to sell 85 million copies.

Writing as a Competitive Sport

Having trouble with the notion that writing is a competitive sport? Maybe you haven’t been to the SWF (that’s the Sydney Writers’ Festival for you non-competitors). I’ve no doubt that as I busily type away here, there are hundreds of other bloggers busily typing away on their laptops about the life-changing, craft-changing, stimulating panels they’ve attended. Except, perhaps for the woman who sat next to me knitting. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to knit, but during  a panel at a Writers’ Festival? It’s not exactly quiet, that click, clack, click of needles, nor is it quiet to discuss the relative merits of the panelists whilst knitting.

But I digress.

Queuing at the SWF

Before you can reach that moment of profound revelation, you have to enter the marshalling yards, or the queue. The queues are strictly managed by the orange t-shirted volunteers, ensuring that the competitors’ equipment is of standard regulation. Laptops, iPads, iPhones are the preferred choice of the elite sportsperson, although some, like me, are still more comfortable with quaint tree-based technology. The Moleskine notebook and pencil.  And here in the queue, the sizing up, the eyeing off of one’s competitors begins.

‘They can’t all be writers,’ I tell myself, to ease the growing anxiety as I take in the vast numbers of fellow queuers. I look at the earnest but elegant, grey-haired, black patent leather brogue wearing lady next to me, expertly editing on her Mac. ‘No, no, no,’ I insist. This is my event. You all need to just slink off now. How is the agent, editor or publisher going to notice my manuscript if you’re all busy doing stuff too?

But then the orange t-shirted marshal at the head of the queue drops the chain and ushers us through to the Sydney Dance Studio 1 for the start of our chosen event. We all head for our preferred pole position. Some like to make a break for the front row, others hover by the back in case they need to drop out. I quite like the third row, in the middle. And as I take my seat, I have a last look around me. Who else is hoping to hear that one sentence that will provide them with that breakthrough moment, the missing link, the template. Waiting to hear a published author say do this, write this way, use this process and you too can achieve your dreams of publishing glory.

I wonder how many of my fellow competitors realise they’ve signed up for a marathon. Do they have more talent than me? Do they have the guts, the ability to push through the pain, the fear, the doubt, the sheer bloody effort of writing a novel? Do they know something I don’t? Did they know that lady had knitting stashed in her bag, which is why that seat was  conveniently vacant?

I’ve been to a few festivals in my time, and there’s one thing I’ve learned about eventing. Do not be fooled into thinking it’s brave to participate in the Q&A. You may, ask that brilliant question that the author has always wanted to be asked, but the chances are you won’t. You may find yourself stumbling at the finish line, suffering the public humiliation of being escorted from the field.

So, my SWF has finished for the year, but I shall continue on my marathon. There’s other seminars, workshops and my writing group to fuel my competitive urges. And the first draft of my novel to pull apart and put back together. And of course, there’s here.


*If you’re visiting from the Weekend Rewind – hi there & thanks for dropping by. This is actually my second post, not that I’m cheating, it’s just that I’m fairly new at this & my first post was my first Rewind post a couple of weeks ago, so I didn’t want to bore you with that!