This is a slight variation on the speech I gave at the Emerging Writer’s Festival 2014.
I’ve been writing since I was about eight years old. Over this time I’ve developed a very honest, confessional voice, as I’ve found this to be the most rewarding to write and gives me the largest range to explore the themes and topics that matter to me. I’ve always taken writing very seriously as a craft, but I’ve only started thinking of it as a career recently.
A few years ago, I had my first short story published and from then things moved relatively quickly for me. Within a year, I’d had three short stories published and I was talking with an editor about my novel.
For the first time, I started to think that people may actually read my work. What I learnt quickly was that I couldn’t worry about how my work would be received. I get too anxious when I think about it, I start to become calculated with my writing and try manufacturing fiction that will please everyone. I decided to just focus on the craft itself and leave how it was received to those who are receiving it.
So, when people started to talk to me about my work, it was a surprise to me what questions I’d get – particularly when they’d ask me whether or not it was true. In retrospect it’s a pretty obvious to thing for people to ask, considering the honesty of the voice I use.
Like my second story that was published was about an operation I had to have a stoma put in and get a colostomy bag.
The editor actually sent me an email saying that, she hoped she didn’t offend me, but she wanted to know whether or not my story was actually non-fiction, even though I’d categorised it as fiction.
When I read this same story out at the Wheeler Centre event called Debut Mondays, one of my friends who is there asked me whether it was true. I said no, it is fiction. And she went: ‘really?’.
Now, I know they know I know what these categories of fiction and non-fiction mean and that I’m, you know, capable of categorising whether something’s fiction.
I thought that, perhaps, they thought I was little too embarrassed to admit that these things had actually happened and that I was calling it fiction to hide the fact that it’s true.
The same thing happened with my novel. When I’d tell people it was about a homosexual boy in the Melbourne orthodox Jewish community. I would get asked, understandably, whether I was gay. I would say, no, but it’s based on someone close to me. To which someone said: ‘is that really just you, and your just saying it’s someone else.’
What I’ve come to realise is that these questions are actually the greatest compliments I can receive about my writing, because one of the filters I have whenever I put anything to paper, is that this character could be a real person.
And there’s a hell of work that goes in to authenticating the characters in fiction to give it that feel of truth. I’ll spend months getting into the minds of the characters and gossip about them with my friends as if they were real people. So, we could dissect their motivations and think about them from all different angles.
With my novel, I did set it in the community I was brought up in and in the school I went to. I really was raised religious and the laws and customs within Judaism are all true. I think, reasonably, people may assume that I drew on real life people as well. So, When my book was picked up, I could sense some nervousness amongst my family and friends, that the book might expose family secrets, or embarrass the people close to me.
But, I felt safe about the book’s reception amongst the people close to me, in that nobody will be personally hurt or embarrassed by me writing it, because there’s nobody who can raise their hand and say, I am that character. And this is because, I treated it first and foremost as a work of fiction. And, as I said before, even if I try to base a story on a real character, I find I always move away from the real life person to fulfil the needs of the story.
No writer can ever have that much control over why a person will open their book. But, you can have a say on why a person will finish a book and why a person will love a book. And that will always come down to how well the story is told and what insights into our lives the novel can offer.
I’m very proud of this novel. I’ve never been happier with a piece of writing. I think and hope that the characters are relatable. So, when I think of my family and friends opening the book out of fear of finding themselves in there. I kind of hope that they do. Just not in the way that they were expecting.