As part of the Townsville Cultural Fest, I worked with anthropologist Prof. Rosita Henry and other academics at James Cook University, to share stories of migration, objects and home.

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Image by lo.tangelini

Stories—either imagined, as in fiction, or constructed from memories, life narratives and histories, as in creative nonfiction—are rich sources of understanding the world. They can reveal to us the personal and emotional impact of historical and political events, promote empathy, draw attention to voices silenced or on the margins, and allow for diverse viewpoints and open-ended meanings. The techniques of creative writing can be a means to share ideas with a wide audience in ways that are engaging, funny, dark or emotionally resonant. The archetype of the storyteller appears in many places, cultures and times. The storyteller is often seen as doing someone who performs alchemy with their words because words can act as catalysts, to transform.

Some stories have more power than others, and are more easily heard, while others can be disruptive, playful or chaotic. Stories can be shared for pleasure and escapism, while others seek to transform hearts and minds; these two aims need not be mutually exclusive. Stories can be slippery too—their meanings and significance can change depending on when they’re told and who’s telling them, and when they’re heard and by whom. Those who listen to stories often learn to recognize stories as this or that kind, with this or that purpose, through the context and techniques used to tell them, but some stories disrupt these expectations and elude easy understanding.

For these reasons, we shared some stories with audiences at the cultural fest, ranging from the academic to the personal, and invited audiences to share stories with us. I gave writers some writing prompts:

Object stories

Firstly think of an object that has some significance to you and your family.

For a couple of minutes, describe it in as much detail as you can, focusing on its colour, texture, shape, and perhaps smell.

Now, add a sentence or two describing a person holding this object. Choose a person who has some connection to the object—so it might be you or a family member, or even someone from a future generation. Describe the person picking up and holding the object.

Now add a sentence or two describing the person’s thoughts and memories as they look at this object.

Finish with a symbol—an image that implies the emotional significance of this object to that person, without actually stating it explicitly.

Moving stories

Choose either an object (it can be the one from the last exercise) or a person (it can be you, or someone you know, or a made-up character) and choose two places where the object or person can move from and to. Write down the name of your object and person, and the name of the two places.

Visualise the journey from the start to the destination. How is the object or person travelling? Write a scene—that is create a picture that your reader can visualise where the character is taking action in some way—that describes the travel. Think about how you can use sounds, smells, textures, and imagery in your description.

Add a sentence or two describing the character’s feelings about the journey. If you’ve chosen an object, perhaps pretend to be that object.

Now, imagine your person or object has arrived at their destination, and has settled in a bit. Write another scene at their destination, so we can visualize it. Tell us a bit about the events that have happened to that character or object since they arrived. Try to think about how the character or object would see these events through their own eyes, and weave in their thoughts, feelings and bodily reactions to the things that have happened.

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In August, Verb writers group met at the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre to share stories. This month, on request, I prepared a worksheet on tense and point of view in fiction. Feel free to download, use and share!

The group meets on the second Tuesday of every month at the Writers Centre. Please email me to join the mailing list, or follow the centre on Facebook.

Many of the writers at the group, which meets on the second Tuesday of the month at the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre, were interested in how to write dynamic, powerful, vividly realised scenes, using clear sentences. They wanted to know the rules so they could break them. Drawing on my experience marking creative writing at universities in Queensland, I put together some resources on common sentence faults, when they’re ok, and how to fix them when they’re not.

If you’re interested in joining the writers’ group, please e-mail me: a.vanluyn@gmail.com

I knew I first wanted to be a writer when I was eleven. I’d just read Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and in it, I discovered how language can be playful, satirical and be more than what appears on the surface.

I realised that stories set in entirely different time and place can say something hard and sharp and real about the world we live in.

I saw how old stories, which have resonated so deeply—myths, fairytales, the archetypes Shakespeare borrows so powerfully—can be shaped and made anew.

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Image: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Prachett 

None of this I could speak about, or fully understand, at the time. That came later, when I had a language to talk about books. All I knew then was that this tattered, second-hand book was something magic, something really cool. And I’d never been cool in my life. Probably liking Terry Prachett and hiding out in the library was the wrong way of going about being cool. But I stopped caring about that a long time ago, and if I could go back to my young self, sitting in the window seat of a holiday home, gripping the copy of Wyrd Sisters dug out of a box and bought with all my pocket money, and looking out at the grey sky and gritty beach, I’d say to her, ‘Hold onto this moment tighter, because you’re going to be ok.’

I’d say to her too, ‘This is not about the book you hold in your hand, the name on the cover, but the moment of connection you had with it, when you forgot everything, and you went somewhere else, and you couldn’t see the author or the tricks, but you trusted them still, to take you somewhere new and transform you.’

So, eighteen years, a PhD, eight (give or take) relationships later, my first novel is coming out. It’s been so worth it, my own journey of many transformations. And you’re welcome to come celebrate the journey with me: https://www.facebook.com/events/236066903452162/

This month, Verb writers’ group met at the Townsville Writers and Publishers’ Centre for the first time in 2016. We discussed ways to get inspired to write and set some writing goals for this year. You can download the slides here: inspired to write. If you’re in Townsville or surrounds, join us at the writers’ group on the second Tuesday of the month, at the Centre at 6.30pm.