Tuesday, September 14, 2010


As anyone who's ever tried to write anything knows, there is no substitute for slog. And yet the amount of time spent on something doesn't necessarily equate to the amount of progress you've made with it. Sometimes sitting at a desk wrestling a paragraph to the deck is like wading through a swamp of used chewing gum. And at other times, a decision you make or a revelation that's delivered to you by the writing fairies will mean massive progress in the blink of an eye.

That bit in that last post down there, for example, about the 'four types' of writing, and the decision (more of a realisation, really) that this Adelaide book should and would be a Narration-and-Description sort of book, is going to save me an awful lot of floundering around.

When you're writing about a city you keep drifting back into the uncertain notion that you should be giving statistics, dates and facts about drainage and trams and so on. But it's not a history book. Sure I'll give the dates of things like gaslight and explorers' expeditions. But bearing in mind that the thing that has captured the public imagination about Matthew Flinders most enduringly is the story of his cat, I'll be concentrating more on stories: on the way that Edward John Eyre is remembered outside of Australia chiefly as a brutal, murdering bastard who caused the leading intellectual lights of Victorian England to line up on opposing sides and had a lasting effect on the development of international law; on why Captain Charles Sturt gets unkindly called 'a born loser' in his ADB entry; on the evidence that Colonel William Light was a crazy-brave soldier, artist and linguist as well as a surveyor; and on how Robert Gouger was one of the two people who cooked up the whole idea of a convict-free colony in South Australia while they were both in jail themselves.

(All but one of these people were broken in health by the effort and stress of establishing South Australia and died young. The alleged brutal, murdering bastard was the one who lived to a ripe old age; make of that what you will.)


  1. Narrative rules! As I found out with SALTWATER.

  2. Have you read Vivian Gornick's _The Situation and the Story_? I find it useful, at least the first half, for thinking about genre, narrative voice & such things.

  3. Who wrote that history is just good gossip or gossip grown old, or something like that?
    The gaslight dates are for the pedants who'll line up at book signings to tell you how you erred. Story rules!