A little more about the writing side of life

Vivienne Lingard & Caroline Barron

Three weeks ago I was asked to speak alongside author Caroline Barron, at the Auckland branch of New Zealand Society of Authors meeting. I was intending to write a short post on this earlier, but life, again, got in the way. Last week I was frantically writing as much on my novel as possible before visitors arrived, which meant I neglected everything else. And then, this week came around, and suddenly it was ‘all hands on deck’ to clear out our bedrooms as new carpet was due to be laid Thursday. The bedrooms are clean and vacated and the rest of the apartment looks a mess!

Now, here I am finding time to write a few words about the talk I mentioned at the start. Caroline Barron and I have written both memoir and adult fiction, and were asked questions by the chair Maria Gill, as a joint interview, about the similarities and differences in how we approached the process of writing in each of these genres. Maria, posed interesting questions, such as: What’s the relationship between honesty and good storytelling? Often Caroline and I said virtually the same thing, swapping the mic from one to the other to say our piece. With this question, I said “Honesty for me was being authentic; staying true to the ‘character’ in the memoir and presenting facts accurately.” This then led to the discussion of how important research is writing in either genre. We both agreed that research was essential for both.

The memoir of my father

We were asked if there were differences in the way we structured each form. I start with a timeline, which places scenes, or ‘happenings’ along the line, with the year each takes place. Another question was, how do you approach the task of deciding what to include or leave out in your memoirs or novels? And the ethical implications of writing about real people. With my memoir, I began the narration from the time I could recall events vividly, and ended with the death of the main subject. I stayed as true to all the main characters as was possible, and fiddled more with what occurred when. Again, research is required, such as; what politician was in power, what songs and programmes were popular. Plus the games, foods, sweets…

My book of short fiction

When writing about real people in memoir, it is necessary to let them know that you are writing something which may include them, but to soften this somewhat, I fictionalised the names of all my characters in the book. My family, which were the main group in my memoir, knew that the children were based on them. I had only two siblings to deal with here, and they were comfortable with my decisions (I believe), as I consulted them throughout. With fiction, I have sometimes based a character on someone I have observed, not actually known, whose characteristics, physicality, hair style or demeanour has taken my attention. But again, the characters; the setting and details of place need to be authentic, down to their mannerisms, quirks, speech patterns, etc. There’s that word again and one I can’t emphasis enough when it comes to writing interesting work which will capture a readers imagination.

It was great to speak alongside Caroline Barron that night. The audience liked what we had to say too; even saying it was a ‘stimulating’ session. Thanks Maria for asking us along.

Three stages of a drawing


Initial 20 minute set-up

I took some photos of a beautiful native Nikau palm while walking last week, which I felt compelled to draw as the bulb was large and particularly colourful. I needed a break from my writing, and the time to let new ideas gel, so I started the initial sketch yesterday and finished it today. Sometimes I wonder why I write or draw, as it often more difficult that first envisaged, or let’s just say, either art form can be hard work when in progress, but feels great when done. Similarly with the novel. You get an idea, sketch it out and keep going until the work’s finished. It’s just the tools which differ. The tools I used for this sketch are: artist-quality polychromos pencils. The colours: Apple green, permanent green, chrome oxide green, lemon cadmium, dark sepia, brown ochre, van dyke brown, Indian red, sky blue, and light grey.

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All Sorts of Lives


Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) would be New Zealand’s best known writer of the short story. Thousands of students would have studied her in university; others would have read her just because she writes so well. I belong to both those camps. Katherine was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp into a prosperous family, who lived in Tinakori Road, Wellington. She was bright, gifted in music and writing from an early age. But she felt a misfit in her family, thought her home ‘dull and claustrophobic’, and once she’d visited London as a teenager, yearned to live a liberated, and bohemian life, preferably abroad. She left for London on her own aged nineteen, became the writer she dreamed of being and never returned home. It is testament to her skill as a writer that we are still reading about her a hundred years after her death, and it is the book written to mark this centenary I especially wish to write about.

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