Thomas Keneally hosts UNSW creative writing masterclass

23 Jul 2018

Australian author Thomas Keneally says that when writers start writing a novel, they should expect to be “punished for the ideas you create”.

Tom Keneally and Susan Dodds Masterclass July 12

Tom Keneally with UNSW Professor Susan Dodds, Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at the UNSW Creative Writing masterclass at the Tom Keneally Centre.

“The second draft will be more joyous, the third, you will be ecstatic and in the fourth, the gods will answer,” the prolific Australian writer told a creative writing masterclass at the Tom Keneally Centre at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts on Thursday July 12.

The Man Booker prize winner for Schindler’s Ark in 1982 advised the 30 UNSW creative writing students and alumni to “just start writing”.

“As soon as you expect you’re ready to write, begin,” Keneally said.

“Start as soon as you want to, don’t feel you’re unqualified. We all are.

“Don’t think you doubt yourself. We all do.

“My mantra: don’t let the fact you think you can’t write stop you producing literature.”

The writer established the Thomas Keneally Fellowship for an Irish writer to spend a week at UNSW after he received an honorary doctorate from UNSW in 2015.

Tom Keneally masterclass audience

Keneally told the audience that when he was published for the first time in 1964, it made him think he “had got away with murder with this flawed first book and that later books had to be better”.

The author of more than 40 published works of fiction and history says his writing process is an “ageless” process.

“The process of writing books remains with you.

“Whether you’re young or old, you’re invested in the material and process of storytelling.

“The process does not change.”

He told the audience not to let the writing process “depress you or impinge too much on your personal life”.

“You are a man or woman before you are a writer. Seek solace in the duties of ordinary men and women, taking kids to the park, for example.

"Art is long, but fortunately for many of us, time is sufficient to get it done.”

The writer said he still felt privileged to be writing but if he didn’t write novels, he would like to be a human rights lawyer like Geoffrey Robertson, or a painter.

He encouraged those who faced writers block to “write down the road blocks on an envelope”.

“Just break down the reasons that stop you from writing, argue with yourself about it, write down your own bewilderment,” he said.

It was after Keneally's speech to UNSW graduates in 2015 that UNSW alumna, opera soprano and freelance writer, Ria Andriani, was inspired to write a novel inspired by a song from her childhood in West Java, Indonesia.

Miss Andriani said her draft novel is about “mythical immortality and biological extinction”.

“The main character, which I'm still developing, is the King of the Birds,” Miss Andriani said after the masterclass.

“Tom mentioned the importance on structuring dialogue for my characters.

“He offered input on how to build my character’s dialogue at the end of each chapter which will help build authenticity.”

The Tom Keneally Centre is open to the public from Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10:30am-2:30pm. Tom invites all writers and readers to visit for consultations. For more information, visit Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts.

Tom Keneally Centre