Notes on a paper bag and 24 drafts: Kate Grenville

book coverYou can’t help liking a writer who has spent four days in town and has clearly got out and about to explore. Kate Grenville, whose session at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival this morning was a smasher, has popped in to festival sessions, visited Sumner (admiring the view back to the mountains and the lenticular cloud display yesterday), walked to the South City Mall, visited Central Library Tuam and has been wearing a vibrant knitted scarf throughout which she picked up in the Worcester Boulevard market.

Kate Grenville, with Owen Marshall as chair, talked about her writing process and the historical and personal background to her work.  An inspirational place to start is Searching for the secret river, the book about how she came to write The Secret River:

No cure for the bite of the past.

Her latest book Sarah Thornhill has dramatic connections to New Zealand. She was thinking about a followup to The Secret River but had not written anything when she visited Auckland and climbed Rangitoto. There she had an”oogyboogie moment” when a voice spoke to her and dictated the outline of the book and the first two sentences. This is not something that usually happens to her. She wrote it down on the only paper to hand – her lunchbag , which she produced.

One of those sentences is about the little half Maori girl who arrives on the Hawkesbury River after being taken from her home in Southland after the death of her parents:

None of us knew how to say her name so we called her Betty

This story is the heart of the book for its impact on Sarah Thornhill who realises the wrongs of the massacres of Aboriginals and stolen children like Betty cannot be repaired but at least the truth can be told. This is Kate Grenville’s philosophy too.

Kate  did indeed write 24 drafts of Sarah Thornhill, by draft 12 she had a sense of the book and could continue to shape it. She encourages people to write because you really want to know what happens and worry about your audience later.

This was a great session from a writer who believes “pbooks” will endure but embraces ebooks as well. Fans of her work will be pleased to know there is another book underway based on her mother’s memoirs of her family. It is struggling to take shape but anything is possible with Kate Grenville.

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