Advice from a storyteller on his knees

 It’s only 5 minutes into the session and Bryce Courtney is on his knees, whispering to a spellbound and surprised audience. He is acting out the old man who creeps from a cave in the African mountains to join the children crawling into the laps of adults gathered around the fire, to tell stories. By the time he made it back to his seat he was visibly puffing. I could sense the surprise and confusion in the audience. No one was really sure of what this 77 year old crawling around on the shiny BMW Edge floor was about. All of us are quietly wondering what kind of wild ride we are in for over the next hour.

And wild ride it was. It’s easy to see why Bryce Courtney has been so successful in both advertising and as an author. Call it charisma or gift of the gab, whatever its name, the man commands attention and tells a great tale. As the listener you sense that some of the details are being rounded out, so to speak, but you don’t care because the man is so full of life and enthusiasm it’s hard not to want to hear what he has to say.

An inspired conversationalist, he entertained, informed and challenged by turn. The story of the death of his son, which led him to becoming a full time writer, was complemented by a wavering rendition of ‘Summertime’ and left many of us in silent tears, so powerful was his telling.

By the end of the session I am furnished with some gorgeous gems of writerly wisdom that could only come from someone like Bryce Courtney. Try these on for size:

  1. Never leave the spoon in the sink before you turn on the tap. (While this piece of advice is right on the money in a practical sense, it has hidden depths worth plumbing. Think about it.)
  2. Listen with your eyes.
  3. 35% of Australian vernacular is unique in the English language. Our language is rich and as Australian writers we should use it. (Bloody oath.)
  4. Places have personality, they are like people, and you can write them in a way that shows how they change over time.
  5. Descriptive narrative is dead – if you’re going to describe something describe only what is unique about it.

The Melbourne Writer’s Festival has been a feast of such treasures. Later on I collect a couple of diamonds from Louise Welsh, author of Naming the Bones.

  1. The past is always present. (If you think about it this will have the same effect on your mind as the sound of one hand clapping.)
  2. A story is a quest and requires a character who is a bit lonely and isolated and looking for answers. Like most of us, really.
  3. Natural environments are great settings to make characters feel uneasy. (A brilliant one for Australian settings and stories because out in the bush no one can hear you scream ––Indigenous stories are full of the sinister, hidden and dangerous spirits of open bush.)

Then today my eyes are forced open with metaphorical match sticks to gaze at the baffling confusion of building an online presence  – a MUST HAVE for any serious emerging writer I’m told. I gotta say, listening to the confidence of the presenter made me feel old. She outlined the challenges of managing the spider web of interconnecting social networking, blogs and web pages with a savvy that blew my hair back. By the time I left though, my frightened mop had been combed back into place and I understood the value of building a web presence as a wannabe writer and social networking etiquette (apparently there is such a thing). I think I might even be able to face managing the overwhelming crap that occupies the Twitter and Facebook space.

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