Day 3 at Adelaide Writers Week and I could only pop in for a brief visit today. I was running late and missed the first part of “Trainspotting” author Irvine Welsh’s discussion on his writing experiences, but managed to catch some of the question/answer time. He was just as I expected him to be – blunt and forthright with that lovely Scottish accent and plenty of swearing. He answered questions about his characters and how he gets around the issue of setting his books in places that he no longer lives. This, he says, is sorted by visiting his old stamping grounds and taking old friends to the pub, plying them with drink and then quizzing them!
This was followed by a panel session entitled “Mystery” with authors Sarah Dunant, Audrey Niffenegger, Sarah Waters and Marcus Zusak. It was not necessarily about mystery writing, but about the notions of mystery in their work. Niffenegger spoke of how writing genres seem to be bleeding into each other, to some extent, citing the example of how the simple mystery story is now evolving into a more literary form. She also stated that she prefers to be a little mysterious in her writing, sometimes leaving things unsaid in order to leave “space” within her work for the reader to interact and, in a way, become complicit with the story.
When the very amusing Marcus Zusak was asked if he felt it necessary to temper ambiguity in his writing for younger people his delightfully refreshing answer was “I dunno!” He went on to say that it was a mystery to him how he got to Writers Week at all as he seemed to be such a poor judge of the varying merits of his work. He was unexpectedly surprised that “The Book Thief” was so very popular! He made no mystery of the narrator and, in fact, states in the book that the concept of mystery clearly bores “Death” who much prefers the machinations behind it.
Dunant told of how the mystery for her is generally in the actual writing as she often has no idea of where the story will take her or of how the characters will develop. Thus mystery, for her, becomes motivating and exciting and keeps her writing. On the other hand, Sarah Waters was shocked at this as she could not contemplate sitting down to start a book without having a meticulously planned plot – in fact she often has a definite story ending before she starts! Clearly, there are as many ways for writing novels as there are writers.