Podcast 1 – What Makes Beautiful Words?
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In today’s show, I discuss an analysis of “What Makes Beautiful Words” after attending an author event with Sofie Laguna (Winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Award).
I had the great pleasure of listening to the author, Sofie Laguna speak at a local library event recently in which she discusses her road to success as an author and her writing processes.
Sofie is the author of a number of award-winning picture books such as Too Loud Lilly, My Yellow Blanky and chapter books for children including the Our Australian Girl: Meet Grace series. She is a playwright and also writes adult fiction, including the book One Foot Wrong and The Eye of the Sheep which won the Miles Franklin literary award in 2015.
It was this book, ‘The Eye of the Sheep which inspired me to see her.
In today’s podcast we discuss:
- The notion of what makes “beautiful words”
- Sofie’s path to becoming an award-winning author
- “The actor in me who writes”
- Sofie’s writing processes
- How her book The Eye of the Sheep was born
- Writing in the voice of Children
You can find out more about Sofie and her books on her website sofielaguna.com
Notes from Podcast 1
What Makes Beautiful Words – inspired by the author event with Sofie Laguna
I picked the title “beautiful words” for my Podcast because when I read a good book, I sigh and I say, “Ahh, beautiful words, beautiful words.” When friends write or say something inspiring, I say, “Wow, beautiful words.” So deciding to talk about Sofie Laguna for my first podcast was very fitting because she writes such beautiful words.
What I mean about “beautiful words” is not necessarily that the words are conveying a beautiful message (although it could be) but that the writing stirs me, it inspires, provokes or challenges me.
It could be a unique story or a story told in a different way. It could be written using images or metaphors which I’ve never considered before. It could simply be – entertaining.
Beautiful words to me are NOT clichés or books written for marketing purposes. Beautiful words are personal truths which have a universal impact in some way whether that be for fiction or non-fiction. Don’t get me wrong, books written for marketing have their place – but in this podcast, I want to help you delve deeper into your creative soul.
The idea of “Beautiful words” is subjective. What is beautiful to me may not be beautiful to you and that’s OK – the fact that we are having open discussions about writing is beautiful to me!
So please feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments and tell me what the notion of “beautiful words” means to you?
Some of Sofie’s Books for Children
Sofie was articulate and very down to earth. I loved how she questioned herself throughout the course of the evening which made her very real and likeable to me. She left her law studies to pursue acting and writing which is very fortunate for us as readers.
The actor in me who writes!
Sofie is almost apologetic about her writing success and career. She said that she had “a desire to be involved in beautiful words” after she walked out of the movie “Howards End”.
When she said this, I got goose-bumps because I was deliberating over what to call my Podcast. I really wanted to call it Beautiful Words but there is a podcast called Beautiful Writers and I didn’t want to copy or be too similar to anyone else. However, when Sofie said this, I thought, ‘Yes, she is sort of like me or I’m like her – we can appreciate “beautiful words” and have a desire to be involved in “Beautiful words.”
Sofie studied acting and was working as a fairy at children’s parties on the weekends and regards herself as “an actor who writes.”
Now that’s an interesting notion.
What if emerging writers gave themselves the freedom to imagine that the actor in them was writing?
Would that be liberating?
Would that allow for the creative process to unfurl more easily?
Would there be less pressure?
Would it be more enjoyable?
Sofie’s writing success
Sofie’s first picture book was called, My Yellow Blanky, and she sent it to five publishers. She received four rejections but the fifth letter from a publisher said they loved it but couldn’t find an illustrator.
What I love about Sofie is that she wasn’t disheartened. She didn’t give up. She was encouraged and worked on her picture book some more, then re-submitted it. She got her first book contract by Omnibus Publishers and went on to publish more books with a number of publishers and which have received a number of awards.
Sofie says that A Writer’s Group benefitted her greatly at first and also the support from her university at RMIT and that community.
Her adult novel, One Foot Wrong, was written when she was studying at RMIT.
She did a crime writing course but she wasn’t interested in crime writing so she didn’t take it too seriously.
She “banged out this crazy plot, tightly plotted and the group liked it,” but she wrote the book for herself.
Sofie says that out of that 15-minute exercise, her book, One Foot Wrong was born.
Now I love this because I’ve had the same experience at Uni of doing an exercise that you kind of roll your eyes at and then, Bang – an amazing idea or story. My Wobbly Woman idea was born this way. We had to write a manuscript for an illustrated book, I thought I’d do something different and write a book about my life in pictures, so I googled, crazy woman and saw an image titled, Wobbly Woman – the rest is history.
Sofie says her books reads like a very dark fairy tale, poetic but is uplifting and is not gratuitous or sensational. She says that her children’s books have similar themes of loss, survival, and betrayal.
Sofie’s Writing Process
I love how Sofie describes her writing as “Loose on the page until something arrives.”
It reinforces that writing is rewriting but that has boring connotations. I love to imagine it more as having fun on the page. It lightens it a little and makes us more excited to actually write.
Sofie said she didn’t really have a detailed plan, she wrote a 10 point plan and a rough plot with big key ideas But she knew where she was going.
- 5 parts of the story/chapter/structure was organic
- She didn’t write book in chapters but in parts which was influenced by her acting career
- Sofie wrote a full first draft and showed it to two friends who gave her positive feedback so she thought it mustn’t be true. Then she sent it to a male author who said, “I hate you” and she was encouraged by that.
Process Before Children/After Children
- BC – Before Children – 2000 words a day/disciplined structure
- Regarding money – she was used to not making money. She was a fairy on weekends, dressing up at children’s parties
- My Yellow Blanky – makes her a little money in royalties, advance and as an author visiting schools
AC – After Children
- Short bursts of about 50 minutes at a time.
- Don’t need perfect conditions – just do it.
- She can’t identify with people who have to clean the house first and procrastination. Not interested or has no tolerance for that.”Is that bad?” she asks.
Writing for adults compared to writing for kids
“It doesn’t feel different writing for kids or adults; it’s still about language, rhythm, the sound of words, characters and storytelling. The only difference is the content explored.”
The Eye of the Sheep
The title of Sofie’s Book ‘The Eye of the Sheep is interesting and what she is referring to was the reflection of the light in the eye of the sheep, which to her was about promise/death/hope all at the same time.
I love how Sofie says, “Authors turn up the volume on certain aspects of themselves,” and “these must be the things that fascinate me.”
“Authors turn up the volume on certain aspects of themselves” (Sofie Laguna)
The topic of Domestic Violence
Sofie’s view of Domestic Violence is that it exists alongside deep love and the story was a combination of where the pen and the character of Jimmy took her. She says she “wanted to push and test him.”
This is very provocative – the idea that domestic violence exists alongside deep love and this is what makes her work so interesting – her view of it and how she expresses it.
The character of Jimmy, the protagonist was based on the character of Pete Flick that she had written about previously. She started with the holiday scene, discovering the love between the father and the son and she got a glimpse of the boy inside the tortured man. “Characters are instinctive and evolve as I go along,’ says Sofie.
I like how she says that:
- “Every detail is a major detail because it informs the decisions of what you write”
- Metaphors, passions – happened as she wrote and she feels the basics at the start.
- Nobody is a hero or villain in her book
- Those who do villainous things have stories behind them also
Writing in a Child’s Voice
Sofie took some interesting risks by writing from a child’s perspective. There is the danger of not being able to capture the child’s voice or of being clichéd. She describes that there is a danger of being clichéd when writing about children in foster care but tried to find the balance in the good and the bad of her characters, which I think is also obvious in how her adult characters are presented also.
She says it’s “liberating to write in a child’s voice.” The book is about the adult world but the child reflects the adult world (unedited, unfiltered) e.g. Jimmy doesn’t use words properly and makes up his own sentences. She didn’t know whether she could get away with it but it is poetic, powerful and succinct.
She says “A voice like Jimmy’s illuminates the adult world.”
While it can be dark toying with death there is levity, beauty and lightness about it.”
So this is what I love about Sofie’s book, this is why I consider her book to have “beautiful words” because she does push the boundaries of writing. I had a lecturer once say that you have to know the rules in order to break them. I don’t know if that is true. I think there have been amazing writers that may not have letters after their names but wrote in their unique, authentic voices that pushed boundaries also.
Author Emily Maguire says “The Eye of the Sheep is full of achingly true insights into family violence and the way trauma passes from one generation to the next. Laguna dissolves the barriers between author and reader, getting the voice of odd, funny, love-hungry Jimmy so right that I still don’t quite believe he isn’t out there somewhere, spinning and spinning in ever-faster circles.”
Use Your Words: A Myth-Busting, No-Fear Approach to Writing by Catherine Deveny
On Writing by Stephen King
I loved listening to Sofie speak because it inspired me and encouraged me to keep working on creating “beautiful words” and to stop procrastinating!
I want to end with the description at the back of The Eye of the Sheep:
Meet Jimmy Flick. He’s not like other kids – he’s both too fast and too slow. He sees too much, and too little. Jimmy’s mother Paula is the only one who can manage him. She teaches him how to count sheep so that he can fall asleep. She holds him tight enough to stop his cells spinning. It is only Paula who can keep Jimmy out of his father’s way. But when Jimmy’s world falls apart, he has to navigate the unfathomable world on his own, and make things right.
A stunning work of compassion and empathy, insight and virtuosity.
You can find out more about Sofie at sofielaguna.com
Images from Sofie Laguna’s website