Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Clarion South - summing up - from a writer'spoint of view

Clarion South is an intensive writing and critiquing workshop held over six weeks in Brisbane, Australia - and it is intense. The format is a crit session lasting from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday to Friday with afternoons, evenings and weekends free to write, crit, socialise and do mundane housekeeping tasks like washing and eating.
During the course you are expected to write at least six stories and critique those of the rest of the group. This means writing one story and reading and critting a minimum of sixteen stories a week. The daily average was three stories to be critiqued every day which can be anywhere in the short story range. The longest story at this Clarion South was, from memory, slightly over 8,000 words. I found reading and critting a story usually took me between between one and one and a half hours. The crit then had to be distilled down to a two minute summary for the crit room. With sixteen classmate's crits plus the tutor's unlimited time and a general discussion this limit had to be adhered to rigidly to get through the work load. The person being critiqued is not allowed to comment until the class crits are done.
Inevitably some participants find it hard to have their work dissected so intensely. Clarions can prove difficult for those who take criticism of their work as criticism of themselves but the work being submitted is not polished. It can't be. It is first draft and I counted myself lucky if I could manage a spell and grammar check before I handed it in. Crits were honest and meant to help in my experience because we were all there to improve our skills in writing and critiquing and there was no point in any other approach. Because there is such a range of sub-genres being produced it is not always easy for those whose interests lie in one particular area to comment on another with which they are unfamiliar but over the workshop everyone's writing became more experimental as we were exposed to ideas and styles.
My goals in attending Clarion South were to gain skills in writing to a tight deadline, to try writing in areas I had not tackled before and to improve my critiquing skills. I feel I achieved all these objectives but I also gained in other ways. I am now much more confident in backing my own opinion in writing and critiquing and that increase in self-esteem flows on to other areas of life. The website is still active and there is continuing contact between the group with celebration and support available in equal measure.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


About thirty years ago I was in Port Hedland on business when a cyclone hit. In the time it took for my clerk and me to fly from Perth the cyclone was upgraded to a yellow alert and quickly after to a red alert. I was impressed at the time at the efficient steps taken by the local officials to ensure the safety of all in the town. Federal, State and local government staff were scouring the streets to ensure that all debris was removed or secured and that all inhabitants were safely housed. We spent a day in the motel (fortunately located in South Hedland and so not right on the coast) with winds howling round us except for when the eye of the cyclone passed over. The gales were so intense that trees were bent over to the ground and the motel swimming pool had waves about a metre high. The bar was opened at about 10:00 am and the more intrepid or intoxicated spent some hours body surfing from one end of the pool to the other ending up on the pool's concrete surrounds and sporting an impressive array of grazes as a result. Compared with Tracy (which destroyed Darwin) the damage was minimal and there were no deaths or injuries.

I have considerable sympathy for the residents of Port Hedland as a result but I am forced to wonder why in, a time when governments and employers are supposedly much more aware than they were thirty years ago, we have construction camps destroyed and lives lost when we have had well over a hundred years of experience of these annual, natural events. In Port Hedland thirty years ago they had a well devised action plan and carried it out (and this was before Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin). Why do communities (however temporary) not have the same ability to protect their residents now?

Saturday, March 03, 2007


I've spent today going through my Clarion photos and by the end I felt quite bereft. I'm close to being ready to write about the Clarion experience but not quite. It's hard to explain to those who haven't been through it just how intense the workshop is and how close the relationships formed become. At the end of our last crit session we were asked how we felt about the experience. I had to agree with the guy who said it ranked with one of the most wonderful experiences of his life. It was for me too on so many levels. It was hard - hard work, hard emotionally, hard physically - but all that was balanced out by the highs and the sense of achievement. I'd urge anyone who wants a career in speculative fiction to aim at attending a Clarion. I can truthfully say it is an experience like no other.

Later on I will try to give a better idea of what is actually involved and what the experience itself is like - but not yet.