Writers Talk — Renée

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 | 1 comment

ReneeI thought seeing I invited other writers to answer these question I’d better front up and do it myself.  


I never never ‘get’ the story straight away – doesn’t matter how many plans I make, how many character sketches I write, how much I think I’ve got it. For example with Too Many Cooks I didn’t start with a story at all — but with a character, that of Hester. She didn’t come fully formed either. It seems I have to learn about the characters as I go.

What I had was a very clear idea of the style I wanted. Funny, sharp, clever — and occasionally real and touching. I wanted theatre to be part of the story, for someone or two to talk about plays, themes, playwrights.

I decided to resurrect Porohiwi, the place I invented in earlier novels. Porohiwi had an East Coast character and landscape. I decided to move it around the corner and down the road a bit. So — using the magic that writers are able to call on, I moved Porohiwi over to the West Coast and down the North Islanda bit to where it now lives.

I believe in trusting the reader. I believe readers are bright and they can be trusted to make connections and remember links. I always have a lot of characters, a group of main ones but a lot of subsidiary ones. I like the feel of reality that it gives me. Sometimes readers find the number of characters a problem and I’m sorry about that. I tell them hang on, just hang on, it will be okay.

Other readers say bring them on — this is exactly how I live…


As far as I can tell there are two main schools of thought on this. One is to plan everything in specific detail, the story, the characters, the journey of the story and that of the characters, their outward and inward journeys. It works really well and means the writer knows exactly where they’re going. I admire this method immensely.

The second way is the way I work which has evolved over the years. I didn’t know it had a name until I read an interview with James Lee Burke and he called it ‘incremental discoveries ‘ — a term that basically means an act of faith. You make a deal with incremental discoveries — they will keep happening but only as long as you keep working.

This the the deal — you still go ahead and make the plan, still think about the story, the characters, the setting, but you know, know, that a lot of it will be altered, rearranged, scrapped. Sometimes it takes (or seems) ages for an incremental discovery to come along but if you keep working it will happen. I’ve been doing it long enough now to absolutely know it will work as long as I keep working but it’s not easy for someone who finds it hard to keep working.

The secret is to know exactly what style you’re aiming for because you can spend quite a lot of time fiddling with style to get it right (or as right as you can) and by the time you’ve got a difficult passage right, there will be an incrememntal discovery which will push the story forward.

I’m not sure I admire this method in the same way as I do the planning everything method but I do understand it’s the one I’m stuck with so here’s to incremental discoveries…


The kitchen has to be tidy. I have to have a cup of hot coffee at the side (yes I know I’m not supposed to eat or drink around the computer, I bet a man wrote that advice) which I forget once I start working — I never finish those cups of coffee.

I generally go over what I wrote yesterday — a bit like an athlete warming up – or someone jumping up and down on a springboard — it kind of underlines where I’ve been and where — presumably — I’m going. I think about the characters all the time I’m not working on the computer and make up stories and situations which never get any further than my brain.

I’m not sure if this is a ritual but I lose myself in the work — I’ve always had the ability to focus very singlemindedly either when I’m working or reading. People have to knock and shout loudly at the door for me to even realise they’re there — I’m not keen on being interrupted anyway. Friends know this. If they come to the door the first thing they always say is, ‘I’m not stopping but do you want some apples?’

I make up for my unwelcoming manner this by baking a lot and sharing it around a lot.


I hate it — I suffer. I take it all in, keep it to myself and suffer. I repeat the words over and over again and each time they are more wounding. Oh yes, I suffer. In silence mainly. Outwardly I act philosophical and shruggy. Who cares? I do, I scream inwardly. I care. I do.

At night I’ll put on a DVD of Leonard Cohen or Etta James and open a bottle of red wine. Sing all the sad songs along with them. Ah life. I have a long memory. I never forget a bad review.


Love it. In any form. Whether it’s a comment from an individual reader, from an editor, from an actor, a director, or an award.

The day I learned an editor had accepted a piece of humorous writing of mine, (typed on a secondhand typewriter using two fingers and necessitating many copies before I got the pristine one I sent off), I thought — oh yes, this is it, I’ve made it, I’m a writer. It was a great feeling.

Success — if there were any justice in the world it would happen every day. What I really want is a glassful of success served every day with my breakfast please. Okay? Okay? And maybe another one last thing at night…

One Comment

  1. 6-26-2013

    thanks Renee – what a great blog!