‘A Place to Just Be’ near Fremantle in Western Australia is a veritable Japanese garden: running water, goldfish, bridges, rocks, uneven pathways. ‘A Place to Just Write’, you might call it, because that’s what we do, but the hall serves other activities too: meditation, yoga…so we take off our shoes, just eight pairs on this wet wintry night.
Rosemary leads us into a meditative state of mind so we can leave everything else behind and settle down to just write. After two strikes of the gong, we open our eyes and it’s time to start. Every fortnight, there’s a fresh exercise, as there has been for the past ten years since the Writing Connection began. The premise is the same: to create a safe space to share life experiences, sometimes as fiction, and to definitely always have fun. ‘
Today I want to focus on dialogue’, Rosemary says. ‘But first, I want you to think about some characters. Write down their name, and a brief description, maybe their gender, age, stage of life, interests. They could be people in your life, or fictional characters.’
We scribble away until she asks us to pick two and write them down on separate sticky notes. We are then invited to pass one to the person on our left, and the other to our right, so that we end up with two entirely different characters. ‘Now, let’s make them talk to each other’, she says. ‘Aw!’ Geoff exclaims. ‘I already had the conversation going in my head for my characters. Now I have to come to grips with two new ones, while others write about mine!’
‘Start straight into the dialogue and use it to tell the story: the relationship between the characters, the situation, what’s at stake’, Rosemary says. ‘Show some tension, but be witty too like Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest.’
Sharad’s characters on this occasion are a rough, sixty-year-old Croatian-Australian man, and a sixteen-year-old, unsure, British-Australian boy. The mention of Oscar Wilde leads Sharad to develop a relationship between the two after meeting in the Croatian seaside town of Split. The debate on legalising same-sex marriage is currently running in Australia and remains unresolved. Sharad wants to portray his characters’ hopes and hesitations about returning to Australia, which doesn’t seem ready to embrace such relationships. But after twenty minutes of writing when he has just got to the point where the relationship starts, Rosemary announces it’s time for tea!
After the break, and much convivial chatting, we are ready to share our stories.
Marianne confesses she’s not good with dialogue, but comes up with a pretty good piece, and everyone encourages her to write more in that style.
Lorna, a performance poet, produces a very funny piece about a woman who owns a florist’s shop and is looking for an assistant through an employment agency. The florist vents her frustrations on the lady at the agency, who doesn’t understand her requirements. At closing time, her task incomplete, the lady asks the florist to leave. ‘Now that’s the sort of person I don’t want’, the florist says. ‘A clock watcher.’
One member passes. She says her characters have been stolen from her and she is not happy. Sharad reads his piece last. Rosemary thinks it has the beginning of a novel. Margaret says Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice comes to mind. Sue likes how he has brought two lonely people together in a relationship. It’s nearing 9 pm, and after the usual hugs and farewells – ‘see you in a couple of weeks!’ – we disappear into the night.