Trusting the silence

Kate Grenville and Margot Waddell

Photo: James Royall

Monday 16th July, 2007 | Posted by Caroline Graty

For author Kate Grenville, creativity comes out of the dark, from beneath the surface. It is a leap of faith rather than an active corralling of thoughts; a passive state into which ideas and voices are delivered from the silence within. The intellectual process of shaping them comes later.

Grenville discussed her work with psychoanalyst Margot Waddell at last week’s Connecting Conversations event, a fascinating insight into the writer's craft and an exploration of its parallels with analysis.

When she first began to write Grenville had used a systematic approach, writing several unpublished (and, according to her, ‘really boring’) novels by imposing a preconceived idea on to her writing, with chapter headings and plot mapped out from the start. Things changed when a line by Jane Austen became the trigger for an intuitive leap into a new story. She started to write without a plan or structure in mind. ‘I had no idea what I’d write next. I just worked until I ran out of steam.’ The result was Lilian’s Story, Grenville’s first published novel and the first of many acclaimed works including the Booker shortlisted The Secret River and its companion, Searching for the Secret River.

The evening’s discussion wended its way through notions of truth, the boundaries between fiction and history and the burying of a nation’s painful past. Comparisons were also drawn between Grenville’s writing process and the journey through psychoanalysis - the temporary suspension of controlling intellect, faith in the productiveness of silence and the understanding that comes from the quiet space within.

‘I love talking about it, but I don’t want to understand it,’ said Grenville of her own creativity. She gave the impression that it was tenuous, ethereal, like something you see out of the corner of your eye, but, when you turn to look, is gone.

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