“Focus on perspective – find that vital thread that is going to help you tell your story.” That was one of the pieces of advice from Purgatory author Rosetta Allan in the first of the talks in AUT’s Visiting Writers Programme.
Before writing her first novel Allan says she had not realised that “perspective is so vitally important”. While working on Purgatory she wrote and re-wrote the narrative using several different voices before settling on the voices of John and James, two of the book’s central characters.
“Initially I tried to write it in the mother’s voice and it didn’t work at all … [but] none of that time [writing in the other voices] was wasted, it was all research and it was helping me find the story that I wanted to tell. I immediately knew the right voice when I found it.”
Asked how she goes about ‘turning a character’s voice into a real person’, Allan said first and foremost it was about imagination but it also meant putting yourself right into someone else’s head and making sure you stay there.
“Staying in there is about making sure there are no interruptions.”
Allan’s insights into the lengthy editing process were also valuable for the Masters of Creative Writing candidates and graduates attending the session.
In addition to ‘endless’ rewrites of her own during the writing process, Allan also worked with literary agent and editor Michael Gifkins, and once the novel had been accepted by Penguin she worked with a series of the publisher’s editors for the next year. Gifkins, who has since passed away, came up with the title Purgatory.
Throughout the editing process Allan says she accepted most of the different editors’ suggestions. “There were a few instances where I said ‘no that’s staying’ but not many. We’d committed to each other and I trusted them [and their] process.”
Lecturer Siobhan Harvey, who established AUT’s Visiting Writers Programme, says insights into the editing process are invaluable for the MCW candidates. “It helps them understand the process and the fact that you are not handing the publisher a perfectly complete manuscript. If they accept your work, they are accepting your skill as a writer and your idea but they will still be working to shape that final work.”
Allan, who completed postgraduate studies in advertising and a BA in English and Linguistics, says her path to becoming a published novelist was a 12-year journey which she had to commit to doing for herself.
“There were lots of tears and lots of times I wanted to give up but when it came down to the crunch I decided I was doing this for myself and I was going to see [the novel] through to the end whatever happened.”
“You do have dry periods, that’s natural but sometimes you just have to push yourself to start that next chapter. My advice is: don’t give up, believe in your writing.”
Allan is currently working on her second novel and has a Creative New Zealand grant to travel to St Petersburg, Russia for a three-week research trip.
The next author in AUT’s Visiting Writers Programme is Ann Glamuzina who had her debut novel Rich Man Road published in 2015. Glamuzina is a graduate of AUT’s Masters of Creative Writing programme. Writers are invited to attend the next Visiting Writers Programme session on Tuesday 5 April 1-2pm at AUT’s City Campus.
Writing insights from NZ author Rosetta Allan