Writer and teacher Mandy Hager answers our latest 5 Quick Questions. Mandy will be teaching a workshop drawing on autobiography to write fiction among other things at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.
1. How did you get into writing?
I’ve always written, for as long as I can remember. It’s the way I figure stuff out and best express myself. Except with close friends and family I’m ridiculously shy, so writing provides a safe buffer between me and the world.
2. You write across a range of genres and for different audiences. Where does the trigger for your work come from? Do you start with the intention to write in a particular genre or for a particular audience or does the idea or inspiration drive things?
The idea always comes first – sometimes through theme (like some issue that’s enraging or engaging me), sometimes through a character with a specific dilemma I want to explore, and sometimes I just get lines delivered to me that I then have to figure out the background story to! What the genre becomes is usually driven by the initial idea, rather than deciding I want to write something in a specific genre. I don’t usually think of audience (in terms of age range) – just try to write something that will speak to people’s heart – though, that said, I think it’s a privilege to write for a teen audience and, in considering the impact I want to make, I feel YA gives me the greatest opportunity to expand and challenge a reader’s thinking (which is something I’m always aiming for.)
3. A lot of your work deals with political issues. How do you manage the tension between didacticism and the ideas that you want to explore?
I’m sure some people would say I don’t manage this well at all! What I try to do is to take an idea and find its human story, focusing on character and emotion, using the reader’s empathy to make the connections to real-world issues.
4. What are you working on now?
I’ve just started the very early phase of a new novel, working out the characters and who is going to carry the story. On one level it’s going to be a love story, on another it will explore what constitutes ‘family’, and it looks at how someone carves out self-esteem and identity when not the ‘norm.’
5. Can you tell us a little about what participants should expect from your workshop?
I hope it will make a case for understanding that story structure and voice should organically arise from character and theme (the thing you want to say) – and that the greatest resource we have as writers is deep analysis of the nuances and patterns of our own lived experience. We’ll turn the lens on our own lives and inspect them as if we are the character under the microscope, plotting the pivotal shifts that have occurred to make us who we are. And I’ll be making a case for the idea that the politics of any given situation not only affects the opportunities and choices for us/a character in any scenario, but that the power dynamics at play can’t be separated or ignored.