5 Quick Questions with Mandy Hager

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.

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Writing the Novel

A week of writing. Seven spaces taken; five spaces remain available.

tahiti village nightDates: July 28-August 3, 2019
Faculty: Megan Kruse
Registration (Tuition and private condo):
Contact: writing@kahini.org.

The workshop takes place at Tahiti Village in Las Vegas. In order for each participant to receive maximum attention, registration is limited to twelve.

Live and write in the beauty of the Mojave Desert, near the pulse and energy of Las Vegas. Our desert writing retreats are where Kahini began, and after six consecutive sold-out retreats, we’ve decided to add another one: the Desert Writers’ Retreat in the Novel is all about craft instruction, community, inspiration–and results in your work. Learn more, or book your spot.

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5 Quick Questions with Brannavan Gnanalingam

BrannavanWriter and lawyer Brannavan Gnanalingam answers our latest 5 Quick Questions. Brannavan will be teaching a workshop on character among other things at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. You’ve got 5 novels under your belt now. Would you like to be able to chuck in the day job and exclusively write or is the mix what fuels your creativity?

I like the mix between the paid work and the writing. While it would obviously be great to have more time to write, I think I benefit from having a routine, not having to worry about where my next paycheck comes from, having a job that doesn’t suck up all of my creativity, and a sense of knowing that I have a limited amount of time means I put that time to better use. One advantage of being a lawyer too is that I encounter new people and new narratives all of the time, and I’m forced to consider different viewpoints on a daily basis. It’s great training for writing novels.

2. From reading your work anyone can see that you care deeply about the state of the world and the inequity that exists between different individuals and groups in society. What made you choose fiction as your primary means of engaging with these issues, rather than non-fiction, journalism or legal work?

2. I’m not sure why I ended up in fiction. My first love was film, and I harboured grand ambitions of becoming a filmmaker (I studied and taught film at Victoria University). I realised in my early twenties though that I loved writing more than the making of film, and I shifted that way. I also did my masters in cultural studies essentially (via film and media studies) and I think fiction was helpful in working through these ideas of representation and discourse theory that I was fascinated in. I did think about journalism too – and I did a lot of reviewing and feature writing on music and film – but I was probably too impatient I think. That said, I think my writing is definitely influenced by journalism, social realism, and satire, so it’s probably all interrelated. As for why I focus on these sorts of stories, I don’t think I could write any other way. Writers are more than welcome to write about anything they want, but for me, I don’t think I’d be satisfied if I wasn’t writing about the world around me. It’s also hard not to be political when you have constantly felt the consequences of other peoples’ political actions.

3. Can you tell us about two or three books or authors that have had a significant impact on your work?

There are too many to mention, and in particular, the sheer number of amazing NZ writers who have been hugely inspirational in terms of their storytelling and shifting of narratives particularly from a POC perspective (for starters, Tina Makereti, Greg Kan, Chris Tse, Courtney Sina Meredith, Patricia Grace, Rajorshi Chakraborti, Anahera Gildea, Victor Rodger, Tayi Tibble, essa may ranapiri amongst many more). Balzac’s The Human Comedy has been a big influence (though I’ve only read 1/2 of it). He has such great characterisation and control of narrative, and I love how the interrelated nature of the various novels / novellas creates a particularly vivid account of early 19th Century France.  And there are a couple of films that have been a huge influence: Jean Eustache’s La Maman et la Putain showed me when I was 19 that you can make interesting fiction from everyday stories and Kira Muratova’s Melody for a Street Organ essentially became a template for how I write, with its sudden tonal shifts and use of anger to sustain narratives.

4. What do you think makes a great character in a novel? 

It does depend on the purpose they’re serving in the narrative, but overall, they need to feel real. Humans are wonderfully contradictory and behaviourally unstable – those are the characters that I try to write. I think people respond to complexity in characterisation too. Another thing I’m also very conscious of is making sure that I don’t forget that characters (and everybody else) live within discursive frameworks that shape and effect how that person moves about in society. Getting an understanding of those frameworks also helps with adding that complexity and making that character more real.

5. Can you tell us a little about what participants should expect from your workshop?

My workshop is connected to the above. It won’t be giving a carte blanche to then go off and write how you feel (that requires a lot of subsequent work by the writer themselves!), but I’ll be working through some strategies for how a writer can prepare and research issues of representation, discourse, power and social relations. I’ll be working through some theoretical frameworks and seeing how this applies to our own writing. I definitely will be focusing on making the sessions interaction and collaborative, and hopefully fun!

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