The advice is to write what you know. I wrote a novel about a twenty-something year-old woman in 1938 America struggling to become an animator in a man’s world. But do I know enough to write convincingly?
I’m Australian. Born in 1967. And not an animator. But on the other hand, I’m a woman who’s experienced sexism, I’m a visual artist, and I’ve been involved in political and social movements for the betterment of society. So, thematically, what I know is reflected in the book.
Drawing The Line: No Ladies in Room 3 was inspired by a documentary about Walt Disney. At the time I was searching for an interesting setting for a romance and my interest was piqued by the unsung women in the company whose work went largely uncredited, and the political climate of the time, the strikes breaking out during the Great Depression.
Write what you know. If I took the advice literally I’d write memoir. But I come from a generation (and particular Australian culture) that says we mustn’t boast or talk about ourselves, or think our lives exciting enough to present on the page. Which is ridiculous. I love getting into the minds and lives of others, and a world without memoir would be much poorer.
But the idea of letting readers into my mind is a little disturbing. Exposing my underbelly for others to poke, not to mention the tricky business of portraying friends and family without causing offence. Now that’s a minefield waiting to explode. You have to be brave.
I prefer to keep my underbelly covered, hide behind a curtain. The curtain I chose for Drawing The Line: No ladies in Room A3 is vintage. I’ve removed myself from the picture by going back in time. But I’m still there. It’s impossible to hide in historical contexts or far-flung narratives about fantastical planets. However much we’d like to wipe our fingerprints from the page the writer is still there. Because writing reveals no matter how many steps the author takes back. Attitudes shine through, themes emerge like monsters from the deep, or mermaids, if you’re that way inclined.
Our personal predilections, mundane or profound seep to the surface whether we like it or not. Over the years I’ve noticed pesky objects and actions reoccurring in my writings. A regurgitation of symbols, like dreams or surrealist paintings, disembodied and floating from one story to the next. Couches, apple-cores (specifically throwing them over the shoulder) books or laptops sliding off beds, someone grabbing someone else’s elbow…
On the surface these forgettable slices of my imagination say little about me, but they seem to want to make an impression, inhabit the book like a type of DNA squiggling from mind to page. And what you know often isn’t known until all the threads are tied. Until time passes and you return with fresh eyes.
Even as I write this I’m discovering what I’m trying to say, drifting into the magic of flow, into what it is I know.