5 Things I Learnt from Fiona McIntosh

how to write a story, writing a novel, australian authors, young authors, female writer, female writer australian

When I was at Art School, every one of our teachers told us to get out and go to exhibitions.  They told us to find out where the openings where, get into galleries and meet as many artists as we could.  Now that I am writing full time, I am taking that same approach writing – Get to book readings, find where the parties are and meet as many writers as I can.

Book readings are never just about the book.  Book readings, launches and events are about the book, the author, the venue, the publisher, the crowd and the market it is being released into.  So what can you learn from a book readings  Basically…everything.

The French Promise, Fiona McIntosh, australian authors, young authors, female writer, female writer australian A while ago I went to a book reading by Fiona McIntosh, for her new novel, The French Promise. The event took place in a small book store on the south coast, as part of her regional tour of Australia.  As it turned out, there were not many of us who had read the first book The Lavender Keeper, so she spoke about them both.

What did she speak about

After Fiona McIntosh introduced herself, she started to talk about her decision to become a writer.  She spoke about choosing to write.  She spoke about attending a writing workshop held by Bryce Courtenay, about her family and how stories have fallen out of her ever since.  this was a writer how had made a decision, who knew she could be a writer if she worked hard enough.

What Did I Learn

1. Finding ideas quickly and making them work

Listening to Fiona talk about where her ideas came from, helped me to understand where I found my ideas.  Fiona spoke about how she mapping out the story on a plane, while flying from Australia to Europe.  What was obvious to me was that she was able to do this, because she understood how stories worked, how characters operated and how to tease out more ideas.  Listening to Fiona speak out writing, it’s very clear that she understands the craft behind it.  She credited her skill with a great foundation of education combined with a huge amount of practice.

I was very aware, as I listened to her speak, about how much I had to learn about stories, writing and the craft of story telling.  I cannot spot the holes in my stories as quickly as Fiona could.  But it was encouraging to know that I might one day learn too.  I was reminded of what was possible.

2. Actually looking for the story

Fiona spoke about making conscious choices in an effort to look for a story.  She said she is always open to finding a story and will say yes to a lot of ideas to see where it will take her.  She pieced the story together, through logic and creativity. ‘We’ll I’ve got a boy, and this is a romantic historical fiction, so what do I need next?  Well I need a girl.’  …And she went out and found that girl.   Fiona did not wait for her heroine to simply arrive – she went looking for her.

I realised that I can be very passive when it comes to discovering a story.  Fiona made it clear to me that I could be doing a lot more than I am to find incredible stories to tell.

3. Researching her work & Asking for Help

When Fiona found her heroine she started researching straight away.  She traveled around Europe looking for her locations and looking for her novel, researching French culture, history and life.  It did not just fall together like magic.

I have always loved researching for stories, but listening to Fiona speak about her research I was reminded of how good research can alter the course of the narrative.  She also spoke about how keen others were to help her.  I do not ask for help as often as I should.  I try and do it all myself.  I wonder now, what I have missed out on by trying to do it alone.

4. A Normal person, Who is a Writer

It was refreshing to hear an author speak so honestly and candidly about the writing world.  In many ways, I am glad that I have not studied writing formally, because I was able to avoid getting caught up in ‘wearing capes’ and being an alcoholic narcissist.  I was reminded that it is ok to not take the writing community too seriously and I learnt that there are lots of others who feel the same intimidation towards ‘writers’ for no reason.

5. Learning from Bryce Courtenay & Teaching Others

By going to Fiona McIntosh’s book reading for The French Promise, I learnt about Bryce Courtenay’s masterclass workshops, that were held right up until he sadly passed away.  You never know what you are going to learn today.

Hearing Fiona speak about these workshops, lead me to do some research and find the film The Last Class.  If you have a chance to watch it, you will find another writer whom you can learn from. I learnt that Fiona now runs these workshops and that you can apply to attend…

To my enormous delight, Fiona McIntosh will continue to run a Masterclass Writing Course. I can think of no writer in Australia, or, for that matter elsewhere, who will do so with a more professional aptitude and sheer pizzazz! Go for it writers, it will change your life! – Bryce Courtenay, September 2012.  Click here to read more about Fiona’s Masterclasses.

I learnt that lots of writers learn from other writers.  I learnt that there are workshops and Masterclasses that provide wonderful resources, skills and support to Emerging Writers.  I learnt that the best way to learn is from each other.

Image of Fiona McIntosh from FionaMcIntosh[dot]com

Image of Bryce Courtenay from BryceCourtnenay[dot]com


What have you learnt from the writers you have met?  

How has meeting writers helped to shape the way you work?




by Meg

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