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  • Marissa Oakley Browne

The wonder of stories and reading


Three passionate writers captivated my attention at the 2017 Readers’ and Writers’ Showcase - Stu Duval, Tessa Duder and Owen Marshall.

Stu Duval is an animated storyteller whose tales resonate with the 30,000 kids he performs to every year. He drew the audience into each story with hilarious observations and a dramatic way of describing things.

He had lots of tips for writers but emphasised the importance of writing the raw story down without getting too hung up on spelling. He uses a technique of thinking of three unique or interesting elements of a story that all fit together to make a juicy tale before he starts to write. If he only has one or two elements, he lets the idea simmer and comes back to it later.

Duval had insights into getting to know your characters totally, not just in a shallow “passport photo” way. According to Duval, it’s critical to be able to answer these questions - what do your characters desire? Why? Where do they need to go to get it and who is stopping them? Duval said most of us could easily answer these questions about Frodo or Harry Potter, so do it for your own characters too!

Tessa Duder, author of the well-known Alex series of books and many more novels, plays, short stories and works of non-fiction, spoke passionately about biography. She has written about the lives of Margaret Mahy, Peter Blake and Sarah Matthew. I was intrigued by her reflections on biography as “literary portrait” which can combine facts about someone’s life with excerpts of their writing – this is the case with her book Margaret Mahy – a writer’s life.

Duder also spoke about the blurry line between biography and fiction – you can never really know what went on inside someone’s brain. We are interpreting their lives through other people’s opinions and hindsight, bits of writing and sometimes even the public consciousness at a particular time. She recommended reading very widely about a person and treating their life with the respect it deserved.

Owen Marshall, author of a prolific collection of novels, shorts stories and poems, and an avid and analytical reader, talked about the love of reading. Without a doubt, Marshall believes reading will make you a stronger writer. He painted a picture of a reader who gets completely absorbed in reading to the point where they burn their dinner or don’t want to answer the front door. As someone who used to walk to school with a book in my hand, I could totally relate! I particularly liked his reflections on needing time to transition back to the world of everyday things when you have been deep in the world of whatever book you were reading. I wonder - will my family forgive me next time they have to call my name three times before I put down my book and answer?


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