Kathy Prokhovnik: I wrote in my diary, ‘Want to stay here forever.’
Kathy Prokhovnik stayed at KSP Writers' Centre in June 2022 as a Writer-In-Residence.
I’d forgotten the tedium of airports and boarding planes, the extreme act of faith involved in packing yourself into a tin can to fly across the country. I’d forgotten the exhilaration of take-off, of watching the earth glide by below, reduced to patterns and hints of life.
My tin can took me to Perth, and a taxi took me to Greenmount. I found my keys and my cabin, opened the door onto a cosy room with a giant desk. I breathed it in, dropped my bags, and went out for provisions. I did battle with tardy taxis and dreary supermarkets but finally I was back with bags of food, coffee and lactose-free yogurt. There was a knock on the door. It was Chris, from the top cabin. She and Ashley, from the bottom cabin, had been worried about me and were glad I was there. I was glad I was there too.
That night, making our first dinner together in the kitchen, we each made a simple meal and talked about the joy of being at the beginning of two weeks of writing. Ashley and Chris had plans for each day. I had a manuscript of 65,000 words and a bag of notes.
The next morning I sat at the enormous desk, stared out the window at the bees buzzing around the tree trunk, and spread out the notes that I had been accumulating for the last six months. Little bits of paper on which I’d scribbled snippets of conversations, explanations for actions, my characters’ characteristics. To incorporate them into my manuscript took minutes for some, hours for others. I crossed out each one as I used it and threw it away. At some stage I ate lunch. At some stage I went for a walk, tramping up Old York Road to admire enormous gumtrees with massive gumnuts, twenty-eights singing on their branches, galahs flying overhead. Coming back I saw little furry figures, low to the ground, dashing through the grass and behind my cabin, and I realised I’d been lucky enough to see the quendas.
And that became my life. Wildlife, desk, manuscript. Walking, shopping, dinner. I compiled the remaining notes into two documents: One-offs (something that just had to happen in one place) and More than one-off (something that was a feeling or a general idea). I worked through them, striking through each one, and then they were done too. I listed issues I wanted to consider for continuity of actions and characters and checked through them. I drew up a sort of map with a range of pretty colours showing how my two main characters felt in each chapter, then used that to make changes that gave their actions and interactions psychological continuity.
On day 9 I wrote in my diary, ‘Want to stay here forever.’
On day 11 I knew I needed to make sure my manuscript wasn’t just a patchwork of notes and ideas. I printed the manuscript out in Katharine’s room and walked back to my cabin, holding the pages like a newborn baby. I read through it and made more revisions.
On day 13 I put it aside. A UK organisation had decreed it was National Flash Fiction Day and was putting up one prompt per hour, all with a theme of ‘eleven’ for their eleventh anniversary. The first prompt was to write a flash of eleven words. Apart from the one I sent them, I wrote four more.
Lizard eats snail. Magpie sings fluidly. Parrot gnaws branch. I’m leaving.
Rain pours down. Bees are sheltering. Quendas stay hidden. I’m leaving.
Writing went well. Book took shape. Words still missing. I’m leaving.
New friends made. Good advice given. Keep in touch. We’re leaving.
~ Kathy Prokhovnik (June 2022)
Top Ten Tips from Kathy Prokhovnik
1. Write it down. If an idea comes to you, write it down. Otherwise, you’ll forget it. You really will.
2. Don’t follow the rules unless they suit you. You might hear things like ‘cut out all adjectives / adverbs’. Maybe try it, but it depends what you’re writing.
3. Learn to live with rejection. Put the rejected piece aside for a while and come back to it when you can be dispassionate. Maybe the judge had a point, and it does need more work.
4. Write for yourself, not for the prize. Unless it’s a grant application.
5. Stay authentic. Finding your ‘voice’ is both harder and easier than you think.
6. Try different types of writing. Nonfiction, flash fiction, short story, novel.
7. Enter competitions that challenge you to think again.
8. Keep your planning clear within your manuscript. If you put a sentence into your writing as a ‘stepping stone’, reminding you how you want to get to another scene, set it apart from the rest of the text with italics or brackets. If you don’t do this you can think it belongs there when you’re reading your draft. For instance, you might not want ‘Sarah makes a phone call’ to be in your final version, but you might need to remind yourself that that action needs to occur at that point.
9. Engage with the writing community, online and/or in real life.
10. Join a writing group. They’re lots of fun, and very motivating.