To an audience of roughly 400 high school students, Melina Marchetta gave hope to those struggling with their studies.
'How I Write', a conversation with the author of Looking for Alibrandi, The Piper's Son, On the Jellicoe Road, Finnikan on the Rock was an interesting insight into her practice.
Melina left school in year 10, at the age of 15 (and still turned out okay). She claims that she definitely wasn't a model student, though she did well in English, she was mostly a B and C student in her other subjects.
Personally, I love to hear this sort of story coming from successful people, in the career that they love, and I'm sure there were lots of young adults in the audience, feeling the pressure of school and just not being able to bring in the grades they want that would have appreciated hearing it too. When at school, many kids can get caught up in the idea that your academic performance is going to dictate your future. For most of us, it's not the case.
Sorry - back to Melina. She said that she starts first with character, and she is not one of those people who has a million stories in her head waiting to be written. She has to wait until her characters start talking to her and revealing themselves. It once took several years for a new character to come to her and she hopes that never happens again, but in the middle of writing that book, she had a brand new character, Tom, pop into her head and her life who made concentrating on the original work extremely difficult. There is no balance, clearly. There's too little or too much!
One of the students asked how many books she had written before getting one published, and she told of a novel she wrote before Looking for Alibrandi, which was bad. So, so, so bad. But, it was about a girl who lived in a coastal town and met her father for the first time (which happens in Looking for Alibrandi).
Melina made it clear that she wrote a bad book to begin with, but it taught her something and ultimately influenced how she wrote Alibrandi, her first published novel.
This resonated with me particularly as I am rewriting a book at the moment, in which I essentially kept the characters and their relationships to each other, but have thrown out the original plot altogether. Perhaps this book is my Alibrandi.
What I took away from this session, was to not be afraid of writing bad books. Nothing is a waste, and what I hope some of the audience took away is that how well they perform in high school is not the be-all and end-all. They can still reach for the stars and get them, even if they do get a C in maths.