This week we ask workshop tutor, Dr Pippa Carron, five questions about writing and editing. Pippa is teaching two upcoming workshops at the Writers Centre: Grammar and Punctuation Primer for Fiction and Nonfiction Writers and Focus on Stylistics. Check our website for more information and to get involved.
Can you briefly describe your writing and editing career?
I started my professional writing career as an academic, writing theses (Honours and PhD) and science journal papers, then moved into the public service and learned to write quickly and effectively on any topic in the Senate Committee Office. I then moved into nonfiction editing (influenced in part by my mother and sister who were both editors) and at the same time I began delivering writing skills courses to public servants. More recently, I’ve shifted into fiction writing and manuscript assessment, and self-publishing, plus I have creativity coaching qualifications and I specialise in helping people overcome writer’s block.
What do you enjoy most about the Canberra writing community?
Canberra sits in that lovely middle of being large enough to have a great diversity of writers (the city has the highest per capita number of writers in Australia), yet being small enough to still have a ‘country town’ feel where it’s easy to meet and get to know writers in both one’s own genre and in different genres. Our books stores are devoted to sponsoring local authors with book launches and authors talks, and having the National Library provides a fantastic venue for national literary events that helps us all feel that our writing is important.
What books do you read in your spare time?
Any book that’s worthy of being read! I have a truly eclectic attitude to topics and authors and happily read any good nonfiction and fiction book that comes my way. Books I’ve read over the last year include: Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet and Winston Graham’s 12 Poldark books (both historical fiction), all Alex Millers books (Australian literary fiction), all Liane Moriaty’s books (chick lit), all David Nicholls books (e.g. One Day and Us), Kaz Delaney’s Dead Actually (young adult), Charlotte Wood’s Animal People, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, Steg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Peter Carey’s Amnesia, and re-read some of my favourite Robert B Parker crime books … plus a slew of nonfiction books on writing fiction and self-publishing. I learned to speed read about 20 years ago and so I churn through 500-1,000 pages a week and, oh yes, I don’t watch TV.
What is your biggest pet hate as an editor?
I think it’s utterly tragic that schools stopped drilling grammar and punctuation rules decades ago and that universities don’t care how well a student writes as long as ‘the ideas are there’. Most people these days write from a very low base knowledge of how the English language works, and I end up fixing basic grammar mistakes (e.g. noun/verb combinations) rather than focusing on improving the creative side of the author’s writing. Most people have an inflated view of their own writing skills, and it’s tiresome having to (politely) explain to them what a sentence is and that three sentences is better than one great, long, run-on sentence. Then there’s punctuation: nobody seems to know how to use a colon or semicolon any more…
You have two upcoming workshops with at the ACT Writers Centre, on Grammar and Punctuation and on Focus on Stylistics—what can participants expect to take away from these classes?
These two workshops will present two complete different points of view! The Grammar and Punctuation Primer is bread and butter revision work that every writer should tackle at some stage, if only to brush up on which rules are inviolate and which can be broken to great literary effect. The Focus on Stylistics workshop will be like licking icing off a cake. It will touch on all those wonderful things that happen when we bring together carefully selected words to create a unique and powerful piece of writing: metaphors, colloquialisms, imagery, symbolism, subtext, MacGuffins even!
Dr Pippa Carron is a creativity coach, experienced in both fiction and nonfiction writing skills. She provides high-level writing and editing services, specialising in the sciences, and fiction manuscript appraisal, plus she delivers writing skills courses to public servants under the business name, Writing in the Gap (writinginthegap.com). She is also an expert in self-publishing print-on-demand and digital books, and provides a mentoring program through her business My Self-Publishing Secrets (myselfpublishingsecrets.com).